No two construction projects are alike when it comes to safety requirements and challenges. Every electrician and construction worker brings their own level of safety training. Owners and general contractors have unique expectations at each site. At the same time, on-site safety training at each construction project is becoming more complex and varied, it's also more critical than ever.
Safety training should be the starting point for every project to ensure workers know OSHA and job-specific safety requirements before they go to work. Since each project is unique, there are different rules and safety training at every job site, explained Wesley Wheeler, the National Electrical Contractors Association’s director of safety. With more new employees coming on to work sites, contractors are faced with finding ways to ensure the right training gets to the right people before the work starts.
That becomes even harder if the project is highly secure, e.g., when dealing with large corporations or government-owned sites. Big corporations may demand nondisclosure agreements while Homeland Security and other government projects require security checks for each worker. For example, airport projects call for the Transportation Worker Credential and TSA clearances. Some training programs may cover privacy issues and requirements for the job, and some even perform a security clearance background check on new hires.
Safety requirements differ by state. In Florida, for instance, Jessie’s Law requires background checks for any individual working on a school or other project where they could come in contact with children.
As a starting point, some project owners or general managers offer two to four hours of on-site safety orientations that must be attended by new workers.
Staying Up to Date
To address the many challenges, NECA conducted a meeting last year with OSHA that focused on employee engagement. This meeting looked at safety orientation and walk-around work site introductions that make new hires aware of hazards that are present at any site and showed them how to perform risk hazard analysis and assessment. To support this effort, NECA has developed a general safety orientation video to help contractors meet OSHA requirements, Wheeler said.
NECA has also developed a new hire checklist to accompany the video that aims to assist with company records, and
it also provides a PDF handout for employees to take with them. From there, it’s the contractor’s responsibility to add site-specific training to the orientation and ensure all workers are provided with the required personal protective equipment (PPE) before starting any work.
The challenge is felt acutely by any contractor making the jump from small projects to performing large contract work for general contractors and construction managers. These ECs need to ensure OSHA compliance, worker awareness and employee engagement, Wheeler said.
As far as OSHA is concerned, all contractors are legally responsible for ensuring their workers’ safety and health by identifying and correcting hazards at each job site, said an OSHA spokesperson. OSHA’s Electrical Contractors Industry webpage provides resources to help employers recognize and control hazards associated with electrical work, and a link to resources designed to help small businesses comply with OSHA standards and training requirements.
Training for the Latest Generation
Electrical contractor Rosendin Electric, San Jose, Calif., has met the challenge of training electricians for each new project with a combination of live, teacher-based training programs and media content. About five years ago, the company created an in-house filming and training team. Today, the company provides on-site orientations for every new hire.
As jobs evolve, project owners are requiring more safety training and dictating how it is provided, said Marty Rouse, Rosendin’s vice president of safety. So Rosendin Electric has taken a proactive approach by providing training options that can be used by new hires before each project.
“You have to tailor your on-site training with the workforce you have,” he said.
Rosendin Electric offers tool training videos, for instance, that workers can access by scanning a barcode with their smartphones or tablet and watch a short instructional video.
The technology and videos provide another level of support to help address the changing attitudes of seasoned workers used to doing things a certain way and getting them accustomed to more involved safety programs. That means providing information for workers with a varying levels of experience.
When it comes to safety training, one advantage with new hires is that they bring a greater understanding of safety fundamentals being taught in schools. However, in addition to on-site orientation and training videos, projects often require a walk-around orientation with a supervisor to point out safety issues so that even safety-savvy new hires can view the issues in the real world.
“You have to tailor your onboarding process to the workforce you’re bringing on board,” Rouse said.
Some new workers may not have ever used a drill or chop saw, so basic training for tool usage, in some cases, may happen before anyone actually enters the work site.
Safety in PreFab and Specialty Installs
Some training takes place in a more controlled environment, such as a prefabrication shop. Rosendin Electric often starts new employees in prefab to ensure they can use the tools correctly, and management can monitor their progress.
“Then we will move them to the field to work with other employees,” Rouse said.
With solar panels, while more seasoned electricians often accomplish the power hook up, the workers who handle the panel installation may have less experience; they are typically conducting what is repetitive work such as lifting and placing solar panels on the arrays.
“That’s an opportunity for Rosendin to educate them, bring them into the workforce and keep them safe,” Rouse said.
In specialized installation, such as data center batteries, electricians working below 50 volts following NFPA 70E don’t need all the PPE. However, this can offer a false sense of comfort for some electricians, since the final connection requires PPE.
“We have seen cases with a gear blowing up due to a manufacturing error,” Rouse said.
In one such incident, the electrician was unhurt since he was wearing the proper PPE, which became a teaching opportunity.
“We made a poster to show the arc blast,” Rouse said, adding that the poster showed the including damage it caused to the gloves, suit and face mask. “Some of our [project] owners saw the posters and asked for them as well."
The bottom line is that Rosendin Electric understands the huge need for electrical industry safety training.
“Within Rosendin, the biggest thing is, when new employees come on board, we look at that as an opportunity to introduce them to a company that really cares about them,” Rouse said.
Miller Electric Co., Jacksonville, Fla., sees some other standout trends related to on-site safety training as well, said William Watson, the company’s senior director of safety. Increasingly, for instance, basic tools such as ladders are being phased out of some projects and replaced by lifts. Lift use requires its own training for fall protection and new hires.
Miller Electric has assigned personnel to travel around the country to meet those new training needs. Once a new project is underway, different workers may come on site, so Miller Electric provides training one day a week throughout the project just to meet the needs for any new workers.
“That fluctuates with the market,” Watson said.
Willing to Learn
Today’s electrical workers have a different understanding than their predecessors.
“One thing I’ve found is the current generation has never known a time without safety [standards], so they tend to understand the usefulness for that, and they seem generally willing to learn,” Watson said.
Even the most skilled electricians may still need more safety training.
In fact, “today there’s training for everything,” Watson said.
Miller Electric has a top eight list of topics that include lifts, fall protection, lockout/tagout, NFPA 70E, working in confined spaces, first aid and CPR, emergency contact release (to remove people that are hung up in their gear), excavator and small equipment safety. There are new requirements around all these categories, he pointed out.
Occasionally, there are ANSI updates to safety standards for cranes, fall protection and other issues that are common on-site. So all management must train to understand the latest requirements and then retrain the field personnel.
While Miller Electric generally sends out its own trainers, sometimes a third party may be pulled in to meet a need in a specific geographical area in a hurry.
OSHA encourages employers to take advantage of its free, confidential On-Site Consultation Program. Consultants can help employers identify workplace hazards, provide advice on compliance with OSHA standards and assist in establishing safety and health programs. These services are separate from enforcement and, therefore, don’t lead to penalties or citations.