Annually, 75 to 80 workers die from fatal injuries in the electric utility industry. A large number of these deaths are due to electrical contact. Many incidents leading to serious and fatal injuries could have been avoided by conducting pre-job briefings, using personal protective equipment cradle-to-cradle and ground-to-ground, using equipotential grounding, and wearing sleeves with high-voltage rubber gloves. Still, in many companies, workers and their leaders resist implementing these as prescribed safe practices.

In utilities across the U.S. and Canada, employees and leaders often describe barriers to safety including:
• Misunderstanding of basic safety concepts,
• Poor communications between leaders and workers at all levels,
• Absence of credible leaders, and
• A shortage of experienced and qualified workers.

A lack of understanding is at the root of employee resistance to following industry safe work practices. Greater understanding of safety concepts and the process of safety leads to better communications. If leaders will take time to listen to workers’ safety concerns prior to implementing new work practices or rules, the level of understanding will go up as will the degree of acceptance of and adherence to the rules.

One of the hottest concerns in the industry is the shortage of trained and qualified workers. Some companies recognize that having a good safety record and a genuine concern for worker safety are important recruiting tools – especially when you consider that industry is quite homogenous and word gets around about which companies value worker safety and which do not. One hiring supervisor in an electric utility reported that seven out of eight external candidates for a supervisor position asked about the company’s safety record and work practices.

Overcoming the barriers to safety first takes recognition of the roadblocks then addressing them with a systematic approach based on an overarching safety management process.

A zero-injury safety management process first requires the philosophy that it’s possible to work effectively and efficiently with nobody getting hurt. Research shows that those who establish and use a clear standard or criteria for safety have the best results.

There are five areas required to have an outstanding safety management process that can result in zero injuries:

Management commitment – Provision of outstanding protection to their employees through effective systems and personal actions by executives, managers, and supervisors.

Employee involvement – Employee interest and involvement in the safety and health processes at work including participation in audits, accident and incident investigations, suggestion programs, and safety committees.

Worksite analysis – A systematic approach to assessing and managing worksite hazards.

Hazard prevention and control – A commitment to workplace health and safety through preventative equipment maintenance, workplace health processes, hazard tracking methods, and emergency preparations.

Safety and health training – Ensures workers know how to perform all aspects of their job to prevent work-related injury or illness.

Electric utilities that have consistently good safety performance recognize issues in the industry as well as their own organization, identify and address the barriers to safety, and have a safety management process that focuses on zero injuries.

Source: Excerpted from a blog by Carl Potter, CSP, CMC and Deb Potter, PhD, CMC, Potter and Associates International, Inc.; From the website: