May is National Electrical Safety Month

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Pandemic created innovation to advance concept of limitless safety

By DOUG MARTIN, Executive Vice President St. Louis NEC
and
FRANK JACOBS, Business Manager IBEW Local 1

May is National Electrical Safety Month and if the past year taught us anything about safety, it is the relentless need to adapt to any safety challenge.

No one could have foreseen a pandemic waylaying life in the manner that COVID-19 has, but it did shed light on the construction industry’s capacity to collaborate on solutions to keep projects moving. It proved our mettle as an essential industry, but also reinforced the concept we must all embrace – limitless safety.

TOOL STERILIZER: NECA contractor Guarantee Electrical deployed portable high temperature sterilization technology pods for tools.
SPECIALIZED CARTS for personal protective equipment and other safety items were part of Guarantee Electrical’s pandemic risk management.

Collaborating with our AGC partners, Electrical Connection contractors, the St. Louis Chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) and the IBEW Local 1 workforce stretched the horizon of limitless safety in 2020. Thoughtful safety protocols were put in place to support greater sanitation, social distancing, face coverings and more. One of the earliest risk management agreements in the pandemic was the March 17, 2020 IBEW/NECA National Agreement covering COVID-19 safety measures.

PANDEMIC SPURRED SAFETY INNOVATION
Meanwhile, as Electrical Connection contractors engineered and installed electrical/communications infrastructure for COVID-19 testing tents and triage units at hospitals throughout the area last spring, safety innovation emerged. Guarantee Electrical collaborated with Cocoon Revolution by Thermasi, LLC to provide a portable high temperature sterilization system for tools. It also innovated with mobile COVID-19 Defense Unit lockable carts with personal protective equipment and other safety items for work in contagious areas. Pre-fabrication became an essential strategy to deliver precision installations more safely.

In NECA’s latest report on safety, diligence and innovation to mitigate hazards remains the foundation of advancing limitless safety. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics latest occupational injury and illness report, 2019 saw 1,061 fatal injuries on construction projects. That was a five percent increase over the previous year. There were 166 deaths related to “exposure to electricity,” but not all of that was related to construction.

MITIGATE HAZARDS

PRE-FABRICATION was an essential strategy for NECA contractors and their IBEW Local 1 workforces to keep projects moving safely during the pandemic.

According to the report, innovations to mitigate hazards over the last five years have included artificial intelligence, wearable technology and other smart devices.

“Wearable technology allows the creation of geofencing on job-site activities, such as mobile equipment that uses smart technology to verify operator credentials prior to startup, advise workers when in the proximity of electrical circuits and track lone workers in high-risk activities, such as confined spaces.”

Artificial intelligence is now playing a more active role in training.

“An electrician can be trained in establishing safe working conditions without ever being exposed to energized circuits.” In addition, “safety performance auditing is now conducted using mobile devices, which allows for live trending of unsafe conditions, tracking safety solutions and generating reports instantaneously.”

MULTIGENERATIONAL WORKFORCE TRAINING
Another aspect of safety that became even more evident during the pandemic is our multigenerational workforce.

IBEW/NECA TRAINING adapted to the pandemic with blended learning, mixing online and in-person classes with pandemic protocols.

The pandemic led to some layoffs, some COVID-fatigue early retirements and some delayed retirements. We continue to recruit a diverse workforce, but teaching safety to the novice electrician – which can be of any age – and retraining or offering continuing education to veterans requires different tactics. Younger workers tend to like information presented in little chunks with hands on training in modules. Older workers prefer traditional lectures, demonstrations and hands-on training. Each expectation requires its own solution for optimal safety instruction.

The Electrical Connection IBEW/NECA partnership invests $3 million annually in training at the IBEW/NECA Electrical Industry Training Center and that includes relentless pursuit of innovation when it comes to safety.

Over the last year that took shape in the form of blended learning – including virtual classes – to accommodate the pandemic challenge. It builds on a foundation of innovation that allows us to coexist with pandemics and any other unforeseen challenge in the quest for limitless safety.  For more information, visit electricalconnection.org.

(This article originally appeared in the AGC of Missouri’s Build Mo weekly newsletter.)


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