Safety: Just Common Sense?

By Dale Gaddis, CSC Southeast Lineman Training Center

If safety were simple, there would be no need for all the books, company handbooks, meetings and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards devoted to the subject. And there would be no need for articles such as this one.

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We’ve heard the clichàƒ©s: All accidents are preventable; it’s human nature to work safely; safety is a condition of employment. But taking risks on the job is quicker and more convenient, comfortable and common than following safety rules, policies and procedures. Think about our lives outside the office. Instead of waiting on the car to warm up on a frosty morning, we start it, wait for a small clearing to appear on the windshield and drive off with limited visibility. Instead of looking behind the car before backing up, we just put it in reverse. Instead of fixing the hole in the yard, we just walk around it. Instead of getting help with a heavy box, we try to move it ourselves.

Then, that small clearing in the windshield causes us to run a stop sign and hit another car. Failing to look back while in reverse causes us to run over our child’s bicycle. And we twist an ankle stepping in that hole in the yard. If that weren’t enough, we wrench our back trying to move that heavy box alone.

So what do we do, just give up and hope for the best? No, safety is a mindset, one that is in our every thought and action, whether on the job or off, whether someone is watching or not. Safety in the workplace begins with management.

“Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it,” Dwight D. Eisenhower said.

Unless management is serious about employee safety, how can a company expect employees to take it seriously?

Someone told me that a safety program works great until people get involved. Kurt Lewin, the founder of modern social psychology, said, “There is nothing more practical than a good theory.” Safety, however, must be more than a theory. For a program to work, we must first understand rules, policies and procedures. Second, we must understand training and safety drivers. And third, we must understand training and safety development.

Rules, Policies and Procedures

Before anything, we must recognize the differences among a rule, policy and procedure. A rule is usually established after an injury or fatality has occurred. OSHA rules are nonnegotiable and often said to be written in blood. A policy is a guideline written and used by a company to comply with a rule. A procedure is a step to complete a task safely while complying with company policies. Simply, rule drives policy; policy drives procedure.

Training and Safety Drivers

Second, we must understand training and safety drivers. What drivers determine your safety policies, and what training do you need? Here are a few to start:

  • new employees,
  • existing employees,
  • compliance issues,
  • new equipment and tools,
  • training technology, and
  • scope of work.

Now, assess your training needs. What does your current program do well, and what does it lack? From there, you may develop your own program or use an outside source.

Think about new employees on their first day of work. Management usually gives them safety manuals and instructs them to sign the first page for records. We forget that they are agreeing in writing that they have read and understand every company rule and policy. All new employees should attend a detailed orientation to alleviate gray areas.

Sometimes we forget about existing employees. Each existing employee should be evaluated to determine areas in which they need additional training and retraining. Add to that training and retraining for anyone who uses or will use new equipment or tools. Along with all of this, safety and compliance issues must be addressed.

Last is the scope or type of work to be performed. Each task should be evaluated to determine all hazards involved. Procedures can be put into effect afterward.

“A prescription without diagnosis is malpractice,” Socrates said.

And Will Rogers reminded us, “Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” Too often we try to choose the easiest, quickest and cheapest fix, which almost always fails, or we just sit back and hope nothing major goes wrong. According to OSHA, each recordable accident costs a minimum of $7,000. A fatality costs at least $1.2 million.

Training and Safety Development

Third, we must understand training and safety development. Once we know our training deficiencies, we can develop a safety program around them. Without a good training program, a safety program will not work, and without a good safety program, a training program will not work.

The goal of any safety program is to maintain a total safety culture, which begins with management’s developing a mission statement. Choose a simple, one-sentence statement that everyone will remember, such as “Make each day a no-accident day.” If you want a really good one, request that employees submit possible mission statements. Safety is a group effort, not that of just one person. Safety must be your No. 1 priority, and it requires good leadership.

Management can cultivate a relationship with employees by visiting with crews. This isn’t the time to “spy” on them, but to show you care about them and the work they do. This is your chance to know them personally in an informal environment.

Don’t get discouraged. The success of a good safety program is not based on the first effort but rather what employees do the third and forth time and even later. Work together and work safely.

John F. Kennedy said it best, “There are risks and costs to a program of action, but they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction.”

