The partnership's highest priority is implementing tighter industry-wide guidelines to protect the 40,000 workers in the transmission and distribution business. "While each of the groups involved has long been on the forefront of establishing and following the safest work practices, there is a need for improvement," said OSHA Region VIII Administrator Greg Baxter, the agency's representative to the partnership.
This partnership follows other regional partnership agreements in the Columbus, Ohio, area, Atlanta and New Orleans.
The group plans to conduct focus groups led by facilitators who will explore the lineman culture. Plans are not yet final, but the partnership's executive committee has agreed to convene multiple groups of foremen and linemen in different parts of the United States, as work cultures tend to vary from region to region. Their research will be open-ended and comprehensive, seeking information on work attitudes, technical and safety training, discipline, recognition and incentives.
Another goal the partnership has set is working with OSHA to develop a customized, industry-specific, 10-hour class for transmission and distribution construction foremen. Similar to OSHA's other 10-hour courses, it would be required by all outside line construction employers.
The partnership was created in August 2004, when the disparate groups -- business competitors and union and nonunion firms alike -- came together with the common goal of reducing injuries and fatalities.
Meeting in various task teams, the participants are gathering accident data and training material to find ways to reduce accidents in the industry in which 332 workers have died since 1995. Sorting through raw data from the industry, OSHA and state agencies, the partnership is in the process of compiling a detailed database of accident information for the industry.
So far, the group has found that in the years between 1995 and 2003, 78 percent of fatalities occurred on the distribution side of the industry, 15 percent were in transmission and 6 percent were in substations. The overwhelming majority of accidents were caused by electrical contact (80 percent). Other causes were falls (10 percent), being struck by objects (6 percent) and arc flash burns (3 percent). The major underlying sub-causation factors were lack of protective equipment, lack of cover, lack of grounding, induced voltage and failure to follow proper procedures.
But, participants acknowledge, data itself will not change years of work practice. Safety rules and regulations do not save lives unless they are followed. Meaningful change will only occur when the industry moves past the number, type and cause of accidents and answers the "Why?" question: Why do foremen, linemen and apprentices take personal risks when they know the correct procedures to follow and have the right tools and protective equipment to protect themselves and others on the crew?
OSHA's Baxter said the group has already gained valuable insight from the data. "It will guide us as we seek to develop best work practices for the entire transmission and distribution industry," he said.