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The Making of Safety Leaders: 2013 NECA Safety Professionals Conference Recap

Jun 06, 2013

The National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) hosted its third annual Safety Professionals Conference (NSPC) in Denver, May 20-22. This year’s event boasted the largest attendance in its history, with over 240 safety professionals participating. Attendees included safety directors, project managers, company owners and members of NECA’s executive team.

The NPSC is the electrical construction industry’s premier safety event, and it continues to grow. The conference provides the most current information on regulation, compliance, management techniques, and standards development that impact safety and health in electrical construction industry. The 2013 NSPC was held in cooperation with NECA Premier Partner
Westex™, the world’s largest manufacturer of durable flame resistant cotton and cotton blend fabrics for protective clothing. 

“Participation in the NSPC has grown as electrical construction experts from across the country have made attending the event a priority,” said Michael Johnston, NECA Executive Director, Standards and Safety. Johnston, Jerry Rivera, NECA Director, Safety and Diana Brioso, NECA Manager, Standards, organized the conference for people working in safety at all levels of the electrical construction industry.

“Conference attendees are actively involved setting both association and industry priorities,” Johnston said. “They understand the importance of safety in their company operations, for both their workforce and their bottom line. When we come together, we share how we can make our industry safer, more efficient and more profitable.”

Leading By Example

Michael Callanan, NJATC Executive Director, kicked off the conference with an inspiring message that safety leadership is a shared leadership that must be embraced by all. “Safety is a shared responsibility between employers and employees,” he said. “Each has to do their part to achieve desired results.”

“Safety leadership is about encouraging people to join your cause,” Rivera said. “Much of what we covered at NSPC was designed to help attendees improve their ability to guide and motivate others for that common purpose of safety – for workers, for the jobsite and for their customers.”

“We must take safety to the next level,” said John Lambert, Chairman of NECA’s Safety Task Force. “We need to exploit our safety efforts collectively, we must reach every electrical worker, and we will not rest until we do!”

Safety has long been a priority at E C (Electrical Construction Co.), a NECA member company based in Portland, Ore. Company CEO George Adams and Safety Director Mark Hopkins attended this year’s conference to check their goals with contracting colleagues and safety experts. “E C has come a long way in the development of our safety culture, but the educational sessions revealed that we must commit to a continuous improvement cycle,” Adams said.

Conference Contents

The 2013 NSPC included general and break-out sessions. Breakout sessions were organized along four tracks: electrical safety, inside and outside electrical construction, and safety management. Educational sessions also covered all aspects of the hierarchy of control, from prevention through design to the institution of administrative controls.

“The safety professional has evolved to levels where the use of personal protective equipment is no longer king, although PPE is instrumental in hierarchy of control,” Johnston said. “Safety professionals are on many occasions involved at designed stage looking for ways to engineer the hazard out.”

Keynote speakers included Cliff Meidl and Michael Callanan; Lee Shelby and Brandon Schroeder; and Dr. Craig Simpson. Schroeder, a journeyman electrician who survived a serious arc-flash accident in 2011, was one of the event’s most compelling speakers. He vividly described his injuries and difficult recovery and what he learned from the incident.

Arc-flash is one of the most serious hazards faced by electrical workers, and Schroeder’s serious message was reinforced by conference attendees. “We’ve done a good job of understanding the risks that could cause arc-flash accidents, and now we’re trying to eliminate or reduce those hazards,” Johnston said.

Call Before You Dig

Few people knew Cliff Meidl aside from his success as an Olympic kayaking competitor. However, the accident that drove Meidl to compete with two Olympic kayaking teams was the start of a greater safety awareness campaign. In 1986, Meidl jackhammered into three buried power lines that sent approximately 30,000 volts of electricity through his body. Meidl suffered a cardiac arrest and was “gone” for more than two minutes before medics revived him.

The accident was the start of his kayaking career and serving as the national spokesperson form the Construction Safety Council. His accident served as the inspiration for the “call before you dig” safety message adopted by utilities around the country. Today, Meidl is the national spokesperson for the One Call Centers of America, a national alliance of state “call before you dig” organizations.

Take-Home Messages

NECA President Dennis Quebe has championed the importance of leadership in all aspects of electrical construction, including safety. “You want to ensure that you have a team that is willing to charge that hill with you,” Quebe said. “In order to lead, you have to earn the respect of your people.  Showing that you value – and will evaluate – safety procedures will help earn you the respect of your team.”

Several sessions covered the logistics and criteria for electrical contractors’ safety programs, including tried-and-tested best practices from their fellow safety professions. OSHA’s enforcement agenda was also covered at the event. Session agenda, presentations and handouts for the 2013 NSPC are available by downloading the conference app and will be posted under the Archived Events section of NECA’s website. Questions about continuing education credits (CEUs) can be directed to Diana Brioso, diana.brioso@necanet.org.

Contact Beth Margulies, NECA Director, Communications 301-215-4526 office 240-461-4760 mobile beth.margulies@necanet.org