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Constructive Candor

Who's Watching the Subcontractor?


We see high-voltage construction occurring all around us, maintaining the fabric of our electrically dependent, technological society. On large infrastructure projects which upgrade our electrical systems, it’s common to have several subcontractors in addition to a primary contractor in order to perform work in the short window of time allotted. On complex or specialized projects, it is safer to assume that not all onsite personnel or subcontractors are aware of immediate hazards on a project. With so many individuals involved on projects of this magnitude, who’s watching the subcontractor?

Safety is everyone’s responsibility, but the onsite inspector may be aware of many hazards that subcontractors from different specialized backgrounds may not have experienced in the past. Stop Work Authority can save lives by encouraging more individuals to speak up when they spot a hazard.

A recent project I was working on involved my onsite inspector calling me up immediately after stopping an active worksite within a high-voltage substation upgrade. The subcontractor onsite was operating an excavator exceedingly close to the minimum approach distance (MAD) on electrically energized equipment and was unaware of the hazards. None of the crewmembers were familiar with the hazards around them and were under the impression that the equipment they were working around was de-energized. No safety watcher was present to observe this work taking place, which would typically be coordinated by the primary contractor.

The onsite inspector immediately shut down work and relayed the information through his chain of command. Work was postponed for two days and an additional safety watcher was later brought to the site once the customer was made aware of the subcontractor’s situation. Thankfully, the project was completed with everyone going home to their families, but there are many ways this story could have ended on a more somber note.

While a prime contractor’s activities tend to be the main focus when beginning any project, an experienced and dedicated onsite presence can ensure that all proposed operations occur correctly, safely, and with everyone going home upon a project’s completion. Whether it be a simple or complex project with a diverse group of subcontractors, an experienced onsite inspector with industry expertise can save time and lives with Stop Work Authority.

In future Stop Work Moments we’ll continue to discuss real life situations where implementation of an SWA prevented a safety incident as well as hypothetical situations that may help you be better prepared and equipped to prevent incidents.

See other posts in this series here:
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Topics: Energy, Energy Transmission & Distribution

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