Image of a graph paper notebook with calculator, pen, pencil and eraser. The words "Closed Circuit" are at the top.

​By Will Schnyer

Like many WAPA employees, I follow social media powerline forums to remain engaged with current industry-related topics. One of these forums reports on nationwide electric utility incidents and accidents. They commonly use the phrase “we roll it back” after an incident or accident has taken place.

The phrase refers to signs frequently used in various workplaces, saying something along the lines of, “It has been xx days since last accident.” Rolling back the counter on a sign like that is never good news.

Before I start reading about the event, if I see “we roll it back,” I already know a whole lot of people have been impacted and will have to confront the consequences of the event.

These words indicate one of our brothers or sisters has possibly sustained injuries that could leave long-lasting mental or physical scars. I know this to be true because I, myself, was a member of a crew when an accident took place.

It wasn’t an enjoyable experience. To this day I can’t rid myself of the mental pictures I carry from this event, even though it took place decades ago.

You might wonder why I mention any of this. Well, my son has chosen to follow in my footsteps and will be starting a lineman apprenticeship in the near future. Knowing what I know, I wish I could transfer my craft knowledge and experiences to him so that he could forgo the steep learning curve he will encounter in his career.

I’m a realist, however, and I understand as John Keats once said, “Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced.” Personal experiences provide the most enduring lessons.

Furthermore, one of my many responsibilities is to ensure the on-the-job safety and health of all craft employees I supervise. Accordingly, I met with two new hires recently. One is a journeyman lineman and the other is a brand-new apprentice lineman.

We discussed personal accountability and responsibility. We also addressed a number of important safety principles:

  • No employee should, under any circumstances or to any extent, set aside safety procedures or common sense for personal convenience or to meet a project schedule.
  • You must understand and act according to your rights and responsibilities to identify and take action to reduce and eliminate hazardous work environments and work practices.
  • Without fear of retaliation, an employee has the right and responsibility to not participate in an activity or action they deem to be unsafe. Additionally, an employee has the right and responsibility to stop any action they believe would place a person in imminent danger.
  • Without fear of retaliation, employees are encouraged to report near-miss incidents. Reporting a near-miss may prevent injury to other employees or prevent damage to equipment.
  • No employee will be subject to restraint, interference, coercion, reprisal or other discrimination by virtue of participation in our Safety and Occupational Health program.

You’re probably thinking to yourself that these principles make implicit sense and shouldn’t really need to be discussed. I tend to agree with you but, unfortunately, I have been part of work environments in the past in which speaking up is easier said than done, especially for apprentices.

I stated earlier that I wish I could transfer my craft knowledge and experiences to my son; I also wish I could pass them on to my new apprentice. I wish I could transfer my safety knowledge and experiences as well.

Since I can’t, I hope through their own learning experiences they become responsible and accountable for their actions, especially as they affect personal safety. I hope that they never set aside safety procedures or common sense for personal convenience. Most importantly, I hope they are empowered to always, as WAPA’s core value puts it, “Do what is right. Do what is safe.”

To drive this point home, Administrator and CEO Mark A. Gabriel sent a letter to employees recently in which he said, “Everyone is the safety person. I am the safety person as is the newest apprentice and everyone in between. It is everyone’s obligation to look out for one another. We owe it to ourselves, each other and all our loved ones to take those few extra minutes to evaluate if a work activity is safe.”

The takeaway is this: We don’t have to be an administrator or a foreman to be bold and lead. We don’t have to be in a position of influence to have influence. Leadership is action, not a title.

Each one of us is a “safety person.” If we step up, it encourages others to step up. Our collective goal should be to ensure all work environments are conducive to speaking up for safety.

Let’s do everything we can to keep that as a standard practice, so we never have to “roll it back.”

Note: Schnyer is vice president of transmission system asset management for Sierra Nevada.

A diagonal photo of two lineman repairing a conductor

Safe practices and procedures are paramount for field crews.

Last modified on March 6th, 2024