Why wait until an accident to increase training?

February 25, 2013  |  News & Trends

PG&E electrocution deaths prompt expanded trainingShould your organization assess and increase its commitment to training? Absolutely. The time to increase training is before an accident occurs, not after it. Unfortunately, too many managers get complacent. They think, "Because nothing bad has happened so far, nothing bad will happen."

A recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper demonstrates the flaws of that logic. It states that California utility Pacific Gas & Electric has decided to boost its training in safe work procedures after the deaths of three lineworkers by electrocution in the last three years. Citations in these cases included failure to train workers on work site risks, failure to supervise workers performing dangerous jobs and providing them with inadequate personal protective equipment.

What's remarkable about PG&E's case is that after lineman Maximiliano Martinez was electrocuted three years ago, the utility didn't do anything to improve its training. It took two more deaths and CAL-OSHA issuing its rulings in Martinez's death for the utility overhaul its training program.

Here's what PG&E has done to address this situation:

  • New hires: The utility has expanded its apprenticeship requirements; new linemen now must undergo 40 weeks of instruction during 5 years of field training. That's an increase of 7 weeks.
  • Existing workers: PG&E has doubled the amount of remedial training required. In addition, linemen also are periodically tested to verify their skill level; if they don't measure up, they are ordered to undergo additional training.

This new program is doing several things right. First, remedial training is often ignored in many vocational training programs. You can't train people once and then just expect that they will continue to perform at the same level as they did initially. Workers forget important information over time, get lazy or develop bad habits to fit in with their coworkers. Remedial training helps reacquaint them with proper work procedures and helps them to break bad habits that may be compromising their safety.

Second, PG&E is periodically testing existing workers to assess their skill levels. If you don't measure where people are now, how can you help them to improve? Keep in mind that testing isn't just for new trainees or apprentices. Skill assessment should be an ongoing tool in the trainer's toolbox, to ensure everyone is performing efficiently and safely.

Don't wait until your back is up against the wall, like PG&E did. Take steps now to assess your training program and identify areas for improvement. Also, perform risk assessments to get a better picture of the critical areas where accidents are likely to occur - and take steps now to mitigate them. Don't wait until you're facing expensive citations from government agencies and lawsuits from the relatives of one or more deceased workers.

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