Five years ago Cleveland Electric, Atlanta, Ga., took the issue of job-site safety to a new level. Always a safe contractor, Cleveland was in the normal range according to Workers Compensation and other safety-monitoring data. But then the company looked into what the results would be if Cleveland aimed to be the safest contractor in the United States.

The findings were astonishing. The estimated savings in Workers Compensation insurance costs alone would more than pay for the employment of a full time safety director. It became clear that safety could be, and would be, a clear differentiating factor for Cleveland when compared to other contractors around the country when submitting a bid.

To that end, Cleveland hired Safety Director Wayne Binkins a couple of years ago. His emphasis on training workers on the site and his presence in the field has been directly related to reduced worker injuries in the firm, which is continuing to develop a "safety culture."

Binkins got his first big challenge at the General Motors vehicle assembly plant project in Doraville, Ga. Compressed into a 16-week schedule, the project involved the total rehabilitation of the plant's manufacturing area, and the electrical work force at maximum involved 500 craftspeople.

In addition to following the normal safety precautions on this vast project, Binkins invoked the new stringent OSHA Fall Protection Safety Standard, which involves the use of whole-body harnesses. Employees learned how to use the harness and how to spot the locations on roof beams, etc., where secure tie-offs could be made. This measure was important because there were five layers of work going on at once, from right under the ceiling down to the plant floor, and that made good coordination a necessity.

During the Doraville project, workers on the site referred to him as the safety police and nicknamed him "the Stinger." But the efforts by Binkins and by Corporate Risk Manager Jim Bailey paid off then, and the firm's safety program continues to pay off.

The most recent figures show that Cleveland Electric has an excellent Workers Compensation EMR (experience modification rate) of 0.72, and its OSHA recordable rate for last year was 2.28, compared to a national average for electrical contractors of 10.80, putting Cleveland in the top safety group among electrical contracting firms. The company is striving to achieve the lowest EMR of any contractor in the country, and an ongoing corporate-wide safety incentive program rewards workers for working safely.

Lower EMRs, higher profits Formal written safety programs have become a paragon of success for electrical contracting firms around the country. Many contractors are amazed how these programs affect the bottom line. Savings in insurance premiums can result from a reduction in their EMR. In fact, some firms have found that a reduction in their workmen's compensation insurance costs is the real reason they can boast of a profit at the end of the year.

A low insurance cost also directly helps when a bid is submitted on a project. It allows a contractor to submit the lowest possible bid while maintaining a profit. On a large job, that could amount to a strategic advantage of several hundred thousand dollars.

Safety programs can also help contractors win bids. In today's litigious society, clients must prevent lawsuits stemming from accidents. They know that choosing the "safe" contractor is the best way to go. In fact, many contractors increasingly find that they can't bid on projects unless they have a written safety program in use.

Model safety programs, available from industry organizations, such as the American Subcontractors Association, can provide the framework for any contracting company to tailor make its own program. Some local Independent Electrical Contractors Association (IECA) chapters employ safety directors who conduct safety training and job-site inspections for their members. A southeastern contractor member of the IECA believes that using the services of an outside safety consultant makes an even deeper impression on potential customers.

The most important element of setting up a program is the money. Therefore, company owners and managers decide on the method of safety training their employees receive.

Practical considerations If you don't want your safety program to become just another set of rules, seek employee input at every appropriate stage of development. In many cases, the field personnel will know the job-site hazards better than office staff. Some typical questions to bring up at a planning meeting are: Who are we going to appoint as the safety coordinator and safety director? Who will teach the field people? Will we develop an orientation and safety instruction video for all new employees? Will we buy training literature? Should we buy a computer-software safety program? To answer many of these questions, here are some basic steps to follow:

Define your needs. What are the hazards of normal or unusual company operations? What are the company's insurance and legal risks? What are your client's views on safety? Arrow Electric Co. Inc., Louisville, Ky., found that a copy of a written safety program was required for attachment to the bid documents on 60% of its current projects. Define the safety goals. Set up a schedule for implementing the program and define the desired goal for a specific time period, such as a percentage reduction in reported incidents or injuries, or a stated reduction in EMR, within a year. Set safety goals for the entire organization, but hold individuals accountable for specific safety objectives.

Spell out the steps to be taken to implement the program, including how the education will be carried out. Select the safety educational source(s) you will use. A good source is usually the Loss Prevention/ Industrial Hygienist Department of your workers compensation insurer. Write your policy. You could call on the loss-control representative from your insurance carrier for guidance. Additionally, you can probably get sample programs or policy outlines from national or local construction associations.

