The Key to Safety

By Michael Johnston | May 15, 2012
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On average, 80 electricians are killed each year in workplace accidents, which are not limited to electrocutions. More than 10,000 electricians are injured each year with an average work time loss of 10 days per incident. These statistics are unacceptable. Supervisors are in a key position to reduce the number of deaths and injuries.

Safety must be an integral part of electrical construction projects. Safety-related work practices are developed through experience and training and must be applied to routine tasks. Job site safety is a shared responsibility between employers and employees. Effective communication and management buy-in are essential.

Safety programs and policies
Each employer is required to develop a program to address all safety concerns, not just electrical hazards, on job sites. Company safety policies typically supplement the safety program. For example, a contractor may have a policy requiring hard hats and eye protection at all times while on construction projects. Having an overall safety program is only one compliance achievement. The safety program requirements must be implemented to achieve desired results. Implementation is achieved by employees incorporating the program requirements and company policies into their routine work practices.

Safety subject experts
Supervisors must know their company safety program and policies as well as applicable occupational health and safety standards. One primary responsibility is to ensure employees safely accomplish their assignments while conforming to company safety policies and procedures. Inadequate supervision and monitoring of employee performance, failure to reprimand and correct deficiencies, and tolerating unacceptable behavior exposes employers to risk and liability. It is essential that supervisors foster an employee culture that reinforces safe and healthy work practices on the job.

Supervisors should become a safety subject expert and should clearly communicate expectations through mandatory job site safety meetings, toolbox talks and job briefings. There is no substitute for leading by example. Employees look to supervisors for guidance. Supervisors should model behavior, acknowledge safety efforts, and encourage suggestions and input from employees.

Supervisors must understand their liability. With respect to safety, liability comes from Workers’ Comp, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), tort law, and even criminal agencies. Most safety liability and responsibilities rest with the employer; however, the supervisor is an agent of the employer, so there also is personal liability.

The supervisor’s actions can increase or decrease employer and supervisor liabilities. Protection from liability is achieved when supervisors prevent employees from engaging in unsafe work practices. To avoid issues with OSHA, recognize and identify safety hazards, and keep employees from being exposed. When it comes to tort liability, supervisors should enforce all safety requirements and never act outside their job duties. Remember, if you allow it, you authorize it.

Five key responsibilities include planning, training, inspections, coaching and accident reporting/investigation. Let’s look at each of these responsibilities in more detail.

Safety planning
Before starting a project, identify what hazards are present and how to prepare for them. A project hazard analysis describes general hazards, contains documentation and features contact information for the site. Before going to a job site, consult with the safety director and/or project manager to determine site safety requirements.

A project hazard analysis helps identify the following:

• Site specific safety programs needed
• Individuals responsible for safety emergency response equipment (and locations)
• Training and frequency of training needed
• Reporting requirements to host/general contractor

A job hazard analysis (JHA) reviews individual tasks and identifies hazards/controls for a given job. The JHA outlines steps performed to complete a job, hazards encountered in each step and controls/procedures to be followed. A JHA typically helps identify undertakings that present risks. For example, look for tasks with a history of injuries or near misses and those that have potential for fire, explosion, chemical release, etc. Look also for changes, or new environments or situations involving new people. In addition, it is important to identify specific tasks that require a work permit (e.g., confined space, hot work permits, lockout/tagout, etc.).

A JHA also helps with the following:

• Conducting analysis—Break down the job into steps.
• Identifying hazards—List hazards for each step.
• Identifying controls—List methods to address hazards.
• Engineering controls—Change processes or re-engineer to reduce hazards.
• Implementing administrative controls—Tighten up procedures and safe work practices; use signs and warnings, training, time limits on hazardous duties; and be aware of the use of “buddy systems” as a control means. Note that personal protective equipment (PPE) is acceptable as a temporary control method.
• Training—Make workers aware of all hazards and all necessary controls.
• Reviewing—Periodically ensure all hazards are addressed.

