Company: NECA-International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Electrical Training Center (NIETC), Portland, OR
Safety Director / Instructor: Barry Moreland
Common Hazards: OSHA's focus four – falls, electrical-related hazards – shock and arc, struck by, and caught-in-between. More specifically, working with those new to the construction industry and trying to bring them up to speed on the level of safety awareness and expectations required in the workplace today.
Safety training came to me as a kid, when my father, who is also an electrician, made sure my brothers and I were aware of the various hazards using tools and equipment growing up in a rural setting. Those early lessons stuck with me as I entered into the NECA-IBEW electrical apprenticeship program in 1993 and ultimately turned out as a journeyman wireman. During that time, safety was not a heavily emphasized topic in either the course curriculum or the jobsites that I worked on. At least not the way safety is integrated into every aspect of our industry today. This is not to say we embraced working unsafely, but shortcuts were taken and when an incident or near miss occurred, we stopped, picked up the pieces, and went back to work. In short, we got lucky an awful lot of the time. It seemed to me that safety – or working safely – was only as important as what the person who was running the job made it. This could vary widely from jobsite to jobsite.
After my apprenticeship, I had the opportunity to work on a wide variety of projects as a journeyman, foreman, and service electrician. I left the field in 2002 to work as an apprenticeship instructor at the NIETC and later to the safety director position where I have worked for the last decade.
My safety philosophy follows the same process as how I was taught as a kid. You have to let people know you care about their well-being and safety just as much (arguably more) as the tasks you are expecting them to perform. There has to be enough time to determine where their strengths and weaknesses are as they relate to hazard awareness and avoidance. The expectation that everyone has common sense, especially when it comes to hazards found in construction and maintenance, is ridiculous. Employees, especially new workers, easily relate how safety is in their best interest but many times lack the understanding on how workplace injuries can impact the overall job, their employer, the general contractor, and the customer.
This is where my job is the most rewarding. In the late '90s, the NIETC trustees established the safety director position to assist Oregon-Columbia NECA electrical contractors and IBEW LU 48 members in all aspects of safety compliance, hazard identification, and training. This structure is unique and, strangely enough, not very often duplicated in other trade union/specialty contractor associations. It provides an excellent resource for communication and networking between state and federal regulatory agencies, our clients, general contractors, and, probably most importantly, between our NECA electrical contractor safety managers and the IBEW 48 staff and members. I am able to participate closely with Oregon OSHA committees and stakeholder groups to stay ahead of regulatory changes that will impact our workers. I frequently provide electrical safety/NFPA 70E training and education for general contractors and clients so we can work more closely together on understanding how dangerous energized electrical work can be, both for the worker, and to the continuity of business function. I am able to visit jobsites and assist our contractors in hazard identification and control options. Our industry also has an effective joint NECA-IBEW safety committee, where I have co-chaired for the past 10 years.
Our contractor safety managers are very competent in their jobs, so when they contact me for assistance, it is usually dealing with something out of the norm. An example would be when a large concrete batch plant was shut down due to damage of the electrical wiring on the main extraction auger at the base of a 90-foot tall, 180-foot diameter cement reclaimer. The entire dome was a permit-required confined space with significant atmospheric, engulfment, mechanical, and configuration hazards. Another project example is running large conduit for a client through a 4-foot diameter, 300-foot long tunnel under Highway 30 (also a confined space issue). Both projects were challenging, but with proper planning and execution, the clients were happy with our contractors and our electricians were kept safe from harm.
Many people think it is just low voltage so it won't hurt you. The reality is that voltage is not a primary factor of shock severity. Current (amps), path through the body, and time are the key factors. There is a tremendous amount of information published about shock and electrocution statistics available to use in training. Videos are good, but real world examples using training aids like fatal facts do a better job.
Workers have to keep in mind that safety success is dependent on contributions from the whole team, not a safety manager or department. Supervisors need to let the crews know that, and empower them to be an integral spoke in the safety wheel. I want a crew that knows they can openly communicate about both safety and productivity concerns without fear of reprisal for doing so. Prompt action must be taken once these concerns are voiced. Inaction is a sure fire way to disengage crews from contributing in the future.
I would encourage them to build a strong networking foundation. Ten years ago, that is what worked for me and I am still building it today. There are so many resources out there to improve safety knowledge, skills, and abilities. I have yet to find a safety professional who would not provide some direction, share their opinion, or, in some cases, even written programs if asked. Some organizations, such as the Construction Safety Summit, are structured to provide networking, sharing of best practices, even free training opportunities. Find resources like those and it will definitely make your job easier. ▉
If you want to receive the Resource Newsletter, sign up for future issues here.
Reprinting, excerpting, or plagiarizing any part of this publication is fine with us. Please send us a copy of your publication or inform the Resource editor as a courtesy. If you have questions about the information in Resource, please call 503-378-3272.
For general information, technical answers, or information about Oregon OSHA services, please call 503-378-3272 or toll-free within Oregon, 800-922-2689.