Human error can lead to big problems in power distribution. From large-scale power outages to gas explosions, one mistake can have dire consequences. On a smaller scale, human error can lead to serious utility worker injuries, which can be equally devastating for the injured worker.
So what's the key to reducing human error?
Unfortunately there’s no simple answer, says Terri Millner, manager of sourcing at Anixter. According to Millner, seasoned workers can be just as susceptible to making mistakes as relatively inexperienced workers. “Everyone is expected to do more with less these days,” she says. “Too often, safety is sacrificed for the sake of productivity. But, at the end of the day, the primary goal should be to go home safely to your family.” Millner recommends workers remember the following three tips while on the job:
Understand What Hazards Exist
Job briefings may seem tedious at times but there’s a reason OSHA requires them at the start of each shift. Circumstances like weather and project stage can introduce new hazards. Briefings should cover, at minimum, hazards associated with the work, procedures to be used, any special precautions, control of energy sources and personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements. And, if conditions change during the course of a shift, additional briefings must be conducted before work continues.1
While it may be easy for new workers to overlook certain procedures, Millner cautions that seasoned workers can be just as likely to cut corners or become distracted. Procedures like lockout/tagout (LOTO), grounding practices and setting minimum approach distances were designed to help reduce human error, but they need to be followed precisely each and every time. According to OSHA, the boundary line between where power generation stops and transmission and distribution (T&D) begins can be a critically hazardous area, especially when different companies own and operate generating plants and T&D systems.2 There’s no room for shortcuts: Procedures must be well defined and remain consistent.
Follow Regulations on PPE
OSHA requires very specific safety glasses, face shields, hard hats, safety shoes, gloves, insulating sleeves, and flame-resistant (FR) clothing for electric power workers.3 Too often, though, convenience trumps regulations. At times, PPE for one task differs from what’s required for the very next task. It’s easy to use the same gloves, for instance, from one task to another. Choosing convenience and comfort over safety, however, can be dangerous. For instance, line work from electrically insulated aerial lifts often means the worker is electrically bonded. PPE in these situations consist of conductive rather than insulating materials, as opposed to workers using insulated ladders or platforms.4
There’s no better time to reduce accidents caused by human error than right now. Several studies cited by the National Center for Biotechnology Information show that most accidents of this nature occur in the summer months. Not all studies agree on exactly why that is—some point to heat exhaustion, others cite the inexperience of seasonal workers.5
Whatever the case, diligence and consistency can go far in preventing human error from becoming a deadly problem.