Lee Marchessault

Electrical Safety Expert Witness

Call today for a free initial consultation – (802) 598-8442


Operational Risk Management with a Twist

As utility safety professionals our job is to ensure a safe workplace for all employees to the best of our ability.  If our due diligence pays off, we consistently have few or no injuries on our OSHA 300 forms year after year.  But it is just not that easy, we are not able to completely stop incidences from happening.  We investigate every incident and dutifully go through our risk management checklist and see that everything is in line… or is it?  Often, as we resolve to determine root cause, we determine that there are adequate written procedures and effective training.  So… consideration of human factors must be part of the incident analysis.  Cognitive impairment has a profound effect on the way employees’ reason through safety risks associated with their jobs, especially in the high hazard electric utility industry.

Operational Risk Management 101

We are proud to have a top shelf operational risk management program with the best team available.   Our team has done some great work including: 

  • Development of sound written policies, programs and procedures based on OSHA and better yet applicable consensus standards.  
  • Valuable employees are hired with the right frame of mind and tested to be physically fit to do the job
  • Implement top training programs consisting of over 50 topics to ensure employees have a full understanding of safe work practices that pertain to their job assignment.  
  • Every new employee goes through days of orientation training depending on the position and demonstrates their understanding of safe work practices before working in the field. 
  • We encourage reporting and investigate every near miss (or near hit) incident.  
  • Where deficiencies are identified an effective positive corrective action policy is implemented (to the extent possible, sometimes a negative approach is required).  
  • Job briefings are effectively done before each job.  
  • Regular field observations of employees and contractors are performed with a score to measure effectiveness of work practices, training and education. 
  • We have an effective safety committee made up of all disciplines within the organization and have an apprenticeship committee to oversee technical training.  
  • We choose and purchase the best and safest tools and equipment based on assessments by the safety committee and outside experts if needed.

All of these operational risk management tools provide the base to our pyramid as shown below.  The top of the pyramid are our employees.  People-focused safety targets the value of our employees.  We have enacted behavioral safety models including providing positive immediate feedback regularly and ensure employees actively participate in decision-making activities, but we have little ability to determine activities or events in their personal lives that impact performance at work.  This where the value or testing cognitive impairment comes in.

Diagram, timeline

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People-Focused Safety

Occasionally an innovative concept is introduced to the utility industry which has enormous potential to transform and elevate existing safety programs.  Many investigations of utility injuries and fatalities have revealed that a common causal factor comes down to the state of mind of the individual.  Their cognitive ability to choose the right path during a risky job may be impaired, but we don’t really know until it’s too late.  

The most disastrous accidents typically involve a combination of risk factors that are aggravated by a cognitively impaired worker’s inability to manage them. Imagine a storm scenario where a Line Worker has been working physically hard for 15 hours.  They’re understaffed for the magnitude of the storm, and so he’s overworked. On top of that, the worker had a serious issue with his/her family that kept them up the night before. 

A storm, physical fatigue, mental fatigue, emotional distress. Even the most experienced worker would struggle under these circumstances.

Enter the cognitive impairment test.  

Before the line worker gets sent up to work on high-voltage power lines, he/she would take a 60-second cognitive impairment test. If the fatigue and emotional distress that this line worker is experiencing is profound enough to impair his/her vigilance, reaction-time, short-term memory, or judgment, the test would tag him/her as “outside normal range of alertness.” 

The supervisor would be instantly notified to speak to the worker to determine the safest path forward. At the end of the shift, that line worker would return home safely.

Cognitive Impairment Testing

Cognitive impairment testing as a workplace safety measure is not a new concept. It has roots in the late 1980s and early 1990s, soon after the mandate for drug testing was introduced for federal employees. 

More recent social changes such as increasing mental health awareness and increasing fatigue awareness have further thrust cognitive impairment tests into the spotlight. 

Thanks to a slew of new technologies sweeping all workplaces, these tests have recently become a lot more accessible, flexible, and affordable. They take the form of mobile and tablet apps, wearable devices, and eye tracking devices.

According to one NIOSH-funded study (Langley, 2009), a successful cognitive impairment test needs to check the following boxes: 

  • Quick enough not to disrupt productivity. Around 2 minutes/day/worker maximum
  • Not dependent on language skill
  • Easy enough for all workers regardless of educational/technological background

And, of course:

  • Valid and reliable in detecting impairment

Even if it checks all these boxes, most safety professionals and supervisors still wonder:

“What do workers think about these tests?”

According to research by the National Workrights Institute: 

  • 100% of employers who used impairment testing considered their experience successful.
  • 82% of employers found that impairment testing improved safety.
  • 90% of employees accepted impairment testing.
  • 87% of employers found impairment testing superior to urine testing.

Further qualitative feedback has revealed how cognitive impairment testing receives more than a shrug or nod of approval from workers.

They use it to influence their lives: 

  • “Employees have told me that they’re taking better care of themselves now such as getting more sleep. One employee said his family traditionally had a BBQ every Sunday night with a fair amount of partying. They’ve changed it to Saturday night so he’s better rested for work” (Triple-S Steel).
  • “Our initial concern was two-fold: workers reporting without an adequate amount of sleep as well as a defense against substance impairment. We found [cognitive impairment testing] to satisfy both of our needs. An added benefit has been that since employees know that they will be tested daily they are reporting to work in a better condition and ready to go to work” (Prudential Stainless and Alloys).
  • “The trucking personnel now realize that we want them to be healthy, able to do their job while also having a life outside of work. There is an expectation that they are following sleep guidelines, maintaining healthy eating habits, and generally taking care of themselves. They’re not just workers with a pulse. We want them to be healthy and strong, have a lengthy career, and be able to spend time with their families outside of work'” (Savage Services).

These stories are from companies who use AlertMeter®, a game that detects cognitive impairment in 60 seconds. 

Never before have human risk factors been measured and managed to this extent. 

Never before has a safety procedure enjoyed such devoted compliance. 

Never has a safety procedure exercised such influence over worker safety and health.  

Clearly, this game is a game-changer.

The Expertise of Lee E. Marchessault

Lee E. Marchessault, with his extensive experience in electrical safety, plays a vital role in preventing electrical accidents. His specialties in electrical safety, electrocution, electrical arc flash burns, utility safety, power systems safety, utility fall protection, transmission, and distribution safety make him a sought-after expert in the field.

In conclusion, electrical safety is a paramount concern for anyone working with electricity, whether in the utility industry, power generation, or any other electrical field. By understanding the hazards, implementing safety measures, and seeking expert guidance, we can protect lives and property while ensuring a safer electrical environment for everyone.