Electrical Safety Supervisors, Do you know your workers?
Years ago, during my time at a company, I had the opportunity to work closely with a highly experienced high-voltage electrician. While he taught me many valuable lessons, I often found myself questioning some of his methods, as they seemed unsafe. Being new to the trade, I had a deep respect for high-voltage work, but certain practices in the workplace raised concerns. The manager, who had limited experience with this type of work and primarily dealt with voltages up to 480 volts, would assign tasks to the electrician without fully understanding the potential risks involved. This made each day interesting, to say the least, and made me realize the importance of keeping detailed records of my activities in case anything went wrong.
I want to clarify that I never willingly put myself in harm’s way while performing my duties. The company had other skilled electricians who were highly competent, and I was always proactive in seeking guidance and asking questions. However, I couldn’t help but feel that the manager lacked the necessary knowledge to ensure our safety. We often used bucket trucks, climbed poles, and even utilized a backhoe to set utility poles, which almost led to a disastrous incident. One day, while removing a transformer feed with an energized 69kV line, we were working between the phases in a two-bucket truck without any line hose, with a strict warning to be cautious. We successfully disconnected the feeders and left them hanging below the conduit before descending and returning to the shop.
It was during this time that I became concerned about the safety of the bucket truck itself. I asked when it was last subjected to dielectric testing, only to discover that it hadn’t been tested in three years, while OSHA guidelines recommend annual testing for bucket trucks. I couldn’t understand why the manager was unaware of this crucial safety requirement and why he failed to recognize the life-threatening nature of the work we were performing. The response seemed to be rooted in a resistant attitude of “we’ve always done it this way.”
In the NFPA 70E, there are informative sections located at the back of the book, known as annexes. Annex Q specifically addresses human performance modes in various work situations. These modes can be classified into three categories: Rule-Based, Knowledge-Based, and Skill-Based. You may have noticed how some electricians possess a deep understanding and expertise, enabling them to effectively address and resolve issues.
Rule-Based individuals primarily rely on established procedures and rules they have learned through on-the-job or formal training. They apply these learned techniques to respond appropriately to different situations, although at times they may unconsciously switch to a Skill-Based or Knowledge-Based mode.
Knowledge-Based individuals, on the other hand, tend to rely more on their personal understanding of the problem at hand rather than adhering strictly to established rules and procedures. Their decision-making process may be biased by their own perspective, without considering additional information that could shed light on the root cause of the problem. These workers become fixated on the problem itself and fail to explore alternative approaches. When faced with unfamiliar situations involving equipment they are knowledgeable about, they often resort to their usual methods, which may prove ineffective.
Skilled-Based mode is characterized by repetitive tasks that are performed without full awareness of all relevant information. For example, turning off a low-voltage molded case circuit breaker may seem like a straightforward task, but it carries inherent dangers that may be overlooked. Operating in an environment where not all parameters are acknowledged can lead to hazardous outcomes. Some tasks may exceed the capabilities of the worker, leading to disastrous consequences due to a lack of risk perception, often resulting from inadequate or insufficient training.
As you can see, understanding your workers is crucial for effective and safe management or supervision. By utilizing the informative annexes provided in the NFPA 70E as a reference, both workers and their supervisors can work together to ensure a concerted effort to maintain everyone’s safety. It is essential for leaders to demonstrate, teach, and train their team members to excel in their roles so that they can pass on their knowledge to those who may be less informed.
-Post written by Doug Nunley, Senior Training Specialist