A great deal has changed over the years when it comes to managing safety for lineworkers, said Dan Gadacz, CSP, ASP, CUSP, and vice president of safety for Power Corporation of America (PCA) in Port Orange, Fla.
Gadacz began his career at Trans Tech Electric/Quanta Services supervising crews with underground power, fiber, lighting and highway digital message board installations. In 1999, he was promoted to safety director and oversaw a seven-state territory. For the next two decades, Gadacz served as a safety professional for several companies, including Southeast Power Corp., a wholly owned subsidiary of PCA in Titusville, Fla. In 2016, he became PCA’s corporate safety director before being promoted to his current position in 2018. PCA companies also include C&C Powerline, a NECA contractor based in Jacksonville, Fla., which is affiliated with Southeastern Line Constructors Chapter NECA and SELCAT, the Southeastern Line Constructors Apprenticeship Training.
How has the role of safety professional changed in the industry?
It has evolved a great deal. It went from a company having a person there just for the sake of putting someone in that position because either they were close to retirement or because a worker got hurt; now the position requires someone who is well-educated in safety. That can mean they either have a bachelor’s or a master’s degree or another safety-related accreditation. The role itself has just become more integral within the organization.
Safety programs have also evolved. Before, programs were basically just based on regulations and the minimum requirements, and that’s what a lot of the resources out there were geared toward. Today, as safety has become more prevalent, training includes understanding human performance factors and why workers make the decisions they do that can result in performing their job in an unsafe manner.
When you understand why people make certain decisions, it helps you better correct the issues at hand. For example, if someone cut their hand, instead of just correcting it by giving the worker cut-resistant gloves, you also question why the person didn’t already have such gloves. Was it a process failure or a management failure for not providing the necessary PPE? Was it a system failure in which the PPE was available, but the company couldn’t get it? Instead of immediately blaming the worker, you now look deeper into the real cause of the incident or injury.
As far as human performance factors, an injury could be the result of a self-imposed time pressure or a project-related goal where pressure comes from management or the client. The safety director would investigate the incident and bring the report to me, and I would deal with it at the executive level—getting management support to make the necessary adjustments so we can avoid recurrence.
What do you see as the biggest gaps or disconnects in safety today?
I think the biggest gap today would be communication problems due to an aging workforce and a lack of individuals entering the trades. Now, there are generational issues in the knowledge transfer—the older workers are having a hard time training younger individuals whose learning style is quite different.
The younger generations learn much more through technology and by asking many questions, whereas the older workforce was initially trained by just watching what their supervisors did and were not encouraged to ask questions. But asking questions is how the younger generations learn, so the challenge now is to get the older generations to understand and accept the different learning style.
What safety training is important for employees today?
Of course, training on regulations and employer- and client-specific training continue to be very important. But now we get deeper into it and talk about the human performance aspect—training workers on how to understand why we make the decisions we do on the job. Decisions can be the result of time constraints, self-imposed pressures and work- or personal-related distractions.
Now, in our morning tailboard meetings, the supervisors go around to every person in their groups and ask them what their mindset is for that day and if they are ready to perform the tasks at hand. If someone says their child is sick or their wife is in the hospital and they are having a hard time concentrating, the supervisor will reassign them to tasks that would not put them at risk. These are the things that supervisors now need to be very mindful about to lessen the chance of someone being harmed.
Do you have any advice for new safety professionals?
Never stop learning—safety programs can come and go, but processes seem to have staying power