Get Custom Virtual Training the Way You Need It!   Learn More
Aron McInnes June2018

Safety and Quality Lead to Productivity

Aron McInnes June2018 Production is what drives a business to succeed in today’s world. Without production, we do not have profits. However, there are two important things businesses must get right before production leads to profits. Without safety, profits will disappear due to fines, fees, downtime and injuries. Without quality of work, profits will disappear because of warranty repairs, work that has to be redone and increased material costs. The real hit to a company or work group that does not put safety and quality of work ahead of production is the adverse impact on image, brand and reputation. In business, as in life, perception is reality. A reputation is easily damaged and difficult to repair.

Production is what drives a business to succeed in today’s world. Without production, we do not have profits. However, there are two important things businesses must get right before production leads to profits. Without safety, profits will disappear due to fines, fees, downtime and injuries. Without quality of work, profits will disappear because of warranty repairs, work that has to be redone and increased material costs. The real hit to a company or work group that does not put safety and quality of work ahead of production is the adverse impact on image, brand and reputation. In business, as in life, perception is reality. A reputation is easily damaged and difficult to repair.

Recently I was reviewing a job that had just been completed in my area of work. The crew had kept safety front of mind and completed the work in a timely manner. The work looked clean and neat. However, upon closer inspection, the equipment that was installed was wire up backward. Safety and productivity were high during the job, but quality of work was lacking. And boy, did other staff let the crew know they had made a mistake. The mistake was the crew’s assumption that they knew the direction of feed on a line. Well, due to that assumption, the crew had to go back and rebuild everything. This mistake resulted in wasted materials, delays in the schedule and pressure on staff to make up the time lost. And yet, if you are a safety leader and find yourself in a similar situation, it is important to ensure your crew gets the time needed to make the situation right, that they’re not pressured to complete the work too quickly. Yes, the time needs to be made up, and the project needs to get back on track, but adding pressure to a crew who is already struggling with an error will only serve to create more stress and increase the likelihood that shortcuts will be used to make up time.

We are human and therefore make mistakes. But if we don’t adjust our approach to correcting mistakes, that is another error – one that we don’t have to make. If you make the necessary adjustments to ensure that safety is still top of mind and quality of work is assured, productivity will increase. Staff will feel supported and know that they can make a mistake, learn from it and have trust in you.

tailgate topics

Addressing Allergic Reactions on the Job

tailgate topics Power-line workers carry out their assignments in all types of outdoor environments and thus are susceptible to all of Mother Nature’s elements, good and bad.

When humans expose themselves to those elements, some might experience allergic reactions, a safety-related topic that is rarely top of mind until a worker in the field is experiencing such a reaction. If you know you are allergic to something you may come in contact with while working, it’s critical that you make your colleagues aware of it and, more importantly, that they know how to respond.

A Personal Tale
There are personal as well as practical reasons why I’m writing this month’s Tailgate Topic. I’ve worked on and around line crews for many years, and I love the outdoors. As a young man about 40 years ago, I was stung by a wasp and had what I considered a minor reaction – my arm swelled up like Popeye’s. I didn’t think much of the situation back then, although I now recognize that I was allergic to the sting even all those years ago. At the time, I didn’t follow up with a medical professional to see exactly how allergic I was or what could happen if I got stung again in the future.

Fast-forward to the summer of 2018 when I was on vacation, doing some yard work at my cabin. I opened a can of soda and set it down on the deck. It had been sitting there for a while when I grabbed it, took a drink and then noticed there was something in my mouth besides the soda. It turned out to be a large yellowjacket wasp, which stung me on the inside of my bottom lip as I tried to spit it out. I knew from past experience that I was at least mildly allergic to wasp stings, so I went inside the cabin to take a Benadryl. It helped some, although my eyelids, lips and cheek were still quite numb, swollen and itchy. As the day and night wore on, the site of the sting didn’t seem to get any worse, so I thought I would be OK. I guess I was too tough or proud to admit that something was wrong and seek further assistance (sound familiar, lineworkers?).

