Whether you are part of a startup creating an electrical safety program from scratch or working for a mature maintenance organization and improving upon your existing program, identifying your team and key stakeholders is the first thing you need to do.
The electrical safety program will require input and collaboration from your Health & Safety Department, electrical maintenance supervision, affected maintenance departments, operations, and engineering staff.
Some of you that are reading this may have been tasked with creating a program or verifying that a program meets current industry and regulatory standards. You might be trying to write the company policy and move on to your next task.
Simply checking the box by making sure the program captures the regulatory minimums is not a good approach. This will result in an ineffective safety program, and your program will likely end up being another policy ignored by staff.
Effective safety programs by nature require participation and continuous improvement. If you are willing to put the time in to build your team, and the program around that team, you may one day find yourself fully extricated from its day-to-day development and management.
Write a list of the people that need to be dealt into the conversation and what you believe their roles and strengths are. Keep your working group small enough that it is productive (4-7 maximum). If you need to get buy-in from other stakeholders allow them to review and give you feedback once you have had time to develop the material substantially.
Find a few high achieving maintenance staff that are practical and passionate about worker safety, bring them on board and work with them to help develop the program. Depending on availability you can work with these people to bounce ideas off of them or ask them to review your work as it progresses. Creating a consistent standard across an electrical department is key by reducing the administrative burden and improving accountability in the long run.
The electrical organization needs to move in the same direction. If you are part of an organization that has more than one electrical supervisor or if the electrical technicians are separated by area be sure that the different groups are represented in your working group. You may find that the different groups approach electrical safety differently. By including all of them in the same forum you can try to converge on a single set of standards and procedures wherever possible.
Building your team will require patience and a lot of listening no matter how much electrical safety experience you bring to the table. The second step after you have identified your team is listening. Getting maintenance supervision, and workers to engage, and remain engaged is the key to ultimately writing an effective policy and leaving behind a thriving safety work culture. Engagement begins with listening.
Listening to the workers that have to adhere to the policy on a day to day basis will help you identify gaps, inconsistencies, and areas that require training. Beyond helping you make the policy better listening will naturally help you build rapport with the staff as well as identify those who can help you achieve an effective policy.
Maintenance staff often feel as though management simply dictates what they need to do and how they need to do it. In reality, management often has no idea how the work gets done and has created unworkable or complicated solutions to a perceived problem because they are trying to comply with regulatory requirements. Having policies that employees do not follow, that do not work, or that have not been trained on, will not be an acceptable defense when someone gets hurt on the job or a major incident occurs. Worker participation in the safety culture is key to making sure workers are safe and it limits you and your organization from potential exposures.
While I am stressing the importance of collaboration and listening, there will always be those few obstructionists that will give you the act of god scenarios or poke holes in the program any way they can. You will not be able to win over everyone including supervisors. At times you will need to move forward even though you have not been able to achieve 100% consensus and sometimes you will need to work around these people. Do your homework, build consensus, be transparent, and keep moving forward. Remember the program is a living organism, it will grow and continually improve if you can maintain engagement from the team. Don’t let a detail stall the effort, take an action to revisit the topic later if necessary.
In the next post, we will discuss background on electrical safety and relevant standards. For many electrical maintenance organizations the NFPA 70E will form the basis of your program.