Norman Mull at 42 years old was a husband, father of two, easy-going, hard-working, honest, and caring. The kind of father who took long walks, explored caves, and developed a love of nature and life itself with his son. Who drove hours after working all day to make it home for his daughter's graduation.

In his home town in North Carolina, Norman was always ready to put his skill as a Master Electrician to use, anything from testing or wiring small circuits to wiring an entire house. People trusted him to do a job right and safe.

Three years ago in June, Norman died while doing a contracting job near Mobile, AL. Pulling wire through conduits and making up boxes while standing on a scissor lift 12 feet in the air took most of the morning. At lunch, he cooled down from the heat, meeting his wife and daughter at a nearby restaurant. He and his wife planned to renew their vows on their upcoming 23rd anniversary. As he left, he kissed her goodbye and told her to drive carefully back to the hotel. At 3 p.m., a 911 call came in. 'Heart attack' was first reported, but paramedics determined electrocution to be the cause of Norman's death.

An 'accident' had occurred. Again. Four hundred and eighty-five other workers were electrocuted on the job in 1995, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. More than one electrocution for every day of the year. Most, if not all, could have been prevented using a simple procedure called 'lockout-tagout.'

That's a big 'if.'

Seven days before Norman's death, an OSHA compliance officer told his supervisor to use a 'lockout-tagout' program. According to the company, the program was being put into practice when Norman was killed. An $18,000 fine was reduced to $12,000 and eventually paid by Norman's employer.

Life-saving steps

Lockout is simply a way of locking out the flow of energy from a power source to equipment or a circuit. By installing a lockout device at the power source, the power is rendered inoperable. Locks make sure no one tampers with the energy source until it's ready to be safely reenergized. Tagout is a method of installing a tag on the power source to alert others not to remove a lock or reenergize until proper authority is given. "Don't operate until the tag is removed" should appear in bold letters on the tag. Lockout-tagout standards can be found in CFR. 1926.417 and CFR 1926.702, and in some other standards as well.

Don't wait until someone is killed or hurt to review your safety plans. Assess safety programs like lockout-tagout every month, and most of all use them to train your employees properly.

Think how you would feel if Norman Mull was your father, husband, friend, or co-worker. Think of the thousands of workers who die on the job every year. Then make your workplace as safe as your own home. Show you care.