Artificial intelligence, wearables and other smart devices enable contractors to maintain safer job sites, said Jerry Rivera, safety director for NECA’s Washington, D.C., chapter. I caught up with Rivera to learn more about how technology is transforming safety for the better, and how the practice is evolving.
How has the electrical industry/safety changed in the last five years?
Safety in the electrical industry has undergone some transformational changes. Emerging technology allows more efficient safeguards in the workplace, and the pace is quickly evolving. Wearable technology allows the creation of geofencing on job-site activities, such that mobile equipment uses smart technology to verify operator credentials prior to startup, advise workers when in the proximity of electrical circuits and track lone workers in high-risk activities, such as confined spaces.
In the training arena, we are seeing the use of artificial intelligence playing a more active role, such that an aerial lift operator can be evaluated without ever getting on a piece of equipment, or an electrician can be trained in establishing electrically safe working conditions without ever being exposed to energized circuits. It certainly is an exciting time to be part of the electrical construction industry as a safety and health professional.
How about changes over the last 20 years?
Over the last 20 years, the safety profession has evolved from a compliance-driven practice to one that is based on science, technology and engineering. Today’s safety professionals are involved in establishing high-reliability organizations that consider human performance in incident prevention. This means that safety professionals now look at safety from a systematic approach, of which the human interface is a vital component. Workers are part of the solution and not necessarily viewed as a problem. Safety performance auditing is now conducted using mobile devices, which allows for live trending of unsafe conditions, tracking safety solutions and generating reports instantaneously.
What do you see as the biggest gaps or disconnects in safety today?
The most successful companies see safety performance as a measure of organizational performance. For businesses to be profitable, the adoption of leading safety performance measures must be tracked and acted on.
What safety training is important for employees and how is successful training measured?
Safety training is paramount for the electrical industry as we seek more efficient ways of protecting the industry’s most valuable asset—our people. Successful safety training is now being measured live during classroom activities and in-field evaluations. For example, during class training we can now leverage technology to evaluate key knowledge objectives by using online evaluation tools and classroom activities, and the learning continues in the field using mobile technology.
Has the COVID-19 pandemic created additional safety challenges?
While Covid-19 has created some changes, it has also created opportunities. We are now conducting safety training using a blended approach, virtually and in person, while maintaining social distance. Social distancing has forced us to leverage technology, so we’re now getting more connected. We have also used technology for consulting purposes, such that we use virtual platforms to conduct site visits or evaluate some task.
Is there any advice for a safety professional entering this field?
The biggest advice is to take time to learn more about the electrical industry. While qualified academic occupational safety and health programs have matured, becoming familiar with the business is a valuable asset. However, to be successful in today’s environment, we must also demonstrate mastery in science, technology and engineering.
Do you have any other advice for safety professionals?
Master the safety profession, learn about the electrical trade and become part of the business. Safety professionals are playing more of an active role in the executive suite, but to achieve that, we must dedicate time to learn more about the electrical industry.