Establish your budget. Remember, the costs of providing personal protective equipment (PPE) are trivial compared to the costs and pain of a serious injury to a worker. Define who will carry out the program. You might select one of your employees to be the safety coordinator and see that the person gets the information and training to carry out the new responsibilities. Or you could hire a safety manager or consultant.

Consider purchasing a "train the trainer" program, as well as purchasing a program for teaching supervisors how to identify and respond to unsafe situations at a job site or plant. A trained project supervisor is able to reinforce the safety consciousness of the crew and fortify the team concept.

Set standards for employee accountability and disciplinary actions. Organize and write the safety materials so they are easy to understand. Use simple headings, such as lockout energy sources, so that each subject will get full attention and can be easily recalled. Some companies integrate safety into a worker's job performance review. Distribute the safety policy and rules to all employees. Put up safety posters, and change their content periodically to retain attention to your messages. Provide each employee with a copy of your company safety program. Reinforce the program through visual material displayed on the job site, articles tacked on bulletin boards or brochures inserted in paycheck envelopes.

Monitor the program. Check how your safety culture is progressing through the organization by asking key questions such as

How are employees responding?

Do the safety inspection reports result in follow-up actions that make sense?

Is it easy for workers to report unsafe conditions or equipment?

Is the safety incentive (reward) program continuous?

Are employees following good housekeeping practices?

Start the reinforcement process. Assign someone to audit inspections, safety meetings, safety tours and other regular activities. Assign certain workers to inspect production equipment and work areas for deficiencies, such as missing machine guards, damaged equipment, frayed extension cords or poor lighting.

Discourage shortcuts. For example, be serious about following the lockout/tagout requirements defined in the OSHA standards and in continually informing your employees on these rules. Companies such as Ideal and Panduit have written sample programs to serve as a guide. You can also purchase lockout/tagout training videos and manuals to help in training.

>From time to time you'll see employees take a short cut, and most of the >time they do so without injury. But some people who play that game do have >accidents-and in lockout/tagout the stakes are often life and death.

The Continental way For Continental Electrical Construction Co., Skokie Ill., training starts when a new employee receives a copy of the firm's safety manual. The reference explains hazards electrical personnel are likely to encounter in work along with precautions necessary to prevent bodily harm and equipment damage. The manual sets standards for employee accountability and disciplinary actions. For example, a written "Not Working Safely" notice is issued to anyone who doesn't follow the safety requirements defined in the manual or mandated at a specific job site.

The overleaf states the company is interested in each employee's safety and the policy of the firm is to provide safe equipment, adequate tools, and the necessary protective equipment. The manual's succeeding pages have a list of 28 employee safety regulations. Subjects in the manual include responsibility for tools, attendance at toolbox meetings, use of company vehicles, drug policies and lifting procedures. Other specific subjects covered are: first aid and medical treatment, personnel protective equipment, construction tools and equipment, scaffolding, ladders, hand and power tools, lockout/tagout procedures, hazardous communication program, confined space entry, and the assured grounding program for job sites. The hazards involved with electrically energized equipment are clearly recognized in the contractor's safety manual. A "Working on Live Equipment" kit must be used when employees have to work on energized switchboards or similar equipment.

The kit materials, which are stowed in a gang box, include a pair of 36-inch by 36- inch rubber mats with case, two pairs of rubber gloves, two safety cones, two signs, two flame-retarding jump suits, one hot stick, two hard hats with full face shield, one roll of "Danger High Voltage" yellow caution tape, four labeled safety lockout tags, four individually keyed locks with keys, and one 16-ft fiberglass folding ruler.

As a general rule during safety-related meetings, Continental stresses two basic types of hazards. The first type involves contact with high- or medium-voltage circuits or radiation. The second type includes climbing, lifting and bending and operating certain tools.

Tri-City's Safety Fish At Tri-City Electrical Contractors Inc., Maitland, Fla., safety has equal standing with production. The firm has kept a written safety policy for the last 12 years and a full time safety director for the past 10 years. In 1994, Tri-City launched an Employee Safety Incentive Program to augment its written policy. The company also hired three safety/training directors, formed safety committees and began fostering a culture focused on Safety First.

Tri-City also created a Safety Fish logo to identify safety items, gives safety-related gifts to all employees (including hard hat coolers), and rewards eligible employees with safety awards. The company annually spends $250,000 on incentives.

Each superintendent is required to fill out a four-page safety inspection report on each of their projects each week, and safety directors randomly visit and inspect project sites. In one year, Tri-City reduced its cost of "loss due to worker injury" by more that 50 % from the previous year.