Dale Gaddis is safety and training director of the CSC Southeast Lineman Training Center. He began working in the power-delivery industry in 1982. Reach Gaddis at dalegaddis@lineworker.com.

Heartbeat Rescue: Orlando Utilities Commission Saves Foreman

For decades, Tim Westerman said he would trust Orlando Utilities Commission’s (OUC) Emergency Response Team (ERT) with his life. The morning of Aug. 6, 2007, he did just that.

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Over the weekend, the maintenance shop foreman at OUC’s Stanton Energy Center had felt intense pain between his shoulder blades. He attributed it to working on the lawn. But when the pain didn’t ease by Monday, Westerman almost stayed home alone.

“Call it inner self-preservation, but something inside told me I needed to go to work,” Westerman said.

He was attending a Monday-morning meeting with coworkers Danny Evans and Joe Yarborough. The last thing he remembers before passing out was telling them that he felt lightheaded. Then he went into sudden cardiac arrest.

Quick Response

Evans and Yarborough immediately called 3111—OUC’s emergency number at the plant—and began CPR. When members of the ERT arrived, they continued CPR and confirmed that Westerman had no pulse or signs of breathing.

“He was turning a greenish, battleship-gray color and had coded,” Yarborough said.

The plant’s automatic external defibrillator (AED) was quickly brought to the scene, and the team administered a small electric shock. Within seconds, Westerman’s normal heart rhythm returned and he began to respond. The team continued to provide care until Orange County Fire Rescue arrived and took charge. Then Westerman was airlifted to a hospital.

The ERT’s skills and the defibrillator saved the 54-year-old from a potentially fatal situation. Doctors discovered that one artery in his heart was completely blocked, while two others were 75 percent and 40 percent occluded.

“I remember trying to pull off my oxygen mask on the way to the hospital after the ERT had saved my life,” said Westerman, who joined OUC when he was 20. “I jokingly told mechanic Hugo Delpin that it was time to retire.”

Training Paid Off

ERT members must complete 70 hours of initial training during a two-week period, as well four additional eight-hour sessions throughout the year. Active and retired firefighters and paramedics lead the classes, said Joe Lewis, senior safety coordinator at OUC’s Stanton Energy Center.

“Our ERT is made up of about 60 employees, and the program has been in place since the late 1980s,” Lewis said. “All members are employees at the Stanton Energy Center.”

The team is trained in four main areas: fire response, hazardous material response, medical response and confined-space rescue, said Mark Mitchell, OUC safety and training manager.

“Our primary focus is to mediate an event the best we can until 911 or the Orange County Fire Rescue team arrives on the scene,” Mitchell said. “Although we’re certainly not paramedics and don’t train to become municipal firefighters, we do work to minimize the impact of emergencies through early intervention.”

The incident demonstrates the value of safety training for employees and OUC’s commitment to providing lifesaving equipment such as AEDs at all facilities. Harold Ross, a former OUC safety and training manager, is credited with starting the program. OUC purchased nine additional AEDs this year. Westerman knows it was a good investment.

“My hat’s off to Harold Ross because he lobbied the company to buy the plant’s first defibrillator,” Westerman said. “I called Harold from the hospital that night and thanked him for that lifesaving investment.”

According to the American Heart Association, more than 200,000 Americans die of sudden cardiac arrest every year, and up to 50,000 of those deaths could be prevented if a defibrillator were available.

My OUC Family

“I consider OUC my second family,” Westerman said. “They took care of me and provided the kind of support you don’t read about in an employee or safety and training manual.”

One of Westerman’s biggest supporters was Tom Kostenbauder, a longtime friend and coworker. After Westerman had been discharged from the hospital, Kostenbauder invited him to stay at his home during a two-month recovery period.

“He told me I had taken care of him at OUC all these years, and now he and his family were going to take care of me,” Westerman said.

The encounter with death has made the healthy 55-year-old take an even more positive outlook on life and become more thankful. On the one-year anniversary of the incident, Westerman called to thank everyone on the OUC team who had been involved in saving his life.

“I wanted to convey how much they have meant to me and the positive impact that they had on my life ” and that they would never be forgotten,” he said.

Nowadays, Westerman is closer with his family and regularly calls his mother, sister, five children and six grandchildren to tell them how much they mean to him. He retired from OUC in February 2008 after 35 years of service. Westerman lives in Christmas, Fla.

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