JUST conducts Alberta’s 3rd Annual Powerline Safety Day
By Anthony Capkun
June 28, 2012 – Every year, hundreds of Albertans risk their lives needlessly by contacting an overhead or underground powerline. In 2011, that translated into about 861 powerline incidents, including one fatality. To leverage the message that powerline risks are 24/7/365, the Joint Utility Safety Team (JUST) has expanded its communications initiatives to include community building through strategic relationships with key stakeholders like Alberta schools.
“Prevention starts with the right attitude. We need to instill respect for the danger of electricity and quash that false sense of invincibility,” said Mark Brabbins, JUST chair. “For Alberta’s youth and future operators, that means education and reinforcement through public awareness and workplace training.”
With this in mind, Alberta’s 3rd Annual Powerline Safety Day focused on the next generation of operators, including some 80 Grade 5 and 9 students from the Edmonton area. Hosted by JUST, the event featured displays and live demonstrations from safety professionals and the Edmonton Fire Department, as well as guest speakers from the government and utilities industry.
“Our priority is to drive home the ‘Where’s The Line?’ safety message to future operators—to remind them to always ask themselves this question and to know the answer before starting any activity around powerlines,” explained Brabbins. “What makes powerlines that much more hazardous is that you often don’t have to actually touch one to be injured or killed. This makes planning ahead much more critical to a safe work environment.”
Highest at risk for powerline incidents are operators of large equipment and trucks—typically males between the ages of 18 to 50, says JUST—in the utilities, oil and gas, construction, farming and transportation industries. Despite generally knowing how to protect themselves, deadlines and productivity pressures often lead to skipping safety steps. The problem is further exacerbated by an attitude of complacency born of routine tasks and a false sense of invincibility.
Formed in 2006, JUST members came together sharing a common concern about Alberta’s high volume of powerline incidents. Since 2008, the Where’s The Line? sustained awareness advertising has focused on providing operators “in-the-moment” reminders that looking out for their own safety is their responsibility. In 2011, JUST introduced an employer engagement program as another means to reach and influence operators with its safety message.
Though results to date have been very positive, Brabbins stresses the need for JUST and its various stakeholders to continue to be vigilant about raising awareness of how these deadly incidents can be prevented. As of Fall 2011, awareness among operators of the “7 Metres Safe” message (safe distance between equipment and powerlines) reached 41%, up from 9% in 2008.