Restoring Utilities After Disasters

Contractors Face Unique Challenges In This Critical Work
By Jeff Griffin, Senior Editor | September 2013, Vol. 68 No. 9

Conditions of chaos following a disaster complicate recovery efforts in many ways. Both wired and wireless telephone services and therefore the 911 emergency number, may be out which complicates communications. Until phone services are restored, communications among various agencies depends on two-way radios, often with no common frequency to connect all parties on site.

Conditions in the area exacerbate human error traps that can lead to accident and injury. “Working in these environments involves changes and departures from routine that include distractions and interruptions leading to stress,” said Mattiford. “That stress may include personal issues for workers whose families are in the storm area or have been left at home far away. They also can lead to inaccurate perceptions of risk and taking mental short cuts that lead to accidents.”

Not all employees on emergency projects may be experienced in disaster work -- some may be new to the company and inexperienced. Stress from a combination of frustrations may lead to personality conflicts.

In addition, the public may be friendly at the outset of restoration activities, but lose patience the longer they are without basic services. Dealing with multiple representatives of many organizations can also contribute to stress.

Safety first
Disaster recovery operations do involve accident and injury risks not found in normal utility work, but organizations with sound basic safety programs have necessary procedures in place that take into account these added risks.

Mattiford said safety begins at the company management level and permeates through every level of the organization.

Each slide of Mattiford’s UCT presentation carried a circular logo: Nobody Gets Hurt!

“Management is responsible for preventing injuries,” said Mattiford. “All injuries are preventable. Nobody Gets Hurt!”

In addition to this statement of commitment, Henkels & McCoy’s Safety Principles include:

• Working safely is a condition of employment;
• Training employees how to work safely is essential;
• All hazards can and will be safeguarded promptly; and
• Safety observations with coaching are fundamental.