As CEO of O’Connell Electric Co., one of my primary objectives is to have one of the finest safety programs in the electrical construction industry.
With more than 650 employees and five offices across New York and work in other Northeastern states, we all have a responsibility to protect ourselves, co-workers and the public. We have five highly skilled safety directors who work very diligently to manage all of our safety initiatives.
On Aug. 3, my heart dropped when our COO, Tom Parkes, called to inform me that one of our line apprentices had collapsed in a manhole. He was working as part of a cable installation crew on a large upgrade project for Rochester Gas and Electric Corp. installing new medium-voltage cable across parts of Monroe County. Being on vacation that week at Canandaigua Lake, I immediately turned on the television to see the first of many reports mentioning an incident involving one of our employees and the fact that his co-workers did a great job of rescuing him and reviving him before first responders were on the scene. The story repeated itself across all the network affiliates until that evening’s 11 p.m. newscasts. The project team has been conducting an incident investigation; while there are several potential causes for the collapse, the root cause has yet to be determined.
I now can report some great news, which is often overlooked when such an incident occurs—that a strong commitment to safety pays and in this case saved a young man’s life. The crew involved followed O’Connell Electric safety procedures to a T and executed emergency rescue flawlessly. The lineman apprentice was able to leave Strong Memorial Hospital early the following week thanks to his crew, the Rochester Fire Department, Rural Metro and the excellent doctors involved with his care.
When the spotter at the top of the manhole saw the apprentice collapse, his instincts and training immediately went into action. He got help from the crew to rescue the apprentice from the manhole (workers in these types of operations are required to work in a body harness in case rescue extraction is necessary). Once the apprentice was out, they realized he had no pulse and was not breathing. The crew immediately began CPR and used one of the automated external defibrillators, or AEDs, that we have with all of our utility crews. They got his heart and breathing restarted as first responders from the Rochester Fire Department took over. He was transported to Strong by Rural Metro in a matter of minutes.
Our linemen are represented by IBEW Local 1249, and we have a very collaborative relationship with our unions, especially when it comes to safety. Our chairman, Walter Parkes, has been our representative on the union/management safety committee for many years and he was part of the decision to have the safety fund provide AEDs for emergency use on all of the contractors’ utility line trucks. What a fortuitous decision that was! That decision, along with the training programs at O’Connell Electric and the IBEW, saved this young man’s life. What could have been a terrible ending turned into a very positive story that we can all learn from.
All businesses might want to consider adopting some of the O’Connell Electric safety initiatives:
- We have a corporate and field safety committee made up of individuals with various backgrounds from all five offices. They meet monthly and help evolve our training programs, investigate near-miss incidents, review new tooling and safety equipment and so on.
- We host two annual “safety picnics,” one in Rochester with over 500 employees and guests attending and the other in Syracuse with 400 attending. The safety picnic is mandatory for all employees and includes vendors showing the latest safety products, various safety demos and outside speakers. This past year’s speakers were a man who was buried alive in a trench cave-in accident and a couple who lost their 20-year-old son because of an opioid addiction caused by an oxycodone prescription. We hope we can play a major role of helping to spread the word on the extreme dangers caused by these prescription painkiller opioid drugs.
- Safety awards are given to all employees when we hit various milestones of work without a lost-time incident. These awards have included work shirts and jackets. In July, we completed 1 million hours of field work without any lost-time incidents.
- We have instituted a 100 percent cut-resistant glove policy, which is yielding great results.
- All of our utility and switching crews have first aid/CPR/AED training and AEDs assigned to them. Additionally, in conjunction with the various IBEW locals, many of our employees receive first aid/CPR/AED training, and AEDs are readily available and distributed by our safety coordinators.
- We have begun to roll out a stretch-and-flex program in partnership with Lattimore Physical Therapy to help reduce soft-tissue injuries both at work and at home.
- We use a cloud-based training portal that includes more than 400 training modules including custom programs such as our new-hire orientation developed by O’Connell Electric Safety.
Please consider doing all you can in your organizations to make safety the highest priority.
Victor E. Salerno is CEO of O’Connell Electric Co. Inc.
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