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When Mistakes Happen

If it is unsafe to work, you don’t take a vote.

You’re the onsite supervisor for an important project with a new, out of town client your company worked hard to get. The first day onsite, you and the crew are getting set up when someone points out the wrong arc flash PPE was packed. You need the 40 cal kits, but have only 31 cal kits. Much of the work will be done with covers removed, and powering down isn’t an option for the thermography.

You call a meeting of the foremen. Joe wants to put it up for a vote as to whether to proceed. John says the only solution is to delay the work for a day while someone from the shop makes a run with the correct PPE. Cathy says to escalate the issue to the home office before making any decisions.

What should you do in this situation?

Joe’s idea is a bad one. If it is unsafe to work, you don’t take a vote. You make it safe to work. John and Cathy are both correct to some extent; each has hit on part of the solution.

You can probably buy that day of delay with no adverse effect on the schedule if you can move tasks around. Anything that requires up to the 31 cal kit can be done while awaiting the 40 cal kits. But you shouldn’t just shuffle the work around, because the client is also making accommodations per the existing schedule.

You first step is to identify which tasks you can do with the PPE you have and how much time those will take. Next, contact the home office to alert them to the problem and describe your solution.

What should happen next is your project manager calls a quick phone or video conference with your client, explaining the problem and asking “if there’s any reason we can’t make some workflow adjustments”. Then your onsite contact should meet with you to agree on the details.

Mistakes happen, and how you handle them matters. The client might feel a little inconvenienced by this arrangement, but should be understanding and appreciate that you worked out a safe solution.

Now suppose your team had taken a vote and decided to proceed without the correct PPE. Probably nobody would have been hurt, since PPE is a last resort and you don’t routinely have arc flashes. But you’d be counting on luck.

And you don’t need an arc flash to have a disaster. It is very likely your counterpart on the client’s side will visit your crews while the work is in progress. After all, your firm is new to them. If the client sees your people are working unsafely, what is that going to do for your firm’s relationship with the client?

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