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PUTTING A FACE ON SAFETY:

CHANGING ATTITUDES TO PROMOTE A CLIMATE OF SAFETY


Copyright Material
Paper No. ESW2013-28

Kyla Kruse
Communications Director
Energy Education Council - Safe Electricity
400 Chatham Road, Suite 201
Springfield, IL 62704
USA
kkruse@energyedcouncil.org

Abstract – Electrical accidents can have deadly and tragic and pressure, shrapnel, and sound from arc blast are all
consequences that extend far beyond the job site. A climate of hazards to the employee from electricity.” [1]
safety must be created in the workplace in order to help According to the 2008 Census of Fatal Occupational
prevent such accidents. Increasing electrical safety Injuries, electrical power-line installers and repairers
awareness and knowledge is one vital step, but technical experienced a total of 35 fatalities and had a fatality rate of
information alone is often too faceless and distant to affect 29.8 deaths per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers. [2] The
attitudes toward safety. Using the educational outreach done Bureau of Labor Statistics data from 2006 through 2007
with the stories of Jim Flach and Tom Dickey, this paper reported 250 deaths from contact with electric current. [3]
addresses how personal stories can be used to foster The Heinrich Accident Triangle and the Electrical Accident
attitudinal changes toward safe work practices, resulting in an Triangle have both been used to show the relationship
enhanced climate of safety. between recordable accidents and fatalities—showing the
general relationship to be 30:1 and 10:1, respectively. “This
Index Terms — Safety management, Risk management, should convince each and every one of us that we simply
Workplace safety, Electricity, Education, Training, Personal cannot tolerate unsafe electrical behaviors that result in
stories. injuries. The stakes are simply, ‘too high’.” [4]
According to National Institute for Occupational Safety and
I. INTRODUCTION Health, electrocution is the third leading category in work-
related deaths among 16 and 17-year-old workers and is the
Electrical accidents pose serious safety risks in the cause of 12 percent of all workplace deaths among young
workplace. The tragic reality is that the majority of these workers. [5]
accidents can be prevented if people take the necessary It is not only young workers. Complacency among
steps to be safe around electricity. This paper outlines the experienced workers is very dangerous. “The problem…is that
effects of electrical accidents; the need to address attitudes because incidents may happen only once in a while, people
along with knowledge in safety communications; and how underestimate the risks and take shortcuts.” [6]
personal stories can influence attitudes.
B. Impacts
II. ELECTRICAL ACCIDENTS
Statistics tell only part of the story. The impact of each
From overhead power lines to household current—electrical person directly involved in an electrical accident has an
accidents can take many shapes and forms. Equipment exponential impact—on family, friends, co-workers, and
continues to get bigger, existing electrical infrastructure communities. Not only can an individual lose his or her life or
continues to age, and humans continue to take chances. cause physical harm to him/herself, but he or she can lose the
However, it only takes one accident to change a life forever. ability to work and draw an income, bring mental anguish to
family and friends, create huge medical expenses, have to
undergo related surgeries for many years, change a spouse’s
A. Statistics work status, lose the ability to partake in hobbies once
enjoyed, among other consequences.
Employee injuries from electric shock and fatalities from
electrocution are recorded each year. Electrical injuries can III. KNOWLEDGE AND ATTITUDES
be direct or indirect—from levels as low as 3 milliamperes.
“…Involuntary muscular reaction from the electric shock can Experienced professionals have a great deal of
cause bruises, bone fractures and even death resulting from knowledge—facts and information—about electricity.
collisions or falls. Electrical fires can cause first, second, or Education is used to train apprentices and others new to the
third degree burns. Electric shock, heat and fire from arc flash, industry. It is also used as a refresher for more experienced

