The Corner Cubicle: When Arc-Flash Videos Go Viral

Feb. 12, 2014
At 178,000 YouTube hits and counting, a training video that recounts a horrific arc-flash accident is opening eyes to the hazards of working with electricity.

In the evening of Jan. 18, 2001, an electrician at an oriented strand board mill in Elkin, N.C., made a poor decision and it cost him his life. Over a decade later, his story is alive and well – and hopefully still opening fresh eyes to the hazards of working with electricity.

The worker’s name was Eddie Adams, and a training video made in his honor shows how his death shook his co-workers and managers (and no doubt his family) to the quick. It’s a powerful, gripping 14-minute video that puts a human face on the threat of arc-flash accidents. And since Jim Steele uploaded it to YouTube in September 2012, the video has received more than 178,000 hits. Of course, that was at press time; by the time you read this, that number could be approaching 200,000 hits.

When I use the word “viral” in the headline, I admit that the proclamation might seem like a bit of hyperbole – especially when you consider that the crap that truly goes viral in our world (and most of it is crap) gets tens of millions of hits. But in the world of workplace safety, 178,000 hits seems pretty close to viral to me. And the fact that the video has garnered so many views is an aspect of this tragic story that’s truly heartwarming.

“If by doing the video we can prevent one person from having a tragic event similar to this one, then it’s been worthwhile,” says one mill employee in the video.

It’s hard not to feel the emotion as co-workers and managers describe what went wrong on the fateful night of Jan. 18, 2001. Jeffrey Dale Fickett, the mill general manager at the time of the accident, fights back tears as he laments: “Someone lost their life for nothing. And I don’t want that to happen again, not to anybody – not at my facility or anybody else’s facility.” 

It’s been said that for safety leaders to truly make an impact, they have to win over the hearts of their constituents. That makes a lot of sense to me. It’s not until you feel the importance of safety that you’re going to be truly motivated to take the extra steps and the extra precautions to ensure that you’re working safely, day after day. (Easier said than done, right?)

When I watch the people in this video reflect upon the arc-flash explosion that killed Eddie Adams, I know that every one of them is a true believer. They may or may not have been passionate about safety before Eddie’s horrific death, but I can guarantee that they are now. I can just imagine the gravity with which they approach each and every job task, no matter how seemingly mundane. They probably think of Eddie – either consciously or subconsciously – every time they make the decision to follow safe work procedures.

“Every time the phone rings now after 9 o’clock in the evening, the fear of God runs right through me,” Fickett says in the video. “Because it could be the same phone call again. Boy, that’s a phone call nobody wants to get.”

I stumbled upon this video while conducting some research for my article on arc-flash accidents in this month’s issue. The fact that it grabbed my attention – and elicited an emotional reaction in the middle of a busy workday – really gets to the heart of the challenge (or opportunity) for safety leaders in their quest to convert associates into true believers.

Let’s face it: No one is more passionate about safety than someone who has lost a colleague in a workplace accident. They feel the importance of safety, in their heart and in their gut, just as the people in this video do in the wake of Eddie’s death. For safety leaders, the ultimate goal is to get people to experience that same passion about safety – before an accident happens. It’s about doing everything possible to ensure that employees have an emotional connection to safety. That’s why many safety managers remind associates that following safety policies and procedures equals safely returning home to their loved ones.

And that’s why this video is so powerful, in my opinion. Even the most skilled actor could not fully convey the anguish that the co-worker or manager of a fallen comrade expresses; the makers of this video do an excellent job of capturing it. I’d like to think that this video has prevented more than a few arc-flash fatalities over the years, even before Jim Steele took the initiative to upload it to YouTube. And now, with 178,000 hits and counting, perhaps it will prevent a few more.

Stay safe, my friends.

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