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In honor of National Safety Month, we are showcasing our safety initiatives on our company blog. Today’s post comes from Jerry Fredericksen, Safety Manager.

Hazardous energy can be a boring subject, but it’s incredibly important nonetheless. It can also be a tough subject to train on because it doesn’t have the visibility or glamour that other high hazard activities have like fall protection, trenching and excavation, and cranes and rigging. However, the truth is that hazardous energy is greatly underestimated in the construction industry and is often overlooked.

After learning about a recent jobsite fatality for another mechanical contractor caused by a pressurized line, our team got even more serious about bringing this important topic to the forefront of our safety initiatives. Using some of the lessons learned from that incident prompted our team to take action on a consistent policy related to pressure testing across our family of companies. Our goal is to learn from that fatal error and protect our most valuable assets – our people – from something like this ever happening within our ranks.  

Our company places a significant emphasis on continued education and one of the most impactful training opportunities we’ve had was from a representative from Underground Safety and Supply. His presentation on YTEFAS (safety spelled backwards) breaks down how we perform so many actions in the name of safety because that's the way we interpreted the “rule book” or simply because that's just the way we have always done it. When he visited San Diego for our All Hands Safety Leadership Conference last November, he spun a fictional story about working at the zoo. 

A zookeeper requests someone replace a pipe in the tiger cage. Of course nobody wants to work in a tiger cage while the tiger still there, after all, the true nature of a tiger would be to attack you, right? So the designated repairman asks the zookeeper, “Where is the tiger?” To which the zookeeper replies, “Oh, he’s in the back taking his nap. He usually sleeps from about now until maybe 1 or 2 o'clock. You should be fine in there.” The repairman, being concerned for his personal wellbeing and because he wants to get home safe and alive at the end of the day, tells the zookeeper, “Listen, you have to get that tiger under control before I go into the cage the change out that pipe.” Later, he comes back to replace the pipe and asks, “Where's the tiger now”? The zookeeper says, “Oh we’ve got him on a big chain in the back and a big collar around his neck with a lock. You should be fine to change out that pipe now.” Still cautious, the repairman asks, “Who has the key?” Zookeeper: “Well Bill’s got a key, but he’s out sick today, and Fred is on lunch and he won't be back for two hours.” So again the repairman says, “I'm not getting in that cage until that tiger is absolutely under control.”  Eventually, the tiger winds up in a different cage, in different part of the zoo and finally under control so the repairman can do his job in a safe environment.

The premise of this story resonated within our Countywide team so much so that it has taken on a life of its own. We work in a dangerous occupation surrounded by “tigers” of all shapes and sizes. It's not uncommon to hear team members asking “Where are your tigers today?” This is a great reminder to take a step back to evaluate where those hazards are lurking around you and to make sure you have accounted for them.

Recently on a job site inspection, I encountered one of those “tigers.” I was up on a 6th floor flat roof of a new construction site nearing its completion. There was copper pipe running in many locations and it was impossible not to have to step over these lines in order to get from one side to the other. It was a series of half inch lines and another quarter inch line all running parallel with each other making 90* turns throughout in order to navigate the landscape of machinery, vents, and electrical stations. I spotted one of our workers set up for hot work and everything was looking in order. Thinking about our own pressure testing initiative, I asked if there is any pressure testing going on and he pointed to the lines that I'd stepped across in order to get to his work zone. He explained there was nitrogen in the line because oxygen carries moisture and you can’t have moisture in a refrigerant line. I inquired on how much pressures was in the line and he told me that the half-inchers are low pressure but the quarter inch has 500 pounds, due to the manufacturer’s specifications for testing. This was concerning, had I mistakenly stepped down or tripped on that line and broke or cracked it. The implications of that misstep would have likely caused severe injury to my foot and leg.

It’s this kind of lurking unsafe situation, a “tiger,” that serves as a great reminder to always be aware of our environment and possible safety concerns. Bringing this to the attention of our crew, as well as our other partners on site, helps keep us all safe.