Celebrate Safety In May; Practice It Every Day

The Electrical Safety Foundation International (www.esfi.org) has sponsored National Electrical Safety Month each May for several years now. NECA has been working with ESFI since the foundation’s beginning to educate key audiences on preventing electrical fires, injuries and fatalities in the home and workplace.

ESFI chose “Electrical Safety for All Ages” as the theme for National Electrical Safety Month 2013, taking a multigenerational approach to electrical safety by encouraging families to work together to identify and correct potential fire hazards. However, it’s much more sophisticated than the character Private I. Plug giving a lecture to the kids. The foundation offers real resources and practical advice that even address on-the-job issues.

Our association has also established a sophisticated National Electrical Safety Month tradition. The annual NECA Safety Professionals Conference provides the most up-to-date information on regulations, compliance, management techniques and standards development that affect safety and health in the electrical construction industry. It is attended by contractors, project managers, human resource professionals, safety professionals, supervisors and anyone else responsible for safety oversight.

Of course, I don’t want to suggest that either ESFI or NECA limit promoting electrical safety to the fifth month of the year. It’s a commitment we carry out every day. This magazine’s readers are well aware of NECA’s work in advancing safety performance within the electrical industry. If you read further, you’ll also find that ESFI is stepping up its research and educational outreach activities.

For example, I recently read that ESFI commissioned a study, published by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, that analyzed injury and fatality data collected by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for 2003 through 2009. Of the 20,033 electrical injuries recorded for this period, there were 1,573 fatalities. That works out to about one in every 13 electrical contact injuries on the job resulting in death.

Of those fatalities, 43 percent resulted from contact with overhead power lines, and another 27 percent involved contact with wiring, transformers or other electrical components. One of the most disturbing statistics is that nearly a third of those deaths were experienced by electricians, power line installers and tree trimmers—people who should know all about electrical safety.

An obvious takeaway lesson is that construction managers need to do a better job of informing workers of potential hazards on the job site. I think it is also obvious that we all must do better when instilling safe work habits in our employees. Don’t assume your workers know everything they need to know and that they will always act accordingly. Safety training isn’t a one-shot deal. It needs to be repeated and reinforced.

Bear in mind that safety training isn’t one-size-fits-all, either. If you have attended a NECA Safety Professionals Conference, for instance, you witnessed wide diversity in interests, professional roles and skill levels among the participants, even though they were all focused on the broad topic of electrical safety. You may need to approach safety training differently with different workers, who may not always have been so focused.

Of course, if you have been talking to NECA contractors across the country like I have, you would also find that many of them are repositioning safety away from being a cost center to becoming a revenue generator. I first addressed this concept a few months ago when I discussed some changes to NFPA 70E, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace.

Specifically, NFPA 70E 2012 added provisions mandating that all covered employees be retrained on the standard at intervals not to exceed three years, and the employer must document the content of this training as well as who received it and when. Retraining is triggered sooner if noncompliance is determined.

Similarly, employers are required to audit the content of their electrical safety program at least every three years to ensure compliance with 70E. Additionally, a new section requires host employers to hold and document a formal meeting with contractors brought in to work on electrical equipment and systems.

These new requirements can provide for closer interaction between host employers and contractors, which is a good thing. If we can make our customers understand why we do what we do and thereby get them to improve their compliance with NFPA 70E, everyone benefits through improved electrical safety in the workplace.

If we can assist them in conducting those required annual inspections, help them establish good electrical safety programs, meet the new paperwork rules, and perhaps even provide required employee training, we have opportunities to offer new value-added services. And that’s always a good thing, too!

About the Author

Dennis F. Quebe

President, NECA
Dennis Quebe is a former president of the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) and contributed the President's Desk column monthly. He took office in January 2012 and served a three-year term.

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