There have been many changes and new challenges in ensuring line contractors perform their work safely, but Matthew C. Compher is up to the task. Compher, vice president of safety, health, environmental and quality at Houston-based Quanta Services Inc., shares how he and his company are meeting these changes and challenges head on.
As the head of safety for lineworkers, what are the biggest challenges and how do you approach them?
With the increased investment in the electric grid, our industry is growing, and so we need to ensure that training and workforce development grows with the demand. We are focused on providing world-class training that supports the growth, allowing the next generation to enter the workforce, and at the same time we are providing advanced training to the existing workforce.
Our training ranges from apprenticeship and continues throughout the lineworker’s career. Our focus is to take quality education to the worker, which entails advanced training using adult education techniques at or close to the job site. Essentially, the trainers and the classroom travel to the workforce, instead of the other way around. A properly trained workforce is fundamental to safety performance.
Have safety policies and procedures for line work changed over the years, and if so, how?
The policies and procedures changed during the last revision of 1910.269/Subpart V. While the regulations changed at that time, much of the industry had already implemented best practices, which were in some cases adopted by OSHA. These best practices were developed by the OSHA Electrical Transmission & Distribution Strategic Partnership that includes Quanta, NECA, IBEW, EEI, OSHA and many of the large electrical construction contractors. The partnership has developed and implemented best practices and training programs that have no doubt had a huge impact on our industry.
Beyond the regulatory efforts and the efforts of the partnership, you are seeing much of the industry working on serious injury and fatality programs, also known as SIF. At Quanta, we have “The Capacity Model,” which is a new approach to how we plan and execute work. The Capacity Model is focused on how employees interact with the work we do and how they can build “capacity” into the work to allow failure without hurting anyone.
How did you get into the line safety field and what do you like best about it?
I came into the line work business in the early 2000s, and this was a time when the utility industry began to focus on contractor safety. Prior to this time, many utilities kept contractors at an arm’s-length distance.
I went to work at a local utility as they were going through the transition of not only caring about their internal employees, but contractors, too. My first assignment was to start a contractor safety oversight program. Then I went into the line contracting business because I saw an opportunity to formalize a contractors’ safety program, which makes a difference in the lives of the workforce.
What I love most about my job is the people. Everything I do at work is helping people or the environment—what is cooler than that? I work hard every day to help all our employees go home safely so they can spend that precious time with their families.
Any advice for professionals just getting into the safety field for line work?
Become a student of the profession. You never know it all, always be reading and always be learning. I ask my team regularly, “What have you done today to get better?”
It’s always important, no matter what field you are in, to focus on leadership skills. The better your leadership skills, the more impact you will have on the workforce.
Compher has 25 years of safety management experience, with the last 17 in the electric utility and oil and gas construction industries. He serves on the board of advisors for the Construction Safety Research Alliance. He is a member of the National Construction Safety Executives and an adjunct member of the Edison Electric Institute Occupational Safety and Health Executive Advisory Committee. Compher is also a member of the OSHA Electrical T&D Strategic Partnership Steering Committee, where he served as the chairman for four years.
Compher served as the past chairman of the Department of Labor Apprenticeship USA Energy Sector of Excellence in Apprenticeship. He holds the certificates of construction health and safety technician, occupational health and safety technologist and certified utility safety professional.
Matt resides in Houston with his wife, Kelly, and two sons.