The next day, I woke up and realized I had serious swelling and numbness that were working their way down through my neck and chest. I felt quite weak. I knew I needed more than just Benadryl, so I went to the local village office to see if there was a medical clinic nearby. Luckily, there was a woman at the village office who was a first responder. She had an EpiPen that she quickly offered to me so that I could administer it myself. According to the woman’s past experiences with symptoms such as mine, the EpiPen quite possibly saved my life that day. As soon as I administered it, the numbness and swelling began to decrease immediately. When I returned home from vacation, I went to see my doctor to follow up. He explained to me that in most cases, each time an allergic reaction occurs, it likely will be worse than the last time. Suffice it to say that I now carry an EpiPen with me at all times.

Communication is Critical
I mentioned it very early on in this Tailgate, but I can’t stress enough how important it is that you let your family, friends and co-workers know about your allergies, where you keep your medication and what to do if you have an allergic reaction. It is nothing to be embarrassed about, and it may save your life one day. At a minimum, keep your medication on you, close by or in a nearby first aid kit in the event you have a reaction, and teach others to do the same if they’re not already doing so. In addition, for every job site you visit, be sure to notify your supervisor and crew members about your allergy, and always know the location of the closest medical facility so you can get checked out as soon as possible in the event you have an allergic reaction.

I also want to stress the fact that, if you’re allergic to bug bites like I am, insects generally are not beverage snobs – they will climb into most any open can or bottle if they’re able to. So, it’s a good idea to keep open cans and bottles covered or indoors, especially if you can’t keep an eye on them. I now use plastic clip-on covers I bought at a local store that prevent insects from getting into my drink, or you can choose to use a glass, which will let you see if any bugs are in your drink.

Finally, I realize my story is just one scenario. There are many natural allergen risks that may cause someone to have an allergic reaction, including plants. Know what plants and allergen risks are common to the areas your crews work and address them in tailboards. On a personal level, your doctor can determine what you are allergic to. And don’t forget that allergies can change with age. In critical exposures, keep the appropriate medication on hand in the event you have a reaction. Do be very careful about using prescribed medications offered by someone else. It may not always work out as well as it did for me. If allergens like bee stings are a threat to life, know the location of the nearest medical facility, and let the people around you know about your allergies and exposure symptoms, and how they can help if you become incapacitated.

About the Author: Dean Newkirk, CUSP, is currently working at SaskPower Corp. as a specialist in learning solutions, developing standard operating procedures for transmission and distribution. He also has held several other power utility industry roles over the past 35 years, including lineman, safety specialist, and construction and operations manager.

The above article is from Incident Prevention magazine’s December 2018 issue. For more articles, visit

Underground Electrical Vaults

Underground Electrical Vaults: Safety Concerns and Controls

Underground Electrical Vaults There are hundreds of thousands of man-accessible vaults in North America, with potentially tens of thousands of utility worker entries into those vaults each year. And it’s likely that every worker who enters a vault appreciates the safety procedures that govern the work. The combination of high-voltage electrical cables and aging infrastructure can exponentially complicate even the most routine vault-related task. In addition, many utilities across North America continue to report electrical vault failures, some of which lead to violent explosions.

For the most part, utility owners have a good understanding of the risks of entering man-accessible vaults and conducting work inside of them. There are many stories and equally as many opinions as to the safety and stability of the underground electrical network. The intent of this article is to summarize some known conditions your employees may face during execution of work in underground vaults. Although explosions may constitute the bulk of catastrophic events, thorough consideration of all hazards should be included in risk analyses.

