Line Contractor

Mike Starner: Meet NECA’s new director of outside line safety

Mike Starner
Mike Starner
Published On
Sep 8, 2021

Mike Starner, a certified utility safety professional, joined the National Electrical Contractors Association in July as director of outside line safety, a new position. 

“The outside line is a major area of emphasis for us, and it is clear that this type of work has its own needs in terms of safety, education and resources , all of which NECA should provide,” said NECA CEO David Long. “Mike was brought on board because he can offer his industry expertise directly to these contractors, helping to ensure these unique, high-risk jobs are performed efficiently and safely.”

What are some highlights of your career?

I started in 1994 with Asplundh Tree Expert in Baltimore as a member of a line clearance tree crew. We were responsible for trimming and removing trees that could cause an interruption to electrical service.

In 2002, I was hired by Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. (BGE) as a street light servicer, eventually entering the distribution construction trainee program. I spent time as a Class A lineman, a troubleman (one-­person emergency responder) and an overhead crew leader before joining management in 2010. I supervised a variety of organizations, including substation construction and maintenance; safety; regional electric operations; and distribution automation.

From 2016–2020, I was division manager with the Davis H. Elliot Co., responsible for the safety and operational performance for BGE line, service and lighting crews.

Prior to coming to NECA, I was the director of safety for a national electrical testing and commissioning company, with subsidiaries across the United States. I was responsible for developing and maintaining the company’s safety program at the corporate level, while supporting the local interests of each operating company. 

How have you synthesized your experience to get where you are now?

This role will allow me to tap into years of experience. I understand the different perspectives that shape the way people think about safety and risk. Once you understand perspectives, an action plan can be developed that addresses specifics, targets the root of the problem.

In the world of safety, differing perspectives can sometimes create tension. Here are a few potential conflicting perspectives:

Worker/Management: Workers tend to focus on the task at hand, getting things done. Management team members often know where the company is headed and why; these strategic goals must be communicated to all levels of the organization.

Field/Office: Field workers are faced with a variety of hurdles from work environments, weather, traffic and public interference, among other things. Office workers have their own challenges that must be understood by the field—paperwork, maintaining records, submitting and paying invoices, etc. When each group understands the challenges faced by the other, more information is shared, errors are reduced and teamwork improves.

Transmission/Distribution: Transmission and distribution are equally important segments of electric delivery. How work is planned, coordinated and executed differs widely. How will the work be completed, and what are the safe work practices, procedures and policies that each must adhere to? More important, what cultural differences exist among the crews?

Contractor/Utility: This is another cultural consideration. How does a contractor and their utility counterpart approach work differently? Contractors have a lot on the line—every bid that goes out, every hour worked has direct consequences for the bottom line. Utility workers are faced with customer reliability metrics, meeting preventative and corrective maintenance goals, and customer satisfaction. 

Safety is the great equalizer, since everyone cares about event-free performance.

Operations/Safety: Operations and safety personnel can find themselves at odds; the solution is clear, timely communication. Operations folks manage their work and workforce according to a known set of variables. New methods, new tools and equipment and changes to work procedures can create a supply-and-demand issue when trying to implement them. Safety folks are tuned into developing trends, regulatory changes and ever-­evolving customer requirements.

The key, again, is communication. Safety managers must be sensitive to the burdens placed on the organization when developing new safety initiatives or training. It is important to allow time for budgeting, scheduling and, most important, change management.

Having been on both sides of the comparisons above, I understand the challenges and where the common ground is. As outside line safety director, I will listen to the voice of the customer, keep my finger on the pulse of the industry and make recommendations that will help contractors apply sound safety management concepts that consider differing goals and perspectives. The partnerships we establish will result in fewer events and injuries, something everyone can get behind. 

What you would like to accomplish?

Safety is the goal—the job is safe, the worker is safe, the tool is safe. What’s really needed is effective risk management. We need to help contractors and workers identify where risk lies in their organizations and develop action plans to manage it. This goes beyond safety rules and training modules. We must look at how workers are engaging with the work environment, how they identify and control hazards and what’s being done to prevent human error. My mission will be to support those member companies in a way that promotes positive outcomes. I will be active with the OSHA Electrical Transmission & Distribution Partnership, the National Electrical Safety Code and NECA’s District 10 chapters. //

About the Author

Katie Kuehner-Hebert

Katie Kuehner-Hebert has more than three decades of experience writing about the construction industry, and her articles have been featured in the Associated General Contractor’s Constructor magazine, the American Fence Association’s Fencepost, the...

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