Five Things Electrical Safety Programs Lack (That Safety Cultures Address)
By: Mike Enright
When it comes to protecting your workers, it’s not only a legal responsibility, it’s a moral one. However, you can’t be everywhere at once, and no worker wants to feel like you are watching over his or her shoulder. A dilemma in and of itself, you need to instill safe operating behaviors and create a self sufficient set of processes and procedures.
While many companies start with an electrical safety program, this set of policies is often insufficient in delivering the necessary mentality needed to protect workers and what starts as a way to protect workers is quickly ignored as bad behaviors start to sneak into the process. Today, we would like to explore what these programs lack and discuss how to address them.
Are These Components Missing?
Electrical safety programs are not only a great way to address the roles and responsibilities of workers and employers, they are required by NFPA 70E. As an industry consensus, OSHA can cite employers for failure to follow NFPA standards under 29 CFR 1910.333—Selection and use of work practices, as well as under the General Duty Clause, as clarified in a 2003 letter on the topic.
Unfortunately, these programs fail to deliver the comprehensive approach to safety you need, due in part to the following:
Lack of Understanding
How well do your employees understand their roles and responsibilities? How do you know who is operating safely? Who’s qualified in what equipment? When you implement a program under NFPA 70E, your qualified electrical workers are going to understand what this means. They have been trained to know the best practices, the science, and the reasons for which some action is required.
However, when you look at the demographics of an electrical injury or fatality, these aren’t the people at risk. With sixty-four percent of all electrical fatalities on the job occur in occupations that traditionally receive little to no electrical training, it’s on an employer to go beyond the basics.
What steps are you taking to ensure that employees understand it and how often are you taking steps to audit employees on their understanding of practices and procedures? How can you ensure non-qualified workers understand the dangers of electricity and train them in a language they can understand?
Many employees may not understand the nature of NFPA 70E, the practices it requires, or the science behind the standards. Often, this makes safety program adoption slow or nonexistent, possibly hindering uptake throughout the organization.
A commitment from management is the first step in defining this, as too often employers or facility managers don’t take the requisite steps to know where employees may be missing the point.
Lack of Communication
Often one of the biggest reasons employees don’t understand something is the lack of communication from management or the lack of training they receive. While training—especially for qualified person—is required, what steps are you taking to train nonqualified personnel on hazard identification?
Properly communicating the policies, practices, and procedures ensures that management and employees are speaking the same “safety language.”
When it comes to effectively communicating, it’s important to understand how your company works and how your workers want to communicate. No one likes to admit they don’t know what they are doing, and few like the idea of sitting through a safety meeting.
In order to go beyond the basics, you need to engage workers and learn how to make positive change, understanding that your ability to listen is just as important as your ability to tell.
Lack of Motivation
What’s keeping employees from deviating from established policies? Are you accidentally encouraging them to take shortcuts? Too often, employers will not give employees an acceptable amount of time to complete a task, accidentally pushing an employee to take a shortcut.
Part of a larger engagement strategy, motivating workers is often a challenge—especially when a worker doesn’t feel like his or her opinions matter to management. Why don’t they care? Why are they taking shortcuts? Your ability to ask these questions in a non-threatening way is necessary to improving the culture.
While it is frowned upon to offer incentives, keeping employees motivated on following the program is not only one of the hardest practices that exists. One of the best ways to overcome this is to make sure an employee understands that he or she is the first line of defense and the company’s safety advocate.
Lack of Fear
Whether it’s “I’m invincible,” “I know what I’m doing,” or “I’ve always done it this way,” many employees—especially those early and late in their careers—feel like they’re better than the standards in place.
If you have a basic safety program in place and things have gone smoothly, it’s easy to forget that you’re working on a piece of equipment that can explode and expose workers to temperatures hotter than the surface of the sun. However, this is the problem—do something enough times and you begin to think it’ll never happen. It’s the same argument people make for driving drunk—“I won’t get caught.”
This is often one of the hardest challenges to address in safety, how can you get an employee to change something that works for them, especially when they feel like nothing bad will happen the change is considered a hassle?
To address this, it pays to remind workers just how much damage that an arc flash can cause. Whether you address this by bringing in a person who experienced an arc flash incident and as a result was injured or you show workers what arc flash events look like, this is just part of the larger communication and education strategy that exists.
The Reason for All of These? A Lack of Culture
All of these factors combined represent a lack of safety culture. Employees who think of a safety program like a program are going to balk at the idea of massive changes, fighting you every step of the way. As you work to improve electrical safety, you need to look at the attitudes, definitions, training and infrastructure, making iterative changes to create a healthy safety culture at your workplace.
At Enespro, we believe that there is a huge difference between a safety program and a culture of safety, and as the company whose goal is to provide you with your last line of defense, we understand that there are many things you should do first to protect workers.
You can talk about having a culture of electrical safety or you can actually take steps to make it a reality. There are many paths to the same goal—zero accidents—but by taking the right steps to develop a plan and get everyone heading in the right direction is an imperative for success.
We recently released a guide designed to address the challenges that exist in creating a culture of electrical safety, discussing how it goes above and beyond the basics to instill both safe actions and safe behaviors. Titled Developing a Culture of Electrical Safety, this guide explores in greater detail the challenges and opportunities that exist in improving worker safety. Available for download here, you can preview the guide below:
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