978-1-4673-3039-8/13/$31.00 ©2013 IEEE


workers. However being safe is more than knowing what Specialized publications, such as Damage Prevention
steps to take. It is also making the choice to put safety first. Professional (print circulation of 95,000) and Illinois Living
Attitudes can be defined as “relatively enduring evaluative (print circulation of 460,000) also published Tom’s story. TV
responses to an idea, object, activity, policy, or value.” PSAs and radio PSAs aired in Illinois, and there was an
Effective persuasion can create a change in the degree to approximate net reach of over 8 million people hearing Tom’s
which someone’s response in favorable or unfavorable. [7] message of safety six times. [12] In addition, broadcast-quality
If what a person sees as reality is changed, it can result in a video for trainings and meetings, online videos, social media
voluntary change in one’s attitude, and consequently, posts, and graphic designs were shared with more than 400
behavior as well. [8] utility partners and used to spread the important message of
Lists of do’s and don’ts increase electrical safety knowledge “safety first.”
but are often too faceless and distant to affect one’s
perception of reality, and consequently, attitudes toward V. CONCLUSIONS
safety. It is important for workers to understand the
importance of safety precautions and realize that electrical This paper describes how personal stories, such as those of
accidents can happen in an instant—to people just like them. Jim Flach and Tom Dickey, can be used as a part of training
and education to foster attitudinal changes—specifically to
IV. PERSONAL STORIES enhance the degree to which workers respond favorably
toward practices and behaviors that put safety first and
As the statistics reveal, electrical accidents can have tragic, negatively toward taking chances with electricity. Such
even deadly, consequences. Effectively sharing personal personal stories can be effective communication tools in
stories shows how electrical accidents happen to real people creating a culture of safety in the workplace in order to
and change lives forever, fostering an attitude change that manage risk and prevent electrical accidents.
promotes a workplace climate where safety is top of mind. There are no other organizations currently providing the
communication tools to this degree. The Energy Education
A. Jim Flach Council does partner with safety related organizations
(example: National Safety Council) to provide electrical safety
Jim Flach’s accident happened early in the planting season education.
when he was operating a crop sprayer in a neighbor’s field.
Jim parked near the edge of the field, which was also near an VI. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
overhead power line. While folding up the sprayer arms, the
equipment he was in made contact with the overhead lines. Sincere thanks to the family of Jim Flach and to Tom Dickey
Jim was severely burned as he stepped down from the and his family—all of whom have shared their personal stories
equipment, becoming the path to ground for the deadly to help others be safe and prevent future tragedies.
current. He eventually died from his injuries. [9]
Through interviews and video footage, Jim Flach’s family VII. REFERENCES
shared his story. Important safety messages of looking out for
and staying a safe distance from overhead power lines were [1] Purdue University North Central Center for Occupational
shared with more than 400 utility partners and conveyed Safety & Health. Electrical Safe Work Practices, 2007, p
through TV public service announcements (PSAs), radio 2. Westville, IN: PNC.
PSAs, broadcast-quality video played at meetings, billboards, [2] U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics,
graphic designs, and news releases. His video was also August 2009. National Census of Fatal Occupational
available on the SafeElectricity.org website, which received Injuries in 2008. Washington, DC: BLS.
3,613,809 hits in 2011. [3] U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics,
August 2008. National Census of Fatal Occupational
B. Tom Dickey Injuries in 2007. Washington, DC: BLS.
[4] Purdue University North Central Center for Occupational
One day at a construction site, a small job was added to the Safety & Health. Electrical Safe Work Practices, 2007,
day’s work—after electrical contractor Tom Dickey’s safety pp. 6-7. Westville, IN: PNC.
gear had already been sent back to the shop. He took a [5] NIOSH, April 2009. Electrical Safety: Safety and Health
chance and made a decision in favor of time and efficiency for Electrical Trades. Atlanta, GA: CDC.
instead of safety to go ahead and dig a small section for [6] K.W. Morrison. “The Shocking Truth” in Safety+Health,
conduit. This decision almost cost him his life. As an National Safety Council at
experienced professional he knew all of the correct http://www.nsc.org/safetyhealth/Pages/Electrical%20haz
procedures, but while making an adjustment to the conduit’s ards.aspx, 2012.
entry point in the ground, he made a small slip and received a [7] D.D. Johnston, The Art and Science of Persuasion,
high-voltage shock. He survived, but he spent months in the 1994, p 16.
hospital and still lives with pain every day. [10] [8] D.D. Johnston, The Art and Science of Persuasion,
April is National Safe Digging Month and served as the 1994, p 17.
kickoff for public outreach on digging safely using Tom’s story. [9] Teach, Learn, Care TLC : Large Equipment Safety.
Tom provided a press conference, and a news release Prod. Safe Electricity. Energy Education Council, 2011.
featuring his story was distributed nationally and appeared on DVD.
at least 230 websites within two hours of release. [11]
[10] Teach, Learn, Care TLC : Safe Digging. Prod. Safe Communication from University of Illinois. She has worked in
Electricity. Energy Education Council, 2012. DVD. education, outreach, and communications throughout her
[11] A. Crisp, WireWatch Report from eReleases, April 9, career. Her areas of professional interest include attitudinal
2012. changes, organizational communication, and public relations.
[12] E. Camfield, Illinois Broadcasters Association Report, Kruse is currently the Communications Director for the
Dec. 14, 2012. Energy Education Council and its Safe Electricity program.
She oversees message planning, development, and
VIII. VITA dissemination for a broad range of communication pieces—
including videos, radio and TV PSAs, articles, graphics,
Kyla Kruse earned her bachelor’s degree in Communication photos, and social media posts—created for use by utilities.
from Millikin University and her master’s degree in