By Sheri Wood
Across any industry, employees and employers expect their workplace to be safe and productive. For those who work on electrical systems, safety is a top concern because electrical accidents rank sixth among causes of injury-related workplace deaths. It is critical that workers, whether permanent in-house employees or outsourced staff, understand and are familiar with safety regulations and best practices to avoid the risk of serious injury or loss of life. Despite the risks, safety procedures can often be overlooked. Budgets, time, performance pressures and a litany of other factors can result in workers becoming complacent or cutting corners.
So, what gives? Equally important as establishing safety protocol and training for compliance is the need for electrical systems workers to feel empowered through safety. There are specific methodologies and practices businesses can implement to ensure staff are comfortable raising concerns about the safety of their work environment, including empowering them to make decisions on their own and act collaboratively about safety.
Lead Through Empowerment
When it comes to electrical safety, some management-level personnel may consider only two top priorities: establishing work safety policies and ensuring staff training. However, they also need to remember that helping staff make smart, common-sense—but often difficult—decisions in stressful situations is necessary to keep them safe. This includes empowering workers to raise concerns around conditions in their working environment. When service personnel perform an assessment or maintenance procedure at offsite or client locations, for example, it is essential that current electrical system drawings and schematics are provided because these materials illustrate how system assets are connected, list equipment they may encounter, and outline the order in which equipment should be disconnected or serviced. Sometimes current versions of these materials are unavailable. In these situations, electrical systems personnel need to feel empowered to halt all work until the necessary documentation is provided, ensuring safety protocols are followed.
Similarly, personnel should be made aware that it is reasonable to resist efforts to force workarounds or noncompliance to cut costs or save time. If employees feel a dangerous situation may be on the horizon, they can follow the STAR approach:
• Stop. Employees should stop work as soon as they feel uncomfortable continuing in an unsafe environment.
• Talk. Raise the concern present in the facility to a supervisor or whoever oversees the project. They will be able to assist in how to best move forward.
• Act. Following a supervisor’s instructions along with safety best practice guidelines, ensure the environment is safe before continuing work.
• Resume. Once the environment has been deemed safe, resume work.
Giving staff the authority to make their own decisions about safety issues can help increase commitment to safety best practices.
Collaborate for Success
As is the case with workers in any industry, electrical staff want to have their voices heard, and collaboration is key. Those who are part of a cooperative process, where they can contribute recommendations and feedback in policy-making, are more apt to follow those policies once finalized. Instead of handing out a list of rules for staff to follow, management should initiate conversations around the latest safety best practices and open safety procedure for discussion. It may also help to incorporate safety-related topics into daily or weekly meetings. With safety becoming part of daily communications, workers will be more aware of the importance of committing to safe electrical practices.
In addition, management should consider a refresh of standardized auditing practices. Conducting compliance audits have been the go-to method for ensuring safety staff adhere to safety guidelines; however, these audits often instill a sense of fear in many employees. Businesses are beginning to move towards more open behavior based assessments that encourage dialogue between employees and their supervisors. A direct, open conversation allows employees to voice concerns and actively contribute to the overall safety culture. In addition to assessments, employers should consistently reach out to employees and encourage them to voice questions or issues around safety.
Occasional visits to work sites are also encouraged to ensure workers adhere to safety guidelines. With customers potentially looking at ways for services teams to work faster, employees may feel pressure to cut corners and put themselves at unnecessary risk. By dropping in occasionally and letting employees know they are supported in safety compliance, they will feel more comfortable recognizing safety issues and raising concerns.
Through empowerment and collaboration, employers and employees alike can make safety a top priority. Enforcing strategies that ensure employees are comfortable voicing their concerns around safety issues is only the beginning—employees must feel these strategies are valuable to their lives. With unsafe working conditions leading to injuries, lawsuits and more, safety should be a top concern at every level of the organization. When employees are empowered to make their own decisions about safety in a collaborative setting alongside their employers, facilities remain safe and deliver business value.
About the author: Sheri Wood is the director of Safety and Environment for Schneider Electric’s U.S. Services Business, a role she began in April 2016. Wood has held various safety leadership positions across organizations since 2002, and from 1987 to 2001 was a UH601 Pilot and Aviation Safety Office for the U.S. Army.