Safety Program or Fly by the Seat of Your Pants, You Decide

Flying by the seat of your pants when it comes to safety is not a good idea. A good safety plan can add value to your inspection program. Whether you have your own business or work for an organization, you should realize the value of a safety program. In the last few editions of IAEI News, this column focused on the results of a questionnaire where inspectors responded to questions related to conducting the inspection. One of the questions concerned itself with what an inspector takes to the job site and what is carried during the inspection. Although not focused on safety, some of the answers were intriguing.

The Unwritten Safety Plan

I have spoken to many inspectors and walked along with a few, it is quite clear that we all have our unwritten safety programs. We have our limitations on what we will and will not do, and we accept some level of risk. The equipment we carry to a job site speaks of our unwritten safety plan that drives our actions. When you go to a job site, if you automatically grab your gloves, safety glasses, hard hat and don your steel toe boots, you have a set of safety practices that may not be written down but, rest assured, they are in your head. You do this because of your experience, and you may be better at it than others. Write your safety plan on paper and share it with those with whom you work — you may be surprised at feedback that reveals items you may have missed. If your plan is complete, those you share it with will obtain an education and you will help ensure their work is performed to a higher standard. The bottom line in my book is that a well communicated safety program that is followed could save lives.

Table 2. It is clear from these results that this question should be a survey unto itself. The question was not formulated in such a manner as to stimulate the reviewer. A future article just may be in order to dig deeper in this area.

Table 2. It is clear from these results that this question should be a survey unto itself. The question was not formulated in such a manner as to stimulate the reviewer. A future article just may be in order to dig deeper in this area.

Table 2 is taken from the “Safety in Our States” column of the January/February 2011 issue of IAEI News. The question in the survey was twofold: What do you take to the inspection, and then what do you take during the inspection? The question was not formulated in such a manner as to stimulate the creativity of the reader and nor was it focused on safety. Some observations from these results include — out of 113 respondents:

  • Only one respondent mentioned safety goggles – they were brought with them but not indicated to be an item carried during the inspection.
  • Only two respondents mentioned a safety vest – one left it in the car but the other wore it during the inspection.
  • Two respondents mentioned personal protective equipment (PPE) – keep in mind here that thirteen respondents noted that they inspect heavy industrials. Most inspectors should have PPE accessible to them. It may not be required for every inspection but when it is, it should be accessible. PPE can be expensive, especially when you are on a limited budget. It may not be required for every situation, but you should at least have access to protective equipment when you need it.
  • Finally, there was one person who has a pair of steel toe boots – in the car, not on his feet while conducting the inspection.

The Safety Program

So what exactly is a safety program? It must be comprehensive and not only address OSHA requirements but also incorporate NFPA 70E, which was created to help bridge the gap between OSHA and the National Electrical Code. The business of working in and around electricity carries with it many responsibilities which include more than just electrical safety — your safety plan must be comprehensive.

Getting started on a good program may appear to be a daunting task. There are organizations that will help you implement a program, or you can assemble one yourself. The first step, no matter which direction you take, is to know and agree and commit to the fact that your organization needs a safety program. As a business owner, you must consider the following:

  1. OSHA has concluded that effective management of worker safety and health protection is a decisive factor in reducing the extent and the severity of work-related injuries and illnesses.
  2. Your return on investment can be great in the form of improved morale, decreased lost time, fewer workplace injuries and illnesses, lower insurance costs and possibly increased business from very safety conscience corporations.

Once you agree and accept the fact that a safety program is best for your organization, putting the plan together should not be all that difficult. There are many guides and references to help you. The following will get you started.

First assemble your library. Get your hands on a copy of these resources:

  • NFPA 70E,Standard for Electrical Safety Requirements for Employee Workplaces,
  • The Electrical Safety Program Book,
  • Small Business Handbook, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), This item is a free download.

Read through these documents and elevate your knowledge of the essentials around a good program. If you hire a professional, and it is probably a good idea to do so either just for this project or as a continued contract relationship, that group will build on this knowledge.

A good program on paper, in a binder, on a CD, is not enough. Safety is part of your daily routine. Safety meetings and reviews should be conducted on an ongoing basis — not to be left to on-the-job training. This program should be formalized in a manner that elevates the importance to your team, gives it the respect it deserves and ensures that while work is being performed your safety program is adhered to. Every employee has to understand the impact that your investment has to the business. Each person plays a role in the success of business and your safety program. It is a good idea to conduct safety review meetings on a periodic basis; make it a routine. Maintain all of your records to have evidence of your program and all safety activities and events. Track your performance and results.

Your customers may have a safety program in place that you may benefit from as well. They may have a site survey completed where high energy areas, PPE requirements, availability of safety labeling and equipment have been identified. Share your safety programs with each other.

Communication is very important on many levels within your organization and with others. There are many avenues to share your program information. Assemble the program in a few different formats to be most beneficial to your success.

