Why is electrical safety in the workplace important? It’s a great question to think about and discuss during National Electrical Safety Month. It is also kind of a loaded question. On the one hand you have the fact that providing electrical safety in the workplace is mandated by OSHA, and therefore, it is the law. On the other hand, there are many more reasons why it is important to talk about, learn about, and fully understand electrical safe work practices. While there may be different reasons for buying into this as an employer or an employee, the bottom line is, electrical safety must be one of our top priorities when stepping foot on the job.
So, let's look at what might motivate employers to implement electrical safe work practices within their company. As I said, OSHA mandates that an employer provide a workplace that is free from known and recognized hazards. This means an employer must develop and implement an electrical safety program that spells out the procedures to be followed to ensure that employees aren’t exposed to electrical hazards, and if they must be, there are steps that can be taken to mitigate the risk. The next important point for employers to remember is, it is far more cost effective to retain a good employee than to train a new one. Employees are a company’s most important asset, especially if revenue is derived due to their labor. Losing an employee is like losing any other tangible asset. Then there is the most important reason of all: human life. Whether an employer is big or small, people know each other and no one wants to jeopardize his/her ability to go home the same way they came to work: in one piece.
So what about the employee? While it is true that the employer must provide the detailed procedures to follow and the tools and equipment needed to stay safe, none of it does any good if the employee doesn’t follow the rules and use the tools. What might be an employee’s motivation to follow safety protocols? Well, if an employee is caught not following the rules, they could incur fines for both themselves and their employer, leading to a personal financial impact and potential loss of employment. However, some employees might have what can only be described as an “invincibility” complex. I know I personally have been guilty of this in the past. We think that we won’t get hurt and that other people were injured because they made a mistake. Unfortunately, that macho attitude is what gets people in trouble. Having studied and attended many educational sessions on the science behind behavior change, it seems to be that the traditional “shock and awe” approach only further exacerbates the issue. However, would we take those same risks and cut those same corners if we fully understood what the most important people in our lives would go through if we didn’t come home today?
Last year at NFPA’s Conference & Expo I had a great opportunity to talk to my friend, Brandon Schroeder, about this very topic. Brandon has been an electrician for 19 years. In 2011, he survived an arc flash explosion that without a doubt could have killed him. To hear him speak about what his wife and children went through after the accident, and that they nearly had to continue on in life without him, makes even the most seasoned veteran think very carefully about his/her next move. Here is his story and his warning to everyone who thought they were invincible:
It is easy to mandate that employers provide the tools and procedures related to electrical safety. It’s the “low hanging fruit” in the safety world and it has brought the numbers of injuries and deaths down substantially. This is a fact that we should all be celebrating this month as we observe National Electrical Safety Month.
The trickier task, however, is continuing to help employees believe in this stuff. As Brandon points out, he cut corners because he didn’t think safety mattered. As professionals in the electrical world, we should all pursue the goal of getting everyone to take safety seriously. It’s a big world, let’s protect it together!
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