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The Nemesis of Safety for Both Utilities and Law Enforcement
By Patrick Donoghue TKentucky 811
Transitioning away from law enforcement and into the world of 811 and the utility
industry has given me the unique opportunity to see similarities in
both fields. At the forefront of these similarities is the priority put on safety.
During my 17 years working in public safety, the norm was to have safety briefings before training, discuss how
to handle dangerous situations safely, and during after-action reviews, the safety element would be dissected to see if there was a better way of handling a similar situation in the future. We had standard operating procedures (SOPs), policies, and case laws that dictated how we conducted business in a manner to keep the public, officers, and suspects safe. Technological changes made to equipment improved officer safety and efficiency.
As I continue to learn more about construction, utilities, and other aspects of this industry, it has been incredible to see these same trends. There is a continual push to ensure the safety of operators, the public, and work sites.
With all the positive similarities I
have observed between both sectors,
I am confident I will inevitably
see the negative ones present as
well. In my opinion, the worst of
these is complacency. Numerous
risk management websites, human behavior studies, anecdotal stories, and psychology books state complacency
as a part of human nature, so it should come as no surprise when it rears its ugly head. But being a part of human nature does not mean it is something we should accept. My mindset on complacency when it comes to digging is no different from complacency
as it relates to officer safety. In law enforcement, being complacent can
be disastrous for an officer, and the results can be the officer getting hurt, an innocent being hurt, poor decision- making costing millions in a lawsuit,
or worse, not going home at all. The same can be said for those who are complacent and fail to request a ticket before going into the ground, respecting the tolerance zone or marks, or being overconfident by claiming to know where the lines are in the ground.
The Common Ground Alliance’s (CGA) Best Practices, a company’s standard operating procedures, laws, and contacting 811 before you dig are all safeguards that can prevent injury, lawsuits, damages, or death.
So, how do we combat complacency? First, we need to spot the signs in ourselves and others. According to the National Safety Council (NSC), dissatisfaction with your work and/ or a lack of motivation, frequent near-misses, incidents at work, or missing steps in work processes
are all indicators of complacency. Unfortunately, people tend to have difficulty with self-diagnosis, so we need to be able to recognize the signs of complacency in others. In addition to the signs previously mentioned, changes in attitude, dramatic increase or decrease in communication, and tardiness are all signs you can look for in others. I know it can make people uncomfortable to confront a co-worker about unsafe behavior, but safety is the responsibility of us all.
Now that we know what to look for, it is time to look at the second part of the equation: complacency prevention. The NSC’s recommendation is the following:
• Consciously focus on your tasks while working.
• Recognize and dismiss distractions when they come up.
• Continually look for and improve your approach and routine to your tasks.
• Look for minor changes to your schedule to keep your
focus and avoid “auto-pilot.”
• Everyone takes part in safety talks and inspections.
• Encourage co-workers to
talk through the steps of a task, regardless of experience level.
• Help your co-workers, including pointing out risks.
Meeting the suggestions made by the NSC will take effort on everyone’s part. Administration and management must allow a culture where everyone has
an equal voice in safety. When I was a firearms instructor in law enforcement, every officer was a safety officer and could call for a cease-fire or a stop to training at any time, regardless of rank or experience. In this industry, every facility owner/operator, excavator, and locator should have whistleblower and stop-work authority, which is a Damage Prevention Institute (DPI) accreditation requirement. We must make the CGA Best Practices, contacting 811, and
all other safety measures habitual
for the individual. We also need to accept the help or corrections from others when regarding safety. This
can be especially challenging to the seasoned, experienced worker if they are approached by a co-worker who may be new. From my law enforcement experience, many times younger “rookie” officers, who were fresh out
of training where safety has been drilled into them for months on end, could at times be more aware of safety than an older officer who has become complacent. And on the other side of that coin, experienced workers need
to pass on their knowledge to new employees who are prone to safety mishaps because they lack experience. Regarding safety, EVERYONE needs to check their ego at the door.
I thank each of you for what you do. Stay vigilant and safe out there. Remember, safety is in your hands. Every dig. Every time.
6 • Alabama 811 2023, Issue 4

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