Working safely on medium-voltage circuits When working on or near equipment rated over 600 V, these basic rules should be followed:

Permit only authorized personnel to de-energize and lockout equipment. Do not use push buttons, selector switches or interlocks as a substitute for lockout/tagout procedures. This goes for interlocks that operate as control circuits directly or indirectly through contacts, either electrically or mechanically.

Refer to one-line electrical diagrams, which should be located in all switchgear rooms, to verify proper disconnecting means. Isolating switches should not be used to interrupt or energize loads unless listed for such purposes and can be operated without danger of flashover. Circuit breakers should be placed in the open position and verified before being racked out.

Test the circuit to ensure it is de-energized, using the appropriate test equipment rated for the voltage of the particular circuit. The test equipment should be checked for proper operation immediately before and immediately after testing the circuit to be worked on.

Install safety grounds on de-energized equipment or conductors when an induced voltage could come from adjacent energized lines, the de-energized equipment could be energized by lightning or by a switching error, or when the de-energized equipment is connected to capacitors.

Wear rubber insulated gloves rated for the voltage to be encountered, a hard hat, a face shield, and hearing protection-at a minimum-when disconnecting, shutting off or restoring power, testing for voltage or installing grounds on systems over 600 V,

The importance of fall-protection training Anytime you have many employees of various crafts working in a confined space, the chance of an accident increases significantly. Therefore, the OSHA Fall Protection Safety Standard calls for the use of whole-body harnesses. With this equipment, a retractable lifeline, which automatically takes up slack or releases more line as a worker moves about, is usually attached to an "I" beam or the top of a fixed ladder. Connected to the harness' back D-ring, the lifeline provides unrestricted vertical movement, but in case of a fall, a breaking mechanism limits the free fall to 2 ft.

Improperly used fall-protection equipment cannot prevent injury. Therefore, all workers must be trained thoroughly in equipment use and its maintenance. According to OSHA, training should include identifying fall hazards, determining the type of equipment to use and where to use it, wearing the equipment properly and understanding its limitations, tying-off to an appropriate anchorage point, and inspecting and maintaining equipment.

Many training programs reveal the consequences of using fall protection equipment improperly. For example, some manufacturers offer on-site training programs using sandbag drops and dummies to show the dramatic differences among fall protection products. After watching the demonstration, workers gain greater confidence in the equipment as well as understanding the proper use of the gear. They also lean that fall protection equipment is application specific, and that using the wrong equipment may do more harm than good.

Some manufacturers also offer videotapes on fall protection equipment, and these instructional tapes can be valuable as introductory information for workers inexperienced in fall protection and they can be refreshers for veteran users.

Fall hazards can be present when working from powered platforms, scaffolding, ladders, roofs or elevated workstations.

Pole climbing skills and safety

Pole climbing is still a necessary skill for many electricians, even though aerial lift (bucket lift) trucks are often an available alternative. Without proper training and care, you can injure yourself severely during climbing. Some of the hazards may be obvious, but others are not. Here are suggestions: 1.Try to obtain formal training in pole climbing.

2.Make sure climbers are properly fitted and inspect them daily for nicked or dulled cutting edges on the gaff.

3.Wear climbers only when ascending, working aloft, or descending the pole.

4.When you attach the safety strap to the D-ring, do not rely on the "click" of the snap-hook. Look at the snap-hook to be sure it is properly attached, and don't attach anything to the D-ring except the safety strap.

5. When climbing or descending a pole with climbers, look out for cracks, knots , and metal umber plats, nails, splinters, shell-rot, etc., which could cause a gaff to cut out and subsequently cause injury.

6.Do not use crossarms, extensions, fixtures, etc., for support until you have first tested them.

7.Take proper care of belts and straps. Don't keep them in an area with excessive heat or dampness; keep then in a cool, dry well-ventilated area away from sunlight.

Typical safety topics-and how they're covered

An important safety topic can focus on job-site construction work where there is a danger that equipment, such as a truck crane, could accidentally comes in contact with an energized power line.

Here is the situation: a truck crane has to pass under a medium-voltage (15 kV) power line, as part of a repositioning of equipment on a job site. Therefore, a provision must be made to either have the power shut off, or to set up procedures that minimizes the exposure. The power line cannot be de-energized, so the foreman must establish a procedure for the work crew is to follow. The main concern is to keep the truck crane boom, and the tag line at least 10 ft away from any power line.

But because of misjudgment by both the crane operator and the worker, who guided the movement of the truck crane and gave the signals, the block on the boom fails to clear the power line. The boom comes in contact with (or comes close to) the power line, resulting in an electrical catastrophe.

After this hypothetical situation is described, a representative of the local electric utility sets up toy models of cranes and other equipment on the conference table and lists the various flash over distances on typical power lines. These distances should be recorded and maintained.