OHS Canada Magazine

From risk to resilience: Powerline Safety Week spotlights opportunities in high-risk industry

May 19, 2023
By Avetta
Health & Safety Avetta Powerline Workers
Sponsored by Avetta

Photo: Adobe Stock

Powerline workers are exposed to a wide range of unpredictable and changing hazards that pose unique challenges — and opportunities — to keep them safe in the field.

Scott DeBow, the principal of risk, safety and environmental at Avetta, said the dangers facing these professionals is far different than what’s experienced in many other sectors.

“If we’re in a manufacturing environment, for example, all our equipment is bolted to the floor,” he said. “We may have some moving or rolling equipment — forklifts, material handling equipment. But day in and day out, the situation is pretty stable.”

Powerline workers, though, are often working outdoors in dismal and difficult weather conditions. And when things go from stable to unstable, that’s often where incidents happen and people get hurt, said DeBow.

“We have trees. We have wind. We have rain. We have changing conditions, working at heights and on the ground in terms of traction,” he said. “One of the areas that’s been identified as a precursor to serious injury and fatality is when work goes from normal to non-normal.”


It’s Powerline Safety Week in Ontario, which is an opportunity to step back and look at ways to increase safety in this high-risk industry. It’s also a chance for leaders to remind workers to slow down, work safely and to ensure the proper supports are in place throughout the organization to enable them to go home safe at the end of their shifts.

“Maybe I feel the tendency to do more than I should, or climb higher than I should,” he said. “Maybe I’ll touch that line because I’m really pretty sure it’s not energized. Maybe there’s another crew or unexpected situation that makes me feel behind, and so my resource of time is diminished.”

A proactive approach

Keeping a worker safe in the field starts long before they head out the door, and cascades into areas that may not seem obvious. For example, how well do you know the companies and workers throughout your supply chain?

“If I don’t understand who is in my supply chain, meaning who are the people and companies I depend on to keep my doors open — my machinery, my power kept on, my fleet of trucks maintained and equipped. If I don’t have visibility into that, my risk overall goes up,” he said.

For example, if one of your suppliers is experiencing significant financial distress, that might raise a red flag.

“Because what we know about companies that are under financial strain is they often reduce training, or they’re not able to operate with the same level of capacity,” he said.

DeBow used a hypothetical example of a bus company that had to lay off some mechanics and reduced its preventive maintenance schedule to save cash. It may have taken a stance that it’s “pretty sure those brakes are still going to be good,” he said, but the people riding that bus don’t have that information.

“We’re able to look across the landscape holistically in these different areas of risk that help us stay connected to what’s happening. We’re monitoring and assessing it continuously rather than reacting,” he said.

Other information and data can be helpful in ensuring organizations are moving beyond a reactive philosophy and adopting a more effective proactive stance.

“Being able to understand what type of work is happening, and when, helps me to communicate to our teams. That helps me shore up communications and/or resources to understand that things like pending snowstorms, or labour shortages, or a strike all can increase the level of risk within the work environment,” he said.

If the only indication a company has that work is not going well is an injury, then it’s stuck in a reactive mode. If the measure of compliance is the number of injuries, that too is an ineffective reactive posture, he said.

A more powerful way to approach it is to plan work, get feedback on how it went and identify problems. That moves the conversation beyond the number of injuries and gives leaders line of sight into how to improve processes on an ongoing basis.

“It’s how can we start solving that? What other risks does that introduce into my system? That’s why the centre of any safety management system is Plan-Do-Check-Act,” he said.

A practical approach

There are two sides of the equation in keeping workers safe: The corporate end and the working end.

“At the working end, hands are on tools, boots are on the ground or on the power lines, the poles so to speak,” he said. Where the system and technology come into play in this environment tells a compelling story.

“Imagine you’re the safety director or the risk manager. You have a crew on-site, and you can look into the system and verify that the workers have gone through the necessary training or have the proper certification,” he said. “In a very real sense, we’re connecting me at the corporate end to where the worker is in the field.”

And it’s not a one-way conversation.

“It’s important for workers to understand how important and valuable their voices are and that we need to hear from them about how work is really happening,” he said. “There’s got to be continuous learning, and those are where the greatest models are coming from and where we see companies performing better than their counterparts.”

Documentation and record-keeping

The number of regulations and training requirements is increasing and getting more complex in pretty much every jurisdiction, he said. The Avetta One platform provides a place to gather all that data and ensure it’s easily accessible, he said.

“When people really need documentation, after an incident or an event, and there is an investigation or inquiry, it’s important you have that information easily stored and ready to go in a way that shows you’ve been progressive and have been thinking safety through,” he said.

For more information about Avetta One, visit https://www.avetta.com/en-ca/avetta-one.


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