T&D World Magazine

Jim White: Safety Advocate

Staying alive is high on Jim White’s to-do list, along with “not being mangled or disfigured.” In order to stay alive in this industry, electrical workers must follow safety methods to a tee.

White stresses the crucial importance of safety procedures and technology in his classes. He is the training director for Shermco Industries and has spent the last 31 years directly involved in technical skills and safety training for electrical power system technicians.

“People are a company’s greatest asset, but some people get too involved in the production side of things,” White said. “When you’re in an electrical incident it can change your entire life forever, and it’s not a good change.”

So White continues to conduct safety training at Shermco to help prevent accidents. He is also presenting OSHA.29CFR1926 Update, at the IEEE IAS 2012 Electrical Safety Workshop, this week in Daytona Beach, Florida. Shermco sponsored a Wednesday lunch as well as a break today. OSHA.29CFR1926 Update provides an overview of changes made in the electrical safety regulations targeting construction work environments.

White started in the electrical field in 1969 as an apprentice electrician and spent the following 12 years in electrical construction, the U.S. Air Force and high-voltage test shops for the U.S. government.

He really began his career as a trainer in 1980, when he joined the Multi-Amp Institute as an instructor. He was promoted to manager of training soon after and then in 1994, became director.

“My employer really took a chance on me, as I was more of a ‘jack of all trades’ person. Luckily, that is what they were looking for, someone possessing a broad base of experience. At the time it sounded exciting, which it really has been,” White said.

He joined Shermco in 2001 to continue his training career. Shermco is an electrical services provider based in Texas, offering field, shop, professional and training services. Its “open-enrollment” courses are conducted at the training center in Irving, Texas, throughout the year.

The company can also conduct training at clients’ facilities, providing site- and equipment-specific instruction for the gear, safety concerns and work environment factors that they work with everyday. In the end, the company said its goal is to enhance the employee's test and maintenance skills, to increase their safety awareness and to raise their confidence levels to increase their accuracy and efficiency.

White said he has always enjoyed his training career. “I'm granted the opportunity to meet great people from all over and by training these fine people, I get satisfaction in knowing that we've helped them in many ways. Who knows, maybe we have even saved a few lives.”

Other courses that White has taught include substation maintenance courses, hands-on circuit breaker, transformer testing and calibration of protective relays. “However, most of what I have been doing lately is electrical safety. Some new courses coming up are ‘Cable Splicing & Termination for Medium Voltage Cables,’ the updated version of our NFPA70E and other safety courses, which are updated to reflect changes in the regulations and the NFPA70E,” White said.

White communicates a number-one rule to his students: “When working on or near electrical equipment, if at all possible --turn it off,” he said. “This is the only sure way to eliminate all the hazards. If you’re working it hot and anything goes wrong, the equipment you were working on is now out of service and probably for several days, instead of a few hours. The chances of permanent injury are too great.”

White said he can relate with personal experience. “Back in the day, we were taught that real electricians never turned anything off--even if you could. As a result, I've been involved in some really nasty incidents and I now know what copper metal tastes like.”

Safety procedures and technology continue to improve, so the old attitude “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” reflects the lack of safety processes and technology of past times. “We know better now and need to accept it,” White said.

White leaves his work at work, he said, although he does answer his cell phone until 9 p.m. “I get a lot of calls from former students who just want to say ‘Hi or they are on a job and have a critical need.”

In his spare time, he has been restoring a 1971 Corvette since 1986. “I hope to finish it before I die,” he said. He enjoys playing golf, especially with his two sons.

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