During Q&A following an excellent presentation at an industry conference, a young electrician asked the speaker, “You’ve been in the industry for over 40 years. How did you overcome your fear of electricity?”
The speaker replied, “I didn’t. That’s why I’m still here. It’s not enough to have a healthy respect for electricity; you need to have some healthy fear of it too.”
Electricity isn’t the only thing that can kill you on the job. Gravity, for example, can totally ruin your day. So, the respect and fear must apply to all dangers, not just to electricity. But a strange thing happens when safety efforts are successful. People tend to get accustomed to dangers after being around them with no adverse consequences. The process is known as desensitization.
The result of this is a complacency toward safety instead of the “yellow alert” mentality that helps you spot dangers so you can protect yourself against them. Fred doesn’t notice the missing rivet in his ladder because he’s used a ladder dozens of times with no incident. Ava takes a measurement with damaged test leads because she got out of the habit of visually inspecting them before each use.
Evan has come to know which breakers supply the branch circuits for specific equipment he works on in the plant, so he never bothers to get the drawings. You can imagine his shock and surprise when he made a “didn’t leave my car keys in their usual spot” kind of error and locked out the wrong breaker.
Even our immune systems behave this way, which is the rationale behind allergy shots. The immune systems sees the same allergen and stops reacting to it. So, you aren’t going to solve this problem by harping at people to be afraid of electricity. What can you do? Here are four tips.
- Establish rituals. Climbers do this with a seemingly silly checking ritual before each climb. Check the harness, even though it worked fine on the last three climbs. Check the knot, even though it’s maybe the 5,302nd such knot you’ve tied. The climber checks the belayer, and the belayer checks the climber. It seems like a silly waste of time, except one of the world’s top climbers fell out of her harness and died due to failing to follow this ritual. The tool count is a ritual that has prevented many an arc blast. What other rituals should you have?
- Provide visual reminders. You can obtain arc blast videos, disturbing forensic photos, and similar visual evidence of what can happen. Sources include switchgear manufacturers, PPE manufacturers, electrical forensics consultants, and electrical safety firms.
- Provide visceral reminders. Concerned about fall safety? Have everyone gather around and then drop a watermelon six feet onto the concrete. “This could be your head hitting the floor, use fall protection!” Letting an object substitute for a human and then using it to demonstrate the damage will definitely reduce complacency.
- Provide experiential reminders. Is there a problem with compliance in regard to wearing safety glasses? Have the crew gather around a locked out motor. Have each person take turns trying to make connections and perform rotation testing while blindfolded. Then ask the repeat offenders specifically how they plan to earn a living with no eyesight. It can’t be as an electrician.