The Vault
There is no uniform standard pertaining to vault configurations, but utilities regularly have an engineering standard. Man-accessible spaces can be as shallow as 8 feet deep with 340 cubic feet to approximately 30 feet deep with 3,000 cubic feet. Each vault is connected to others in the underground system through ducts and can have one to several high-voltage cable circuits passing through it. Some cables pass through directly while others contain splices, connections, transitions and some high-voltage switchgear or similar equipment. Most common cables are cross-linked polyethylene – often referred to as XLPE – or lead cable circuits. There is the potential for other systems to be present in spaces associated with lower voltages and communication cables. Some vaults have standard manhole lids while others have latch plates. The number of combinations is endless, but hazard exposure in these spaces is similar and can be categorized into exposure tables. When conducting your risk assessments, it is generally accepted in most jurisdictions to group your spaces by similar configurations of space and type. This will help organize information, reduce the volume of documentation and provide your field crews with clear data to safely perform their work.

Many vaults are accessed along roadways. Traffic control is critical as vehicle traffic represents the greatest immediate hazard to workers at these vaults. Consider positioning your work vehicles in such a way that workers and the access point are protected from being struck by out-of-control vehicles and inattentive motorists. Additionally, configure your work zone to restrict access to the public, and install physical barriers around the open vault access point, which is a fall hazard.

Air Quality
Because vaults are interconnected spaces, this complicates a crew’s ability to ensure clean, respirable air for workers. If a crew is unable to seal off one vault from another, unknown contaminants may be introduced into the space. Just like water can flow along the ducts from space to space, other hazards – such as the following – have the possibility to infiltrate the vault. • Hydrogen sulfide can be the result of organic matter buildup and filter in from adjacent sewers. • Explosive methane may be present if a vault was constructed near old or existing waste facilities. Explosive gas may be found in a vault as a result of natural gas leaking into the space due to construction activity that caused damage to nearby supply lines. • Carbon monoxide can be a result of combustion through work processes, motorized water pumps, generators and ambient concentrations of vehicle exhaust around the work zone.

In addition, oxygen deficiency may be caused by rusting components, microorganisms and displacement from infiltrating contaminants.

It is recommended that a vault be continuously monitored for atmospheric hazards throughout the course of the work inside the space, in order to provide immediate notification to workers if the air quality has been compromised. Oxygen, hydrogen sulfide, carbon monoxide and lower explosive levels (LEL) must be subject to baseline monitoring. Providing ventilation in the space for fresh air exchanges also delivers an additional barrier, especially if the work produces contaminants such as fumes from melting lead or LEL vapors from cable cleaning products. Assessing and understanding the sources of contaminants will help determine the most effective means of control.

Keep in mind that in certain situations, it will take more than air-quality monitoring and ventilation to provide vault workers with clean, respirable air. For example, heating lead will produce fumes at the source, exposing workers in close proximity to levels of exposure above safe and permissible limits. Similarly, drilling into concrete walls will expose workers to high concentrations of silica dust. Asbestos-containing materials also may be disrupted during the work process. Choose the correct particulate and organic filters and wear a half-mask respirator during such activities.

Vaults located in urban areas may be contaminated with a range of biohazards. This is because water from the street enters vaults and may leave potential biohazards behind. For instance, it is not uncommon in urban areas to find hypodermic needles in a vault. In extreme cases, utilities have reported finding several hundred discarded needles in a single installation. Discarded hypodermic needles are an extreme hazard and special training should be conducted on managing the risks. Their presence requires particular housekeeping procedures based on sharps protocols. The OSHA publication “How to Prevent Needlestick Injuries” (see is a good place to start. The information is for health care workers, but the risk here is exactly the same. Crews often overlook spaces that have no direct evidence of needles but are located in areas where the potential for needles exists. Looking on the ground may be deceiving because water may have caused a needle to float in between cables, just waiting for a worker’s hand to come into contact with it. Keep a sharps container handy and use designated pliers to handle the waste.

Vermin, Bacteria and More
A wide range of vermin may inhabit vaults and ducting. And by design, spaces can contain and promote the growth of various bacteria, fungi and mildew. Moderate to heavy buildup of matter should be handled by a qualified pressure cleaning and vacuuming service prior to the commencement of work. The use of disposable coveralls and impervious gloves is highly recommended in such cases, as are good hygiene practices prior to eating, drinking or entering the work vehicle.

