Safety Leader

Meeting of the Safety Minds: Experts Discuss High-Risk Safety Challenges While Ensuring Compliance and Managing Documentation

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Safety is paramount in the electrical contracting industry, and firms have never employed more innovative approaches or been more dedicated to keeping their contractors safe. Safety Leader invited several of the industry’s most proactive safety experts to share how they address everything from high-risk safety challenges to safety compliance and documentation management. 

How do you handle the following challenges?

Drug testing in light of the increasing legalization of cannabis by states nationwide

Sara Currie, safety and training director, Tice Electric, Portland, Ore.
Sara Currie, safety and training director, Tice Electric, Portland, Ore.

Sara Currie: The NECA/IBEW Drug Free Workplace Policy makes it a lot easier for us to navigate this as a company. Cannabis is still illegal federally and, because of this, it’s illegal to use per our policy.

Mark Lynch: A lot of our larger clients require on-site drug testing of our people. None of our clients accepts the use of medical marijuana, and we don’t either. Should pot be legalized here, it could be a very difficult situation, and we’d have to re-evaluate. 

Barry Moreland: We continue to enforce our Drug Free Workplace Policy in the same manner as before legalization. Cannabis is still illegal at a federal level and, until we see changes there, we’ll continue to utilize pre-employment, random and for-cause testing to maximize safety on our projects.

Allen Sloan: While cannabis is legal in our state (California), we follow federal guidelines, and it’s not legal at the federal level. While we no longer test for cannabis as part of our random testing of members, applicants are tested for it prior to entering apprenticeships. We drug test for pre-employment, reasonable cause, random and post-accident. If someone tests positive for drug use, they’ll have to follow a strict disciplinary process in order to be eligible to return to work. 

Management of fleets and use of company vehicles

Currie: We educate all of our employees, even the ones that aren’t driving for us, on the dangers of the road and what they can do to be a safer and more proactive driver. 

Mark Lynch, safety coordinator, IBEW Local 98, Philadelphia
Mark Lynch, safety coordinator, IBEW Local 98, Philadelphia

Lynch: Use of company vehicles is limited to a very few, high-level foremen, but anyone driving one of our service trucks undergoes safe driver training, often with a certified member. 

Moreland: A number or our contractors are utilizing GPS tracking and similar third-party electronic resources to identify trends of unsafe drivers (among employees and fellow drivers alike). Additionally, many use a penalty system for drivers who are involved in driving incidents, both at work and in their personal vehicles, that could ultimately render them ineligible to operate company-owned vehicles.

Sloan: Hardware and software can now be placed in vehicles or on employees’ phones to monitor where they go, their speed levels, if they’re texting, etc., and our members will be disciplined if they’re not practicing safe driving.

Work performed at heights

Currie: Like many other contractors in our area, we’re moving away from ladder use. We train all of our employees to use scissor lifts, boom lifts and bucket trucks any time the space allows. In instances where ladders need to be used, we’ve trained our employees to use them safely.

Lynch: We enforce a 100% tie-off requirement over 6 feet at all times, and there’s no bending of the rules.

Moreland: As a cohesive and focused safety group, our contractors’ safety managers have agreed to share accident information with each other and our joint safety committee; from there, we broadcast lessons learned from the investigation with our apprentices and journey-level workers. As it relates to fall protection, we find this frequent reminder of injuries others sustain when working at heights useful to minimize recurrence. 

Sloan: 100% tie-off is the trend nationwide. Other trends include activation of a ‘Ladders Last’ program, through which standard ladders become a last resort in favor of scissor lifts or more solid platform ladders with guard rails on top.

Energized work

Currie: We follow NFPA 70E and de-energize equipment before working on it wherever possible. I feel that people are taking energized work a lot more seriously these days than in the past; when I first started as an apprentice in 2011, there were still a lot of people performing work energized unnecessarily and without regard to company policy or national standards. We educate our workforce so they can take that knowledge into the field and protect themselves and their colleagues.

Lynch: We follow NFPA 70E standards; that’s our bible. We fill out energized work permits (unless clients prove that there’s a greater risk by de-energizing the work) and require sign-off by the owner of the building. We don’t allow any apprentice to be on a job site until they’ve taken OSHA 10 training and we require our members to take the 70E class every three years as the standards change.

Barry Moreland, CSP, safety director, NECA-IBEW Electrical Training Center, Portland, Ore.
Barry Moreland, CSP, safety director, NECA-IBEW Electrical Training Center, Portland, Ore. 

Moreland: In 2000, our contractors began implementing NFPA 70E concepts and procedures into their overall safety and health management systems. Over the last two decades, we’ve extensively trained our workforce and leadership, including our clients and general contractors, on what constitutes justifiable energized work and the means to assess the associated risks to all parties involved. Use of shock and arc-related PPE/OPE is now the norm. If a contractor needs PPE, they can borrow Level 2 or 4 kits from the NECA/IBEW Electrical Training Center. We set limits on when and at what voltage apprentices can be exposed to energized systems. In addition, a number of contractors now establish electrically qualified person teams; those electricians who have received additional energized electrical work-specific training are the only ones within the company authorized to perform energized electrical work.

