By Mike Hyland, Senior Vice President of Engineering Services, American Public Power Association
Recent Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers show that utilities across the board are upping their game when it comes to safety. Nonfatal illnesses and injuries in the utility sector fell in 2013 from 2.8 to 2.1 incidents per 100 workers.
The American Public Power Association (APPA) has seen this trend of declining illness and injury, too. In fact, we are seeing a fairly steady decline in incidents dating back more than 20 years. Incidents are defined as injuries or illnesses arising out of and in the course of employment, which results in death, days away from work, restricted work activity or medical treatment.
So what is propelling us into this new era of safety?
The standards are getting better. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers both produce standards that focus on the safety of electrical workers and the publics they serve. These standards are dynamic, meaning they are constantly reviewed and revised periodically to reflect changes in best practices and the deployment of new technology.
Building off of evolving OSHA and IEEE standards such as the National Electrical Safety Code, APPA’s safety manual — established in 1955 and now in its fifteenth iteration — serves as the premier source for safety compliance information for all utility employees. The manual includes guidelines on clothing requirements, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), procedures for working on energized transmission & distribution equipment, and a robust CPR/first aid section.
APPA also offers its Safety Awards of Excellence, which honor utilities with low incident rates. The program began more than 50 years ago and has compiled a good amount of safety data allowing utilities to track their yearly performance as well as compare themselves to similarly sized utilities.
APPA’s Reliable Public Power Provider (RP3) program, recognizes utilities that demonstrate high proficiency in reliability, safety, workforce development, and system improvement. We’ve found that creating a culture of documenting performance metrics leads to a better safety record.
APPA’s annual Lineworkers Rodeo puts a spotlight on the frontline warriors of the industry — the brave men and women who climb poles and reconnect your power (often in less-than-perfect conditions). This annual event challenges lineworkers to safely complete tasks that simulate the work they do out in the field, typically at the top of a forty-foot pole. While efficiency in work completion is part of the competition, safety comes first as major points are deducted for the slightest safety flub. Training courses for both apprentice and journeyman lineworkers has become a staple of the event.
Utilities have been creating and improving upon a culture of safety for decades. National standards trickle down to utility-specific protocols. It’s a system that works, and the proof is in the numbers.
As advances continue in the field in areas such as fire-retardant clothing and lineworker fall prevention, we expect the numbers to improve too.
When you see your local utility personnel out in the field, be sure to thank them for contributing to a culture of safety that protects the community at-large.