PTD: Putting Accident Prevention First

“Prevention through Design” (PTD), also known as “Safety through Design,” increasingly has become the focus of attention since the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and some powerful allies in government, industry and academia launched the National PTD Initiative to highlight its importance in all business decisions.

This ongoing initiative met a major interim goal in January when the American Society of Safety Engineers released a new standard on “Prevention through Design: Guidelines for Addressing Occupational Risks in Design and Redesign Processes” [ANSI/ASSE Z590.3] that can be applied in any occupational setting. PTD has become a rallying point due to growing awareness of the need to make safety the first consideration as new technologies, techniques and processes are introduced on the job site at a dizzying pace.

As I mentioned at NECA’s National Safety Professionals Conference in May, making workplace safety a core value in the electrical contracting industry is certainly not a new concept for qualified electrical contractors, but the intensified focus on PTD in construction introduces some new ideas and opportunities! I encourage you to look into it.

NIOSH defines PTD as “addressing occupational safety and health needs in the design process to prevent or minimize the work-related hazards and risks associated with the construction, manufacture, use, maintenance, and disposal of facilities, materials, and equipment.” For electrical contractors, that definition applies not only to integrating electrical safety into the electrical installation design but also in project planning and preplanning tasks so that safe work practices are integrated into the execution of the work every day.

Our industry professionals have embraced safe installation practices by working in compliance with the National Electrical Code (NEC) for well over a century. We abide by Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rules and other applicable safety regulations. We live by NFPA 70E, the Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace. This important standard is reflected in NECA’s national policy on “Safety Programs and Safe Workers,” which advocates using proper lockout/tagout procedures to achieve a zero-energy work environment as the normal practice while working at customers’ facilities.

In addition, competent electrical contractors regularly conduct a prejob hazard analysis for every project, evaluating all project-specific activities and processes for hazards and then applying proper prevention and control methods before our actual electrical work begins.

And, of course, we recognize that safety on the job site really begins with developing and communicating an effective safety and health policy to all employees, providing safety training and retraining as necessary, and demonstrating management commitment by instilling accountability for safety and health throughout the work force.

So, why all the fuss about PTD? Well, it responds to a problem with installation standards that have historically focused on protecting the general public but are silent on employee safety and also fail to address the introduction of new job site hazards.

However, instituting PTD techniques reduces the introduction of new potential safety problems because hazards are evaluated and controls are established during the earliest stages of design. This approach to risk mitigation not only benefits the facility owners but also workers performing installations and other tasks. The objective is to eliminate the introduction of hazards into the workplace and to reduce the risks that cannot be reduced to acceptable levels.

Something new to think about: Remember that business development opportunities are present in all aspects of the electrical contracting business. From offering an value-added service to customers at the design/build stage to implementing electrical maintenance requirements, the benefits of PTD equal a true cost savings to owners and protect the workers performing the work. Customers must be made aware of this fact.

The concept could be instituted during design/build projects or even during retrofitting-, commissioning- or maintenance-related activities when you recommend changes that will reap a true life-cycle saving for facility owners. For example, your recommendations might include reducing arc energy levels by specifying and installing faster reacting overcurrent protective devices, such as current limiting fuses of circuit breakers or arc-resistant electrical equipment, and/or applying labeling requirements that warn qualified people of residual risk remaining. The substitution of upstream current-limiting overcurrent devices can reduce the arcing potential from 40 cal/cm2 to just under 4 cal/cm2. The point is even a simple solution should be considered worthwhile as a value-add to a facility owner as the protection is greatly enhanced for both property and people.

And, that means your customers also need to be brought into the safety planning process at the earliest stages of design. Job site accident prevention must be considered first, before all other factors, because prevention delayed can be an accident waiting to happen.

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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