Sloan: In addition to shutting things down so there’s zero energy, we invest in extensive training of our apprentices and journeymen at the Electrical Training Institute in Los Angeles, where we went from a 12-hour to a 16-hour class, half in the classroom and half dedicated to hands-on practical work. As a policy, our apprentices don’t touch anything energized, even after becoming journeymen; the employer is responsible for qualifying them. Overall, we’re big proponents of safety training, run a two-week boot camp with an OSHA 30 class before apprentices touch any job, and encourage members to take safety training to meet their annual continuing education hours.

Safety-related programs are only as good or as enforceable as the company policies behind them. What strategies have you found to be most effective for increasing compliance with safety programs and why? 


Currie: I think that the most effective way to increase safety compliance is to educate employees on the purpose behind it and why it’s important. Electricians are smart, have pride and 

want to know why something is important. Once people truly understand that, they’ll take part in it.

Lynch: It’s truly about drilling safety into workers from day one, and our contractors really want to be the best around, both to keep their workers safe and to manage their insurance rates. One of our contractors recently took a creative approach and shut down for the day to train employees on electrical safety, PPE, driver safety, etc., providing food and t-shirts to everyone to increase team spirit.

Moreland: Policy compliance is directly related to those policies/procedures that utilize the SMART process during creation and roll-out. The policy has to clearly Specify what you want done, be Measurable in performance outcomes, be Achievable and Realistic for the application, and have a proper amount of Time allotted for full compliance. The process should also encourage feedback from those who are expected to comply with and own the policy. A compliance expectation without that buy-in process makes compliance efforts even more challenging.

Allen Sloan, SMS, CHST, IBEW Local 11, LA NECA/LMCC, Los Angeles
Allen Sloan, SMS, CHST, IBEW Local 11, LA NECA/LMCC, Los Angeles

Sloan: The overwhelming majority of accidents/injuries are preventable, and we see ourselves as coaches. It’s about establishing a culture of safety from the beginning. Safety issues are behavior-based, so you need to change behavior to impact safety. There are no shortcuts or “going around” safety measures. We have a two-week boot camp for incoming apprentices so that they can get the training they need as well as an understanding of our safety culture from day one.

Currie: I’m sure there’s a more effective way to manage documentation than we have at Tice. For now, I have an electronic file folder for each job that I keep documentation in. It’s worked for us so far, but I’d love ideas on how to make it better.

Lynch: We document everything (date, time, temperature, details of incident, etc.), and technology has made it that much easier; across the industry, there are fewer and fewer file cabinets full of injury reports. We’ve used UnionLOGIC software since the mid-2000s; it works great and makes it easy for workers to report injuries on a job.

Moreland: As the NIETC is a training provider for our contractors, we maintain records such as first aid/CPR, mobile elevated work platforms and powered industrial trucks (PIT), electrical safety, and OSHA 10/30 that are easily accessible by the apprentice or JW via our website. They can print out their transcript and provide it to their employer. This isn’t just for incident response but also allows the employer to better assess areas where they need to conduct additional training during new hire onboarding. 

Sloan: Incident documentation software has become more prevalent and specialized for contractors. Anchor Rock software is a safety software that’s being used more and more, and they’re writing their programs with the electrical industry in mind. It helps automate the whole process for us, automatically sending reports to HR, key executives, etc.

In August, the Safety Leader Roundtable experts discuss future trends and how smart technology is changing the face of safety management.


Proactively Approaching Mistakes

Carl Potter, certified safety professional, certified management consultant and founder of the Safety Institute (www.safetyinstitute.com), shares three “mistakes” leaders make.

Pursuing a ‘fool-proof solution’—“Leaders sometimes think that situations, jobs, and environments can be made perfect so that people won’t make mistakes,” Potter said, “but this can actually create anxiety among employees and stifle an organization.” He recommends focusing on excellence instead. “Engage everyone in excellence—doing the right things well—and you’ll find an organization-wide focus on excellence rather than on perfection.”

Being nonchalant—“Acting as if ‘mistakes are OK’ is a hands-off approach. All mistakes aren’t equal—some have minor, short-term consequences, while others are a matter of life and death. Make sure you know and communicate the consequences of various types of mistakes.”

Being Intolerant—Potter confirmed that mistakes are opportunities for learning. When a ‘no-tolerance’ attitude exists, he said, “accidents and near-misses are hidden, which can drive the safety culture into a downward spiral. People become afraid for their jobs, fear becomes a distraction, and the risk of injuries and fatalities increases. Rather, take time to reconsider your attitude and approach to mistakes,” he recommended. “Are you thwarting progress with a hard line or are you treating each mistake on a case-by-case basis?” —S.B.

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