Safety Leader

Recognizing Positive Performance: How to implement a safety-driven work culture

Published On
Feb 11, 2021

Electrical contractors come in all shapes and sizes. One commonality is employees’ potential exposure to electrical hazards. Once you develop and implement the required electrical safety program (ESP), what next? We develop a plan, build policies and procedures, obtain permits and more. We provide training, which was documented, and we perform our weekly toolbox talks. We’re done, right? The answer is a resounding no!

Safety is a work in progress; it never ends. We must begin each workday fully understanding that safety is a core value to the company and to each one of us, and it cannot be compromised. We cannot be lulled into thinking that safety is not a priority and can somehow be shifted due to job pressures and other factors.

We must keep everyone constantly focused on safety, and to do so, we need to discuss human performance. This term makes us think of the point of work, the task at hand and the worker, which is where human performance matters. While that is true, human performance goes upstream because it is also organizational. It involves the apprentice, wireman, foreman, supervisors, superintendents and owners. If our workplace culture is solid, our field personnel, supervisors and owners will communicate constantly to promote strong human performance practices.

We all know that the front-line foreman sets the stage for the job, but foremen are not all created equal. The foreman who promotes a safe workplace, demands compliance with safety policies and procedures, encourages safe work practices and reinforces that commitment by recognizing compliance with sincere appreciation, understands the concept of human performance.

The ESP in Section 110.5(H)(2) of NFPA 70E includes a requirement for a risk assessment procedure, which must address the potential for human error and its negative consequences on people, processes, the work environment and equipment relative to the electrical hazards in the workplace. An associated informational note sends the standard user to Annex Q for more information on human error. This annex should become a mandatory reading requirement for everyone involved in supervision.

Understanding human performance, typical error precursors and the tools we can use to improve apply to all job site hazards, not just shock and arc flash. Safety professionals should own the material in Annex Q because understanding human performance is critical to the development and continued implementation of a solid, safety-driven work culture.

Human performance is a significant aspect of the risk management approach. This involves everyone in the organization. Everything we do is subject to some level of human error. We are all fallible, and even the best employee, supervisor or superintendent will make mistakes. We can identify, predict, manage and prevent error-prone situations. Companies with mandatory job safety analysis forms that are filled out daily and when tasks change fully understand that concept.

The level of proficiency for workers with respect to compliance with safety requirements is heavily influenced by organizational processes and values. When employees work safely, we need to recognize compliance. We need to reinforce positive human performance through sincere appreciation. Everyone wants to be recognized for a job well done, and it influences future behavior and reinforces organizational values. Constant communication can eliminate incidents because we begin to understand why mistakes happened and can apply those lessons learned.

Does a safety-driven work culture exist at all your work sites? There are warning flags and common weaknesses, which you can identify and correct to improve your safety culture. Problems may exist at every level, and they can be organizational, supervisory or worker performance issues. We cannot exclusively rely on an ESP, policies and procedures, because there must be ownership and accountability at every level.

Everyone at every level must be involved and their views heard because open communication is paramount. Supervisors must identify and take ownership of high-risk activities. These decisions must involve supervision and the understanding that the likelihood of occurrence must be combined with the potential severity of risk involved with any task. Processes need not be lengthy or cumbersome; sometimes, less is more.

We need to encourage an atmosphere in which every employee, at every level, feels comfortable and empowered to voice safety-related concerns, opinions and ideas. Take the next step by implementing and maintaining a safety-driven work culture on all job sites.

About the Author

Jim Dollard

Code Columnist

Jim Dollard is the safety coordinator for IBEW Local 98 in Philadelphia. He is a member of the NEC Correlating Committee, NEC CMP-10, NEC CMP-13, NFPA 70E, NFPA 90A/B and the UL Electrical Council. He can be reached at codefaqs@gmail.com.

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