Reducing Risk: Prevention and Mitigation
We accept a level of risk in our daily lives in everything we do; the act of driving to work is a good example. The object is to reduce the risks of our actions, or inactions; reduce the potential that your action, your activity, or lack thereof will lead to an undesirable outcome. There are many ways to reduce the risks associated with the work you perform – it takes teamwork to make this happen. Your success can help take a bite out of the growing statistics of injuries and deaths in our electrical industry.
I’d like to present the thought of managing risk from two different angles. One is to reduce the risk of something happening (prevention) and the other is to reduce the risk of injury or death when something does happen (mitigation). In my eyes these are two distinct categories of risk management. Addressing them both separately may help us understand why we take certain precautions and what they are trying to achieve.
The best accident to deal with is the one that never happened. The first step in this process is to get your organization’s mind around a goal of zero incidents. You must make safety your number one priority for the organization. Once your head is in the game, you are ready to begin. What I would like to do here is present some concepts that may help increase the possibility that more projects can be conducted with zero incidents. This list is not all inclusive; feel free to customize as you see fit for your organization. I’m sure if you pulled your safety professionals together you could grow this list.
Treat every circuit as if it is energized and work de-energized – a best practice and a policy to live by.
As a youngster, I could be found every summer working with my uncle on many types of construction projects. I walked the peaks of roofs, bounced on pole scaffold planks, and scurried up poorly secured ladders. I was never afraid and no job was out of my ability. The older I got the more things changed. Why is it that I now see standing on a 2x12 plank 30 feet in the air without a safety harness as hazardous to my health but didn’t when I was in seventh grade? It is not because I had a bad experience or saw someone else have a bad day. It is because I have been made more aware of the risk associated with these activities. I’m well-read when it comes to statistics and the ill effects of this type of work done without the proper safety equipment. Recognizing hazards is not as easy as it sounds. It takes continuous training and insight from others who may see hazards that are not apparent to the average observer.
Seek input from others including those you work with, trade organizations like IEC, and manufacturer’s instructions. Help your employees identify the hazards because recognizing them is the first step to avoidance.
Don’t let a poorly maintained tool be the reason for your injury. We rely on our tools to make our lives easier. In many cases they are an absolute necessity to get the job done. If not cared for, they may be the cause of a visit to the hospital or worse. Before you use a tool or as you are putting it away, perform an inspection. Many tools simply need a quick review. Some may need periodic testing. Insulated hand tools, matting, and other personal protective equipment (PPE) that are supposed to prevent electrocution should the tool come in contact with energized equipment, may require more than just a visual inspection. National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 70E, “Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace,” includes Table 130.7 (C)(14), “Standards on Protective Equipment,” which provides reference documents for various Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) items you use on projects. This table provides guidance on how often to perform visual inspection and the frequency for further testing referencing the appropriate American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) standards. Take care of your tools and they will take care of you.
The concept of a safety plan has graced the pages of Insights before and is an effort that your organization should consider and implement. Your safety plan is a great avenue to deliver your policies around safe work practices for your organization. This could be your springboard for all of the activities necessary to keep your team on their toes and out of harm’s way. Pre-work safety meetings, success stories, and lessons learned – these and more are activities that can keep safety in the heads of your employees or your co-workers. Everyone has the same goal and that should be in your safety plan.
Safety is not something that should be left to on-the-job training. It’s ultimately each of our own responsibility to ensure we seek the training we need – your organization should have a good training program as part of its safety plan. As mentioned above, recognizing hazards is not easy when you are unfamiliar with them. Training does more than just keep your head in the game, it helps us recognize hazards and take the necessary steps to avoid the dangers.
In the electrical business, we put our bodies into stressful and physically challenging situations. Taking care of your health with annual physicals, exercise, and healthy eating habits can make a big difference on the job. An earlier edition of this column spoke to the importance of dealing with stress and how stress can negatively impact safety. You are the only one who can take care of your own health. It’s up to you to ensure you are fit for what the day will bring.
Someone told me once to save like I'm going to live forever and pray like I'm going to die tomorrow. Something similar can be said here for safety. We have to cover all of our bases because we can plan, train, and work hard to avoid the incidents – but we can’t forget to plan, train, and work hard to be prepared for when the event occurs. There are certain aspects of your mitigation plan that need to be considered to help increase the likelihood that should an event occur, you and your employees will be around afterwards. Things like Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI), PPE, arc reduction technologies, and more exist for when things do not go as you planned. Donning your 40 calorie suit for work is not like putting on your bathing suit for the pool. You put on your bathing suit because you plan to jump in the water; you do not don PPE because you are planning to have an arc flash event. But should a problem occur, your equipment should be there as your last resort. It doesn’t guarantee you will avoid the emergency room, but it sure goes a long way to help prevent more severe results.
What can be done to help decrease the impact when things do go wrong?
Your protective equipment is very important for your safety should an arc flash event occur or should you come in contact with energized equipment. There is no way to avoid energized work. Even those projects that are planned to be done while de-energized will present energized work as you confirm the circuit has been de-energized. Your PPE should be kept in good order. Manufacturer’s instructions and other reference material should be utilized to ensure your equipment is tested and inspected appropriately. You are putting your life in the hands of your equipment when a problem occurs. It is important that you treat that equipment with the respect it deserves. This applies at work and at home.
There are many tools at your disposal that can help mitigate the effects of electricity when things go wrong. I’m sure it wouldn’t take much effort to find instances where tools were available but were never used. Arc reducing technologies, ground fault, remote control capabilities, and other similar technologies may be at your disposal for the work you are about to perform. Leverage these technologies as they can help reduce arc energy or put you out of harm’s way should an event occur. Technologies like GFCI help prevent electrocution should you come in contact with energized equipment.
Being prepared for when an emergency occurs makes a difference and saves lives. Getting an injured person prompt medical attention, off the jobsite, and into proper medical facilities is critical. Your entire team should know exactly what to do when an event occurs. Your team is the first responder as they are on the site and must know what to do. Their actions should be instinct: how to administer CPR, contain the problem area, and call the necessary people should be done effortlessly. Do you have a plan should an incident occur on your next project?
This safety edition of Insights should leave you asking some basic questions of yourself and your own organization. What are you doing to avoid incidents and how well are you prepared for when they occur? How many more items can you add to the list that can help your team avoid a problem and mitigate the effects of problems? Remember, work to ensure you never have an incident and plan like one will happen tomorrow. Together we can make a difference.
As always, keep safety at the top of your list and ensure you and those around you live to see another day.
Thomas Domitrovich, P.E. is a National Application Engineer with IEC National Platinum Partner Eaton Corporation in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He has more than 20 years of experience as an Electrical Engineer and is a LEED Accredited Professional. Thomas is active in various trade organizations on various levels with the Independent Electrical Contractors (IEC), International Association of Electrical Inspectors (IAEI), Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), National Electrical Manufacturer’s Association (NEMA) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Thomas is involved with and chairs various committees for NEMA and IEEE and is an Alternate member on NFPA 73. He is very active in the state by state adoption process of NFPA 70 working closely with review committees and other key organizations in this effort.