On every line crew, a utility has a blend of new apprentices and seasoned veterans. These linemen are often at different stages of their lives and careers, but they share a common thread. All of them are working on improving their executive safety skills.
I first learned about the concept of executive safety skills during a meeting with our daughter's third-grade counselor. Our 10-year-old daughter, who has moderate to severe Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Sensory Integration Disorder, was struggling with the organizational skills necessary to copy tasks and homework assignments into a day planner. Her teacher explained that this was an “executive skill” that is often learned not in third but in fifth grade. After that meeting, I thought more about the concept of executive skills and realized that it applies well to utility safety, too.
Here are some important executive skills to keep you safe:
- Learn from the mistakes of others
A rule of the trade is to never make the same mistake twice. Yet we spend a lot of time in safety meetings reviewing near-miss and injury reports. Ask yourself: Are you learning from others' mistakes in the field? How often are you changing your behavior? Learning and changing because of what others have experienced is a key executive safety skill.
- Speak out
Recently, I took a friend to pick up his car at a dealership that had outstanding customer service. I was so impressed that I talked to the manager, who credited the superior customer service to the 10-foot rule. He taught all of his employees — from the top salespeople to the maintenance staff — to stop and ask if a customer needs help if he or she is within 10 feet of them.
This executive safety skill also can be applicable for line workers. Whether you are an apprentice or a journeyman, you must make your voice heard. Don't be afraid to speak your mind when it comes to safety.
- Don't forget to brake
Since our child was diagnosed with ADD, we have learned that children with this disorder often have a lot of creative energy, a light-hearted spirit and an intense focus on something one minute and something else a split second later. As such, my wife and I have encouraged our daughter to “brake” when she is off track. That allows her to stop and refocus on what is most important at the time.
This skill is also vital in the utility industry. Using one's brake when gloving primary, flagging traffic or performing other safety-sensitive jobs is very important. It allows you to stop, if only for a few seconds, check all of the hazards and make sure you are getting it done the right way. After you have braked and checked your surroundings, you can safely continue.
- Plan thoroughly
When I was an apprentice electrical line worker in Kirksville, Missouri, I was assigned from crew to crew. I recall one old line foreman who would always take the time to review the job carefully before anyone started work. As the new guy, they gave me time to ask questions, and I always had dozens of them. As we ended the job briefing and went to work, he would always say, “And remember, nobody gets hurt today!”
Years later, as a safety professional for a utility, I found that failure to properly plan was a leading cause or a contributing factor to each injury. And the more severe the incident, the more the lack of job planning played a significant role in contributing to the incident.
Many utilities, construction companies and contractors are now using job planning forms to make this more effective. No matter how you get results, job planning is an executive skill that must be mastered by both you and your organization.
- Stop to stretch and rest
We are all getting older; this is a key point to remember for those who earn a living with their hands and the sweat of their brow. What we could get by with in our 20s can leave lasting pain in our 40s and beyond.
To protect yourself from injury, consider buying into a stretch-and-flex program, whether it's offered by your employer or done on your own. Also, don't forget to eat right and get the proper amount of rest. Oftentimes, exhaustion can lead to unnecessary injuries in the field.
- Remember you're not bulletproof
You might think that you are invincible if you are new to the industry, but a near-miss or an actual injury could prove otherwise. Instead of waiting until after an incident, try to remember that you are not bulletproof today. If you don't follow proper safety protocols, you have the same chance of getting injured as anyone else on your crew.
Whether you are a young apprentice or a seasoned veteran, executive safety skills are key to the success and longetivity of your career. By focusing on not only productivity but also safety, you can ensure that you will be climbing poles and restoring power for years to come.
Matt Forck ([email protected]), a certified safety professional, worked as a meter reader and journeyman lineman, and was a member of his utility's safety staff. Today, as the president of K-Crof Industries, he speaks and consults on utility safety. Learn more at www.thesafetysoul.org.