Our industry has best practices, known work methods, and company expectations/policies. As linemen, electricians, and communication techs, we know what they are. Why is it that we sometimes drift from the known best practice or work method? Why do we sometimes work unsafe?

When we make mistakes, catastrophic events can occur, including injuries and even deaths. This must stop. Is there a laissez faire work culture with some individuals in our industry?

In 2013, electrical power-line installers and repairers had a fatal work injury rate of 21.5 per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers, the ninth-highest rate of all occupations. By comparison, construction had a rate of 9.4 fatal work injuries; the “all worker” fatality rate nationally is 3.2. This shows that linemen are roughly seven times more likely to sustain a fatal injury at work than the typical American, with electricians and communication workers being roughly three times as likely.

Here in the Northeast, we have high-quality apprenticeship training, as well as top-notch safety training in each of our outside line construction local unions in the 10- state region. The utilities and contractors have working rules. OSHA has its policies, which are law; these policies and laws are thoroughly communicated. As stated above, why is it that we drift from the known best practice or work method? Why do we work unsafe?

At I.B. Abel, we define “unsafe” as any action that drifts from a known policy or work method. This includes not properly filling out a pre-job briefing, not identifying and mitigating our critical steps, not applying enough protective cover to energized facilities, not wearing appropriate personal protective equipment, not wearing fall protection, not following proper ladder use practices, not abiding by minimum approach distances, and not abiding by equi-potential grounding practices.

Each of these examples demonstrates the lack of use of our Human Performance tool of procedure adherence. This is a primary contributing factor in our events. Therefore, why do we not adhere to our procedures? The answer is simple: We are human. We drift because it is convenient. It is sometimes more difficult to follow ALL of the rules. When we do drift and nothing occurs, that action is then reinforced as if it is OK to do so.

We want to reverse this trend. We need to reinforce the correct work behaviors and follow ALL the rules and policies ALL the time. We then need to coach our co-workers and crew members when they do not adhere to the rules. Once we can achieve this, we will see an elimination of events.

Throughout the rest of the year, I.B. Abel will continue to strive to meet the goal of working “safe,” adhering to procedures, and eliminating events. We have a well-trained and dedicated workforce and know we can achieve this goal. Let’s work to keep the message of procedure adherence as a main focal point for this year and years to come. We all will be safer, will build a better job, and be more efficient when following our procedures.