Asbestos and Black Fiber Transite Ducts
In 2011, Canada closed its last two remaining asbestos plants after being one of the world’s largest suppliers. Asbestos-containing material (ACM) was once used in ducting materials, and its use was reportedly only discontinued in the early 1990s. Transite ducts contain 5 to 30 percent asbestos. Cable wrap also was once used extensively, containing 70 to 90 percent asbestos. Historically, black fiber ducts were commonly used and may release polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) if exposed to oil or other materials that break down the duct material. In all aging infrastructure, assessments are required to catalog the potential locations of ACM and PAH. Work procedures can then address the best and safest means of controlling exposure. At a minimum, a particulate respirator will be required for airborne ACM exposure, while impermeable gloves are required for exposure to PAH.

High-Voltage System Hazards
With regard to the hierarchy of controls, the best solutions are to de-energize, isolate and ground/bond high-voltage systems prior to work. Utility employees have the capability to perform these actions with some systems, but others restrict the ability to de-energize all circuits inside a vault. There are, however, a number of other controls to consider for work inside energized vaults. Keep in mind that electrical assessments must be made by competent personnel who have undergone the necessary training about high-voltage electrical cable. Upon entry into a vault, hands-off assessments that can detect hazards include: • Looking at splices for leaks, swelling, collapse and other potential imminent failures. • Listening for electrical tracking or arcing. • Sniffing the air for a burning smell. • Identifying loose high-voltage connections or loose cable racks that are stressing splices. • Determining the temperature of the cables, splices and connections. • Looking for vandalism. Many vaults can be accessed by the public, and I am aware of several reports of neutral conductor and ground/halo harvesting.

For supplemental information, see “Practical Underground Safety: Handling Neutrals and Rescue” by Jim Vaughn, CUSP (

Temperature readings of splices and connections are the most common objective data used to determine a potential imminent failure. Utilities usually have engineering data that represents normal operating temperatures as well as temperatures that have been known to produce failure. Consider that cables and splices that have been submerged in water prior to worker entry may have been cooling and now – subject only to ambient air temperature – could pose a delayed failure risk. Monitor temperature regularly in such cases or in situations when readings are above normal or climbing. You should obtain system operating data from the owner of the system to use in your hazard evaluation. Advances in thermal imagining have resulted in the development of hand-held units that can quickly provide a visual spectrum of temperature values to determine hot spots. Considering some vaults can have more than 20 circuits, a method to quickly assess temperatures within the space is critical. For vaults that are already known to have a potential imminent failure, thermal cameras are emerging on the market to assess cables without the need for anyone to enter the vault.

Avoid leaning on energized cables and splices. Treat them as brush contact only. Take great precaution when climbing in and out of the vault not to step on a high-voltage connection, which may become inadvertently dislodged. Utilities normally perform arc flash studies on their systems to determine the level of arc flash clothing required. Obtain such information from the utility owner in order to understand and apply the PPE requirements. There is research available on the use of arc suppression blankets as an option to reduce the damaging effects of splice and connection failure. A good article by Michael R. Mulvaney and Victor L. Petrovic – “Arc Suppression Blanket Installation” ( – provides more information on this topic.

Communication with the plant owner is essential. Verify all circuits in the space have been accounted for and that the appropriate circuit protections are in place. If you are fortunate enough to work in a vault that is clean with legible cable tags, never lose focus as cable configurations and circuits can change in adjacent vaults. Understand your orientation in the vault in terms of the prints you have been given. Once you are ready to work on a circuit, be sure to take the proper precautions and positively identify the cable prior to exposure. It is highly recommended that workers exit the space during any remote switching. Additional loading of circuits may elevate the potential for failure. Prior to commencing work, you should once again perform all temperature testing to verify that switching has not caused any increases.

