By Mike Hyland, Senior Vice President of Engineering Services, American Public Power Association
As Electrical Safety Month, May 2017, comes to a close, it’s important to highlight recent improvements in the safe delivery of electrons — from generator to blender. Regardless of the safety statistic employed, over the last few decades, the number of accidents at electric utilities has decreased every year. Why? There’s no simple answer.
Some of the decrease is owing to the creation of a stronger ‘culture of safety’ at utilities and businesses throughout the U.S. Productivity used to be the number one goal, but the focus switched. Now it’s safety first. This shift in thinking has changed the work atmosphere for employees everywhere. It allows workers to have their co-workers’ backs and call out when something is unsafe.
Another reason for the decline in accidents is better financial understanding of the cost of accidents. Accidents cost more than just a delay in productivity on the day of the event. Productivity might fall amongst all the co-workers of the accident victim. And of course, there are medical costs to the employee and employer. Add on the legal ramifications and costs to all parties involved, and accidents can become a major financial drain. We’ve discovered the truth in the old adage: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Regulations have a significant impact on worker safety and must be factored into utility planning. The Department of Labor, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Act, etc. all play a big role in setting rules and regulations — and employees and employers must be held accountable. The use of data analytics has allowed the federal agencies to focus on high injury areas, and then provide national guidance as to how these regulations apply.
Workforce safety continues to rise because of improving design and engineering techniques as well. Manufacturers are finding that products made with safety in mind are considered much more valuable these days. Whether it’s the use of proper personal protective equipment, or the use of robotics to avoid worker casualties, the workplace is becoming safer thanks to safety improvements in manufacturing. As methods to deliver electricity evolve, so will technology, to keep workers and the public safe.
The last part of the puzzle is consensus standards. Standards development organizations such as IEEE and their utility focused National Electrical Safety Code NESC, or the National Fire Protection Association and their commercial and residential focused National Electrical Code continue to lead the way. Both organizations have used a volunteer workforce of industry representatives to share best practices, and move the proverbial safety football down the field. The American Public Power Association recently released the 16th edition of its Safety Manual for public power.
So let’s celebrate safety, in May and every day. But, until we collectively reduce the overall death rate to zero, we still have to roll up our sleeves and admit we have a whole lotta work to do.