Keep It Updated

So let’s assume that you have a safety plan and use it. This is a roadmap to a successful safe environment for both you and your employees. The safety landscape is continuously changing in many ways, so keep your safety goals clear and fresh with regular updates — make it a living document. Here are six reasons for keeping it up to date.

Changing Markets
The most obvious reason for updating your safety plan is a changing market. Changes in codes and standards documents and new operations within your own business will have an impact on your safety plan. A move from a residential focus to an industrial or commercial focus would warrant a review of your safety plan.

Codes and standards documents are typically on a review cycle changing periodically. The 2011 version of the National Electrical Code (NEC) is currently being reviewed by states and local jurisdictions and will be adopted throughout this and coming years. To date, North Dakota and Massachusetts have reviewed and adopted this new version of the NEC. North Dakota will begin to enforce NEC-2011 on September 1, 2011. Massachusetts began enforcement on January 1, 2011. Oregon, Idaho, Ohio and others have already begun their review process of the latest version of the NEC and adoption will be soon to follow.

Another document in the works by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) is NFPA 70E, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace. The 2012 version of this document has some changes that may impact your plan. One of the tables used extensively, and unfortunately sometimes incorrectly, is targeted to be modified. Table 130.7(C)(9) is referenced to determine what personal protective equipment (PPE) is needed to protect from electric shock and arc-flash injuries. The proposed change that has been accepted to date includes the placement of maximum available short-circuit current and clearing times under each of the major equipment category headers. The major equipment headers will also include the potential arc-flash protection boundary. Some forget that the application of this table is permitted only where the maximum available short-circuit current and fault clearing time parameters specified in Notes 1 through 4 at the end of the table are followed; this is an important detail that should not be overlooked. As of this writing, NFPA 70E will be reviewed at the NFPA Annual Meeting later in June. It is at this meeting that the revised document will ultimately complete its process.

The NFPA web site has a complete schedule of all document revision cycles. You can flag those documents that you use most frequently so that an email is sent to you whenever there are changes to that document. This is a great feature of the NFPA web site, next to the free downloads of the Report on Proposals (ROP) and Report on Comments (ROC) documents. Make sure your plan references the latest codes and standards.

New Products / Solutions
The equipment or tools that you and your employees use, as well as the equipment they must work in and around, can and will periodically change. The electrical market is constantly in a state of flux not only to meet and address new demands in areas like alternative energy, but also to improve and offer new solutions around such safety concerns as arc-flash energy in the power system. Not only will you and your team be faced with new applications and products, there just may be new technologies you can utilize in your operations that help you work more safely.

Financial Needs
Every year your organization will update a business plan; this is an important part of your overall business strategy and a necessity if you are about to approach your bank or investors for additional funds. There may be changes in your plan that requires the purchase of new equipment or educational materials. A review of your safety budget and plan at this time is very advisable. If you are involved with the financial planning for your safety program, your safety plan is a key part of your corporate message.

A safety plan in an organization needs to be funded appropriately. Do not let yours sit on a shelf year after year without being reviewed. Or worse yet, not have one at all. Ensure safety is appropriately funded and that everyone understands its importance. If you know that you don’t have the best equipment for your team and it is because of the lack of funding, take the first step to success by assembling your safety plan. Your plan will drive results.

The safety plan is there to keep your employees and those around them safe. When you first create your new safety plan, the employees in your organization will experience firsthand, through education and awareness programs, how important safety is to your organization. New employees added to your organization should understand the importance of safety as well. New releases of an updated safety plan can help keep existing and new employees well aware of your safety initiatives. Your work force constantly changes just like the markets, and these changes may require changes in your plan to ensure your safety plan properly addresses the needs of new personnel. Their level of knowledge and experience may be changing as you move into new markets or pull out of others.

Raising the Bar
Many organizations establish safety goals to go along with their safety program. Review those goals often. Add more, raise the bar, and keep the safety message alive. If you don’t have a safety plan, set the goal this year to get one in place. Then you can strive to make your safety program the model for the industry. Remember to communicate your program and measure its success as these are important aspects of growing the safety culture. You took the first step and created a safety plan, now grow your program.

The bottom line is that we should always strive to be better at safety in order to ensure it stays on track. Don’t let your organization get behind the safety eight ball. Just because you are an electrical inspector does not mean that you do not need a safety plan.

As always, keep safety at the top of your list and ensure that you and those around you live to see another day. If you have any tips or ideas you would like to share, please feel free to send them to me at I look forward to your input to these articles and guidance for future articles.

Thomas A. Domitrovich
Thomas Domitrovich, P.E., LEED AP, is vice president of technical sales at Eaton, as well as an electrical engineer. He is actively involved with various electrical industry organizations, focusing on the continued growth of electrical safety. He sits on NFPA Code Making Panel 2 for the continued development of the National Electrical Code (NFPA 70).