Most single-chamber spaces are accessible by ladder, so workers may be able to exit a vault on their own in the event of an emergency. However, in some cases you may be waiting for emergency services to arrive and conduct a rescue. Most emergency medical personnel will not enter a space, especially if electricity is involved. If your assessments indicate that there is moderate risk of the space becoming immediately dangerous to life and health, and rescue could be compromised, your system of rescue must include a means to safely extract workers. Some options are: • Tethering your workers inside the space. Using a high-strength, high-heat-resistant rope, extracting workers from a single space can be performed quickly using a man-rated winch. Because traffic is a major hazard, there are options for open winch systems that remove the line from the winch in case a vehicle strikes the rescue system. • A rescue stick that can be lowered into the space and, using a quick-release spring clip, attached to a harness and connected to the rescue line winch system. Keep in mind that this method is more appropriate for open-hatch spaces where the stick can access all areas of a space. • Third-party self-contained breathing apparatus rescue. Train your workers how to perform this type of rescue, or contract with a third party that can provide specially trained personnel to act as standby crew members for the purpose of vault rescue. Hiring a third party is a reasonable option for more advanced vaults with multiple stages or chambers.

Underground vaults present numerous hazards, but thorough planning and communication with plant system owners can mitigate many risks and allow for safe access. Understand the nature of the spaces and work closely with your qualified electrical crews.

About the Author: Chris Grajek, CRSP, CUSP, has been Allteck’s director of health and safety since 2006. He leads a team of trades trainers and field safety coordinators for local and international construction and maintenance activities. Grajek is also involved with a number of transmission and distribution partnership task teams and provides instruction on a wide range of utility-driven training initiatives. He can be reached at

The above article is from Incident Prevention magazine’s September/October 2016 issue. For more articles, visit

lighthouse image

Be the Safety Lighthouse

lighthouse image A lighthouse is not something that safety leaders typically think about unless we’re taking a boat ride or going on a cruise. Lighthouses are a tool used by seafaring people, and usually the only time a power-line technician deals with a lighthouse is when the power goes out and the technician is charged with getting the power back on. For me personally, I live in a landlocked area and am not well-traveled, so I do not know everything about lighthouses. Why, then, am I writing about them in a post directed toward safety leaders? It is the symbolism and characteristics of lighthouses that I want to share with readers.

Before I get to that, I want to note that when I use the term “safety leader,” I am not referring to a specific safety position or designation. Anyone can be a safety leader; you don’t have to have a managerial-level job title in order to be one. For instance, I am a manager, but there are many leaders who are employed in my work group. These leaders show up every day and work to ensure that everyone goes home safely and without harm at the end of the day. These are the people who speak up when needed, and who perform work as trained and without shortcuts, even when they are not being observed.

A lighthouse is a beacon that’s purpose is to guide and to warn of danger. The lighthouse does not tell sea travelers what path to take; it illuminates danger and lets the sea travelers set their own path. The lighthouse helps the sea traveler to return home safely. When it comes to electric utility work, safety leaders do the same thing as lighthouses by identifying worksite hazards and putting controls in place. They do this not for the recognition, although that is appreciated, but because it is the right way to work.

Lighthouses also shine bright in dark and stormy weather. They sit below the clouds at the level of ships so they can be seen when needed to provide safety. This also is how safety leaders operate. No matter what is happening around them, safety leaders perform hazard assessments. They stop unsafe work until it can be made safe. The right decisions are made, and everyone becomes accountable for safety on the site.

A lighthouse stands strong in the face of waves and wind. It does not matter how many waves crash, or how high they get, or how hard the wind is blowing, or from which direction – the lighthouse stands tall. These are the same characteristics that make a safety leader a leader. There are always changes that will come; the metaphoric winds regularly change direction. The priorities for work also change – the direction changes and safety leaders still stand tall. A lighthouse, and a safety leader, provides safety regardless of challenges.

