Industry Safety Experts Convene in Roundtable at NECA 2018

Published On
Sep 30, 2018

At the opening of the NECA Show, the industry’s leading safety experts came together for the annual NECA Safety Roundtable. The goal of the session was different from previous years. For this roundtable, NECA assembled many of its Premier Partners to share their organizations’ safety philosophies and discuss how safety is integrated into their products and services. It was a forum to share ideas for safety between industry manufacturers and electrical contractors. The panel addressed what tools and resources promoting safety are available, how various organizations are promoting safety, what the future of safety in electrical construction looks like and much more.

In the session’s introduction, Michael Johnston, NECA’s Executive Director of Standards and Safety, joked that the event had a new subtitle: “Premier Partner Think Tank.”

Johnston began by showing a video about general safety that NECA and the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) produced. Johnston said this video was the first in a series of brand new videos. The Safety Roundtable attendees were among the first to see it.

Along with Wesley Wheeler, NECA’s Director of Safety, Johnston then gave a general safety update; an overview of how NECA supports safety, codes, and standards development; an update on OSHA activity; and announced the 2019 NECA Safety Professionals Conference.

Johnston then introduced the panel, which included the following:

  • Mark D. Hickok, Director, Product Safety and Regulatory Compliance, Milwaukee Tool
  • Nate Oland, Senior National Account Executive, Federated Insurance
  • Russ King, Director, Contractor Solutions Professionals, Contractor Business Development, Southwire Co.
  • Jim McClain, Account Representative, Electrical Markets Division, 3M
  • Philip Santoro, U.S. Contractor Segment Manager, Partner Projects Division, Schneider Electric
  • Rodney West, Senior Staff Engineer, Codes & Standards, Schneider Electric
  • Jacob Thomas, Ergonomics Specialist, Greenlee

The panel began with a discussion of each company’s safety philosophy and mission. According to Rodney West, safety is key, and to that end, Schneider Electric trains every one of their 40,000 employees annually.

Federated Insurance, which offers insurance to commercial and business organizations, addressed the question very differently. “Our bottom line is with claims and with our clients, 10,000 of which are contractors,” said Oland. The company has a vested interest in promoting safety.

Offering another unique perspective, Greenlee and Milwaukee talked about the importance of ergonomics. Jacob Thomas said Greenlee believes it is their responsibility to empower customers to solve safety problems unique to them. While Milwaukee Tool strives to “put the user at the center,” according to Hickok. He said Milwaukee is focused on talking to users to find out what their obstacles are instead of trying to guess.

King said Contractor Solutions Professionals is focusing on a “culture of zero.” He said that his team’s mission is to keep workers safe on the job.

“There’s a common theme with each of these companies, and that’s sending workers home safe at the end of the day,” Johnston said.

Each company then spoke about the research they’ve done to promote worker safety on the job. Federated recently finished a four-year study of 300,000 insurance claims. It found that auto injury was the number one claim, making up 60 percent of all claims. However, the most severe, Oland said, is arc flash. Strains are the number one claim in frequency, though Oland noted the largest demographic with upper body strains is 30–40 year olds.

In addition to heavily investing in their ergonomics labs, Greenlee and Milwaukee reiterated the importance of speaking to customers and visiting job sites to prevent injuries.

“Usually, when we design a product [at Greenlee], we start with the voice of the customer,” Thomas said. “We engineer out as many safety hazards as we can.”

“[At Milwaukee] we take a multi-tiered approach,” Hickok said. “There is no substitute to being out in the field, in the shop, seeing what our customers are dealing with.”

Southwire also has spent 40,000 hours on job sites, according to King.

At this point in the panel discussion, the safety panelists talked about collaboration. Certainly, the companies collaborate with their customers, but they also collaborate with each other.

“All of us work together to make your job safer,” King said. Later, King said, there is healthy competition among them for the sake of safety, and that it makes the end products better. “We have to be able to collaborate,” he said.

Each company spoke about how they can further build upon improving the safety culture in the electrical industry. They stressed that culture is the key.

Thomas said he thinks manufacturers can do a better job of educating the industry about ergonomics.

“We too often say something is ergonomic without explaining what that means,” he said. Thomas said much of the general ergonomics focus has been on office jobs where employees are doing the same task much of the time, but electrical contractors do a variety of tasks.

“I think it’s 60 percent of people experience reinjury because the root cause was not addressed,” he said.

Hickok said Milwaukee Tool wants to develop solutions that improve the lives of workers.

“Can I provide you with a solution that eliminates that shock hazard?” he said. “That’s really the partnership that we want to work through.”

Thomas said ergonomics issues aren’t reported because people don’t understand them. He said zero-injury goals are great, but they still don’t account for ergonomic issues, which accumulate over time. He said ECs should encourage workers to report if tasks are uncomfortable or physically difficult because, over time, they will lead to injury.

King said change for safety is a challenge because of the obstacle that is old school culture.

“We have to make sure, when we make a change for safety, we instill that change in the front lines,” he said.

Johnston summarized this as leading by example and following up.

To finish out the Safety Roundtable, the representatives from these companies spoke about how advanced technologies can improve workplace safety. Greenlee and Milwaukee perform EMG studies in their lab and in the field. 3M is launching a new inspection and asset management system at the NECA Show. Southwire is looking at virtual and augmented reality, BIM, and mobile apps. King also mentioned its contractor solutions landing page as a resource.

About the Author

Timothy Johnson


Timothy Johnson is the former digital editor for ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR magazine.

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