Recently, Voltage had the privilege of hosting a webinar with guest speaker, James White, VP of Shermco Industry Inc., and a member of the NFPA Technical Committee for NFPA 70E, NFPA 70B, NEC CMP-13 and ASTM F18. The presentation covered the dos and don’ts on training and safety practices for people within the electrical industry. As a seasoned and respected veteran within the industry, White had a lot to share with his audience.
White began his presentation talking about statistics concerning electrical-related injuries and fatalities. The first slide was taken from a presentation given at an electrical safety workshop hosted by CDC NIOSH, showing when most injuries occur when working with electricity.
Surprisingly, 24% of injuries occur during troubleshooting. “When you think of troubleshooting, it is a fairly benign activity,” explains White, “-but it is not that easy, because as you’re troubleshooting equipment, it means that equipment is in distress or there’s something wrong with it, and very likely it is going to fail when you’re not expecting it.” Other high categories included repair (18%) and equipment failing in normal operation (19%).
Information was provided, courtesy of the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) that exposed the numbers having to do with electrical-related fatalities. White pointed out that contact with overhead power lines accounted for 44% of workers’ deaths. He elaborated on some interesting and discouraging information about that statistic. “The numbers change year by year, but the proportions of these fatalities do not. That number has been at 44-45% since I can remember.”
Clearly, this speaker had a message: There is much room for improvement. Workers can do more to educate themselves, and employers can help educate their workers, about safely working in the electrical industry. “We want people to go home in the same way they got to work,” states White, while providing what he considers essential components for electrical safety, including:
- Properly engineered and designed electrical systems;
- Code compliant installation, either NEC (NFPA 70) or NESC (ANSI C2);
- Equipment maintained in good working order;
- Equipment operated within prescribed parameters; and
- Proper worker training to operate and maintain equipment.
White also discussed the NFPA 70 standard, which is technically labeled as a safety code. According to White, there is a difference between a safety code and a safe work practice standard. It can only go so far in making a workplace safer, so it is important to know the difference, and exercise caution when accessing new workspaces and situations.
Most importantly, White addressed the controversial subject of passing down what is termed as “tribal knowledge” within the industry. It is a common practice for electrical workers to learn from veterans in the industry by participating in on-the-job training. White explained that most people in the industry rely on this as their primary way of learning and receiving training.
“Technicians are technicians because they don’t learn as well in a classroom setting. They learning by doing.” In other words, most workers in this profession tend to be kinetic learners, which means they respond better to a more hands-on approach when learning new skills.
There are pros and cons to relying on tribal knowledge. Some of the pros include getting early access to real-world experiences and good on-the-job training, which allows technicians to acquire knowledge quickly. The cons to this approach are that the novice only knows what their teacher knows, which means there may be holes in the new learner’s knowledge base, because the seasoned veteran may have learned a technique incorrectly under his predecessor, etc. This type of education creates a lot of holes, and pertinent information can easily slip through the cracks.
The solution is to constantly approach safety and the craft in a way where the worker takes responsibility for their own safety and a more active role in their own learning. White says workers should repeatedly ask themselves questions like, “Am I really qualified to do this?” OSHA is going to look at employee’s actions, not their job title/description.
It is always crucial to remember OSHA’s description of a qualified person: “One who has received training in and has demonstrated skills and knowledge in the construction and operation of electric equipment and installations and the hazards involved.” One key concept to note is that OSHA includes the phrase “the hazards involved” in this definition. The language implies that personal safety and awareness is in the electrical worker’s own hands.
To conclude, White’s key takeaways is that workers in the industry must demonstrate technical skills and safety skills. They must be able to recognize hazards in their environment and know the proper ways to avoid them when planning a job, along with being able to successfully devise stems to perform the work safely.
If you would like to access the webinar on-demand, please visit: http://www.electricalsafetypub.com/free-on-demand-webinars/