To my mind, a lighthouse is the perfect metaphor for a safety leader. Telling people to be safe does not provide safety. One of my favorite sayings is “I can’t hear what you are saying because your actions speak so loudly.” Actions – not words – demonstrate who you are. Be the safety lighthouse, standing tall and steadfast in your position, regardless of waves and bad weather, shining for all to see and protecting others from harm.

Aron McInnes June2018

Passive Safety Bones

Aron McInnes June2018Recently I worked for a person in the utility industry who would tell everyone that they needed to get over their passive bones when it came to safety. What are passive bones? They are not physical bones, nor are they similar to funny bones. Instead, the term “passive bones” refers to an approach to handling a safety concern. Each worker is a bone in the skeleton of an organization’s safety culture. If the culture within a company or work group is for workers not to call each other out on safety performance, the culture becomes a skeleton made of passive bones.

There are a number of reasons why some cultures are built on passive bones. For example, I have heard people say that it is easier to walk by a safety concern than it is to address it, or that the cost of safety is high, or that the work needs to get done. Complacency and luck are factors as well.

When a person sees a safety concern, they have to make a choice: Do they address it, or do they walk by? There is the difficult conversation that must be had, the paperwork that comes with it, the meetings to discuss corrective actions and the lost productivity that results from the safety fix that is put in place. The right thing to do is address the issue, do the hard work, have the difficult conversations and make the situation safe. Make it visible to others that a safety concern was addressed in a positive way. Normalize speaking up and addressing safety concerns.

It’s true that the cost of safety is high. It does not make good business sense to purchase a pricey device that never gets used. In business, equipment that does not see utilization is considered a stranded asset. It has a high cost to maintain and audit. But the cost of safety is high for a reason. Safety equipment undergoes a lot of engineering and testing to ensure it will function as designed. If you have a strong safety culture and proper safety equipment, there is money saved from not experiencing a safety incident, from not paying a fine or penalty, and from seeing employees go home at the end of each day. Talk about owning safety, not the cost of owning safety equipment.

The utility industry does not produce safety as a consumer product. Time is money. Sometimes there is productivity loss due to using safe work practices and special equipment. The short time gain from utilizing a shortcut does not make up for the long-term loss that comes with a passive nature regarding safety. Look at the downtime, equipment repairs and lost revenue that result from a safety incident.

Complacency is one of the hardest safety challenges to address. It is human nature to get comfortable. We adapt to our situation. Not addressing safety risks early on allows for a level of comfort to settle into the work. As a power lineman, I know that I grew comfortable with heights and electricity. The risks were still there even when I was more comfortable with them. This is where safe work procedures that build in multiple controls and reduce the risk of human error are so important. Comfort is not a safety control.

Luck is tricky. Sometimes you have luck on your side, and other times it is not your lucky day. If people in your company or work group are using the word “luck” or “lucky” when discussing the outcome of a safety incident, that should be a warning sign. Relying on the consistency of luck is asking for trouble. Unsafe acts and near misses need to be addressed to reduce the number and severity of incidents. This requires active participants to address even the smallest safety risks. Stop relying on luck and start creating safety results.

Each person in a work group and a company is part of the safety culture. If you are one of the passive safety bones, you need to work on that. Speak up, address issues and manufacture safety results. Be a safety leader regardless of title or position. Follow safe work procedures and utilize safety equipment properly. Hold others accountable for their safety and yours. Thank someone who calls you out on a safety concern because it is difficult to speak up. Work on your own passive nature as it relates to safety and encourage others to work on theirs. You will know your efforts are paying off when you cannot turn a blind eye to safety, and when that happens, you will strengthen the skeleton of your company’s safety culture.

-Aron McInnes, CUSP


360 Memorial Drive, Suite 10, Crystal Lake, IL 60014 | Phone: 815.459.1796

Magazines / e-News

Subscribe to our magazines and email list and stay up-to-date with all the latest news about utility industry products, educational opportunities, and other utility specific information.

© Copyright 2009- 2021 - Utility Safety & Ops Leadership Network.
All rights reserved.