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Top 3 Causes of Job Site Injuries (Plus 1!)

Posted 10/1/2021

By R.B. Wright, CPCU

Electrical utility line work is dangerous. It is one of a limited number of jobs where workers simply cannot afford to have a “bad day.”

Of course, line work is essential for keeping electricity running into homes and businesses, but it is also highly dangerous, with many hazards that are embedded in the tasks needed for the work. Along with the mundane day-to-day risks of sprains and strains, linemen have unusual extra exposures, exposure to the risks of  falls, of electric shocks and burns, along with many other risks of injury inherent to their work, and all too often, incidents can even end up in fatalities. 

Distribution utilities spend countless hours, and significant monetary investments in training and certifying line workers, conducting refresher classes, and holding regular safety sessions. So, how do experienced line workers run afoul of these hazards? Claims history in this program suggests that these are the errors that most commonly cause serious job-site injuries. 

1- Failure to identify basic job hazards

Workers need to be taught about the hazards they will be exposed to and how to protect themselves from accidents and injuries before ever starting work at a job site. If workers don’t recognize and understand the dangers of a job, they won’t be able to protect themselves against them. And, even more critically, they have to act on this information. Veteran line workers may know the hidden hazards, may even know what to do, but unless they act accordingly, that knowledge will not protect them. Recently, one of our clients had a lineman die when he climbed a pole that fell after he had climbed it and began raising the new line to replace a broken conductor. The pole was rotted below the ground surface and fell over on top of him as he was doing “clean up” work several days after a large storm. He had climbed other poles that day, he was one of several experienced crewmen on site, and yet, no one stepped up to “sound” the pole before it was climbed, despite everyone there being trained on this rule. No one will ever know if it was fatigue, haste, or over familiarity that led to this error, and there is no one now to ask.

2- Failure to use proper personal protective equipment

PPE is a crucial element in maintaining workplace safety.  Wearing protective equipment like proper gloves can mean the difference between a healthy, five-fingered hand and one that will never be able to “shake” properly again. Many utility accidents occur because of employee failure to use PPE. The “cowboy mentality” of some workers, often young lineman, can end up in taking shortcuts, skipping required precautions, and not using PPE properly. For example, fall protection devices will not help someone who doesn’t wear them as designed. Tell every worker that it’s part of the job to remind others to use the PPE provided.

3- Failure to use proper cover up equipment

In live line electrical work, cover-ups & rubber blankets are intended to both prevent employees from making accidental contact with energized parts or equipment, and to prevent accidental contact of energized conductors with grounded surfaces. Too often, workers see them as a hassle, and only carry the minimum number of blankets on their trucks. Unfortunately, the risk of worker contact injury skyrockets when cover ups are not used or when there are insufficient cover ups to do the entire job, and workers have to move the cover ups mid-project. Management and workers should plan ahead and make sure employees have sufficient cover up equipment before a job begins, ideally before the tailgate session at the job-site!

Plus 1- Failure to drive safely to and from the job

As I have said before to many of our clients, and maybe even to you, many utilities overlook the fact that one of the most dangerous tools they provide to employees are the truck keys. Far too many employees don’t grasp the fact that driving to the job is a critical part of the job. As a result, many vehicle accidents occur because workers are in a rush, preoccupied, or driving on “human autopilot.”  To prevent such accidents, every driver needs to focus their full attention on the road and the job at hand, while obeying all traffic safety laws. No job will benefit from an accident en route. No job requires speeding, driving dangerously, or taking risks, and every driving job requires paying close attention to the road, road conditions (including weather), and other traffic, especially when a large, heavy truck is involved. 

The lesson is to teach and reinforce with praise

If you remind your staff constantly of these potential oversights, praise them when they follow the advice (and correct them when they don’t) you may save a life!

You may like to review a previous article on how to get workers to observe the rules, posted in the April, 2017 issue of RE-marks that you can find using the link HERE, or by coping and pasting the following address into your browser.