Involving the workers in the analysis can prove to be effective in JHA creation.

Job site safety training
Employees must be qualified and prepared for the work. Unfortunately, not all electricians have the same experience. Check that employees on the job site are qualified. Qualified people must know how to recognize and avoid job site safety hazards. NFPA 70E defines a qualified person as someone who has “skills and knowledge related to the construction and operation of the electrical equipment and installations and has received safety training to recognize and avoid the hazards involved.”

A project analysis will identify general training needs and any specific necessary training. Ensure employees have the basic skills and are trained for the tasks they must perform. Additionally, perform safety talks to address site-specific details and refresh employees on the hazards. Ensure employees have completed a job site safety orientation.

Toolbox talks and briefings are effective forms of training on job sites. They offer a cost-efficient way to train and keep safety on employees’ minds. This responsibility most often falls to supervisors or team leaders. The following are the six critical tips for leading a toolbox job talk:

• Select a safety topic.
• Identify the desired objectives.
• Stay concise and on point.
• Encourage input and questions.
• Assess employee understanding.
• Document worker attendance.

A job briefing differs from a toolbox talk in that it reviews the hazards and precautions for scheduled tasks. It should not be a time for teaching new tasks. It is a time to review the details of the job, hazards and hazard controls. A job briefing is required before the start of each job.

Job site safety inspections
Job site safety inspections are critical to identify and correct hazards. Supervisors need to know how to conduct an inspection and provide guidance to employees on inspections. Supervisors should perform regular inspections. Workers should inspect their work area daily. Accurate and complete documentation is an important role of the supervisor.

Safety coaching and mentoring
A supervisor’s role is similar to a coach. Supervisors need to observe safety performance, promote safe work habits and ensure compliance with safety procedures. Supervisors must take action when witnessing poor safe work habits. Effective action includes communication. Employees often respond well because it shows supervisors care about the safety and well-being of employees. Supervisors must act as a coach and continuously promote the safety culture. Coaching involves observing, taking advantage of coaching opportunities and promoting safety.

Accident reporting and OSHA investigation
When an accident occurs, if possible, administer immediate first aid, and call emergency response organizations. A first report (accident report) of loss is needed. Most companies have accident report forms for such use. Filling out the report is usually the supervisor’s job. The supervisor will most likely perform or be involved in any investigation. Supervisors should know the steps of investigation and the questions to ask.

If an OSHA compliance officer comes on-site, be aware of the company policy. A management and employee representative must accompany the compliance officer on the inspection. As the site supervisor, you can ask the compliance officer to wait for the company safety representative. If you are a designated management representative, do the following:

• Verify the credentials of the compliance officer.
• Limit the inspection to the complaint or accident.
• Accompany the compliance officer on their inspection, and document everything.
• Attend the nonprivate employee interview, and take notes.
• Do not provide documents that are not required by law.

Safety is a shared responsibility between employers and employees. A supervisor has a critical role in ensuring safety-related work practices are implemented on the job. In addition to running an efficient and productive project, supervisors have several safety-related responsibilities.

The National Electrical Contractors Association has developed a “Supervisors Guide to Jobsite Safety,” which contains the most important information about safety-related work practices and establishing and maintaining safe projects. This information will assist in performing a critical task in the supervisor’s overall responsibilities. For more information and a companion multimedia CD, visit

JOHNSTON is NECA’s executive director of standards and safety. He is former director of education, codes and standards for IAEI; a member of the IBEW; and an active member of the NFPA Electrical Section, Education Section and the UL Electrical Council. Reach him at [email protected].

About The Author

A man, Mike Johnston, in front of a gray background.

Michael Johnston

NECA Executive Director of Codes and Standards

JOHNSTON is NECA’s executive director of codes and standards. He is a member of the NEC Correlating Committee, NFPA Standards Council, IBEW, UL Electrical Council and NFPA’s Electrical Section. Reach him at [email protected].






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