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Benchmarking at the 2018 Super Bowl… of electrical safety • Electrical Safety 360, May 2018

June 20, 2018 | By Mike Doherty

June 20, 2018 — What I call the Super Bowl of Electrical Safety — but is officially known as the IEEE IAS Electrical Safety Workshop — was recently held in Ft. Worth, Texas, welcoming over 550 people from 15 different countries.

This was my 18th Super Bowl in a row (the first I attended was held in Toronto in 2001), and I am honoured, grateful and appreciative that I’ve been able to attend every year.

One of the things I love about this event is that its focus is not about where we’ve been, but rather where we are going and how to continue advancing a culture of electrical safety.

In fact, the ESW’s stated mission is to accelerate the application of breakthrough, sustainable improvements in human factors, technology and managing systems that reduce risk of electrical injuries.


The workshop’s strategy is simple: provide forums for people to meet and exchange ideas, help propel advancements in the development and application of technology, work practices, standards and regulations, all while linking professionals and centres of excellence in industry, engineering, government and medicine.

A benchmarking revelation

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from these Super Bowls over the years it’s that benchmarking is both a key business and safety practice. This eye-opener came 16 years ago when, during an ongoing major, intensive audit at our nuclear power generating station, we were told that, while we were working extremely hard, we were stuck in our silos and not learning enough to be consistently effective.

One of the best practices in nuclear power generation is to occasionally get away from the worksite and go benchmark the very best in the sector within a certain area of interest. Benchmarking is a way of identifying the best performance, be it in a specific company or competitor, or even in a completely different business. The gaps identified during a comprehensive benchmarking process become opportunities for improvement.

My first ESW back in 2001 was a benchmarking revelation. I was meeting the top electrical safety people on the planet, whose expertise ranged from management, safe work planning and PPE to job skills, equipment and, most importantly, safety culture.

Staying put in the powerplant and never attending industry events to learn about new ideas and practices is a weak safety and business practice. Fortunately, our senior management realized the value and incredible ROI that came from attending the ESW. The knowledge gained and high-end networking contacts established with world-class experts have incalculable value to worker safety and best practices.

Highlights from this year’s ESW

This year’s ESW was no different, with many industry experts sharing new ideas and practices, but I only have room for a few highlights.

Fellow Canuck Curtis Weber delivered an outstanding keynote. At the age of 17, Curtis was severely injured in a workplace incident through inadvertent contact with an overhead powerline. He is a powerful and skilled speaker who truly brought home the message of how a workplace incident can affect family members in very impactful ways.

A highly technical paper called “Working safely with hazardous capacitors” by Mark A. Scott generated a lot of discussion. His paper is the result of three years of curiosity, research and hard work; his daily tasks at a U.S. Department of Energy lab had him questioning the information available regarding dangerous levels of electrical energy in their equipment using capacitors.

Through his paper presentation “Incorporating NFPA 70E at a utility”, Andrew Olsen shared the fascinating journey taken by a U.S.-based generation plant as it upgraded its electrical work practices for safety.

The latest ESW provided great insights and networking opportunities, and emphasized how dedicated the industry is to creating a stronger safety culture. I suggest you sit down now to start crafting the business case and budget (for your management team’s approval) to attend the next ESW, being held March 2019 in Jacksonville, Fla.

A subject-matter expert on electrical safety, Mike Doherty is an independent electrical safety consultant and trainer for eHazard in Canada, the president and owner of Blue Arc Electrical Safety Technologies Inc., and now technical advisor for eWorkSAFE in Canada. He is a licensed electrician and an IEEE senior member, and has served as the Technical Committee chair for CSA Z462 since its inception in 2006. His specialties include electrical safety management, consult- ing, training, auditing and electrical incident investigations. Mike can be reached at mike.doherty@e-hazard.com.

This article originally appeared in the May 2018 issue of Electrical Business Magazine.

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