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Copyright Material IEEE

Paper No. ESW2011-12

Lead Author:
Gavan Howe, PhD (student)
Howe Brand Communications Inc
47 Front Street East
3rd floor
Toronto, ON
M53 1B3

Abstract - Trades organizations and safety authorities organizational theory paid explicit attention to the distinctive
have identified the practice of working live on energized character of the harm-reduction task" [3, p. 15].
equipment or machinery as a significant contributor to death
and disfigurement due to occupational electrical contact by "I've got all my facts pretty clear," said Stanley Hopkins.
electricians as well as other trade workers. Electrical harm "Aliiwant now is to know what they all mean." [4, p. 109]
reduction communications programs that may be making a
difference in the goal of reducing occupational electrical Today, we do not have all the facts surrounding
accidents and death in Ontario are discussed in this paper. occupational electrical accidents, which critically limits our
Discussion in this report is gender based as there have been ability as an industry to improve electrical safety [1] [5].
no fatalities by women working on or near electrical However, new research is being undertaken, and new data
equipment in Ontario in over a decade. Gaining a deeper are emerging that help improve our understanding of the
understanding of the human and organizational drivers of drivers of electrical accidents and what we can do to eliminate
electrical risks in this complex socio-technological system is this senseless loss of life and livelihood.
Index Terms - electrical accidents, electrical risk, electrical Many books have been written about accidents, and it is a
safety training, emotional appeal in communications, lost-time safe bet that many more are still to be written. There are
injury, risk bearing, risk taking. two main reasons for that. The first that accidents always
have happened and always will happen, barring some
I. INTRODUCTION cataclysmic--or providential----event. The second is that
the understanding of accidents is still approximate and
In 1997, the Ontario Ministry of Labour found 79% of all incomplete, and it is likely to remain so for a long time,
occupational electrical accidents befall workers who are not perhaps indefinitely. Taken together there is an unfulfilled
trained electricians. The author's 2008 thesis research need for a better understanding of the nature of accidents.
focused on the question of why men work live on energised [4, p. xi]
electrical equipment and found electrical safety is one of
dynamic complexity not linear, or simple complexity. This This data and knowledge gap is especially pressing with
research and findings were gender based as there have been regards to electrical accidents: Why do men take risks when
no fatalities by women working on or near electrical working on or near energized electrical equipment, when over
equipment for over a decade in Ontario. As well, 100% of the 50% of all occupational death and injury results from what is
research volunteer participants were male. In this study, the called "working live" on energized machinery or systems?
author found at least 21 inter-related drivers of risk taking, risk Occupational injuries by electrical contact are up by 45%
bearing, risk seeking, and risk finding that caused electrical between 1998 and 2006, and as noted, 79% of all workers
accidents [1]. Scholars and practitioners have confirmed injured or killed in this manner are not licensed electricians [6].
these findings translate to all types of workers and Our accident data are improving; however, as Floyd et al.
workplaces. These findings are important because, as noted, we do not have robust population-based databases
Rohrmann has stated, "More recently, gender differences in showing the granularity of accident data to help us improve
risk attitudes have been looked at ... [with] multi-fold our understanding of why electrical accidents still take place
observations that women show high-risk behaviour less often and are increasing [5]. The author sought to shed more light
than men" [2, p. 3]. on these questions by focussing his masters' research at the
Gaining a deeper understanding of the human and sharp end of where electrical accidents take place: with the
organizational drivers of electrical risks in this complex socio men who work on or near electrical equipment and machinery
technological system is vital because, as Sparrow stated, every day [1].
"The risk literature so far has not given us a well-developed The answer to the apparently simple question of why men
organizational theory for risk-control. Neither, conversely, has work live is complex and tightly linked to the individual
personality type of the worker, the 21 risk drivers, and a host

978-1-4673-1059-8/11/$26.00 2011 IEEE

of other factors, such their awareness of the proximity of not had the daily, in-depth safety training needed to avoid
power lines. The author found there are three primary harm around electrical equipment.
enablers of why people work live on electrical equipment and Electricians continue the century-old cultural tradition of
have called these: (a) the Supply----those who will take the working live: other than power line workers who often must
risks of live work; (b) the Demand---those who are asked by work live. In a survey of hundreds of electricians in Ontario,
others to work live; and (c) the Unplanned Events--those who the Electrical Safety Authority found that 69% of electricians
were not aware circuits were still live or that power lines were rated working live as being an above average to high risk. Yet
nearby. The author set out to determine why these enablers 90% said they have worked live, with 64% stating they do so
exist in the electrical industry. to "test" the equipment, and of this group, 17% stated, "I
manage the risk." Therefore, working live for today's electrical
II. ELECTRICAL SAFETY IS A PROBLEM OF trade worker is the norm, not the exception [8]. Of note, 88%
DYNAMIC COMPLEXITY of all electricians have been educated to minimize the risks of
live work, with 49% stating they have been asked to work
Based on in-depth, face-to face research conducted with outside of established safe work practices [9].
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and other These trained experts say they worked live for a number of
trade workers spanning 2006 to 2009, the author uncovered reasons: (a) supervisor needs (72%); (b) scheduling (80%);
at least 21 drivers of risk taking, risk bearing, and risk seeking and (c) customer needs (91%) [9]. For other trades, there is
while conducting research for his master's thesis. These risk no precise data; however, my preliminary research showed
drivers include: age, gender, personality, marital status, goals, that peer and supervisory influence play a significant role, as
cognition, emotion, values, environment, years of experience, does lack of safety training, macho or manly behaviour [10]
familiarity with the task, entrenched thinking, safety training, and personality [5]. These workers fall into the categories of
peer influence, supervisory influence, client pressure, the risk takers, risk finders, and risk seekers. Risk finders are
culture of the company, the employer, the industry, the size of those who by chance, oversight, or other means find
the company, and a notion referred to as "ETTO, the themselves working unplanned on live equipment. True risk
Efficiency-Thoroughness-Trade-Off principle", where workers seekers are extremely rare in occupational settings, and as
take the approach that "it's good enough" or "it will do" [4, such, there are few reliable interventions useful in weeding
p. 152]. out these danger seekers.
Looking at this list, which is by no means complete, shows Organizationally speaking, electricians believe that the
that improving electrical safety is one of dynamic complexity, types of companies and work situations that pay the least
not simple or linear complexity [1] [7]. New research aimed at attention to worker safety are small business (94%),
the sharp end of electrical accidents is vital to improving commercial (93%), electrical maintenance (87%), large
electrical safety [4]. The sharp-end actors are electricians, usiness (78%), alteration or integration of equipment (77%),
both apprentices and seasoned journeymen, trades workers mdustrial (72%), and institutional (68%) [11]. The small
and their apprentices, as well as their peers, supervisors, company data may be misleading however, given that 87% of
journeymen, and foremen. all electrical contractors in Ontario have less than five
Woven into these core drivers of electrical risk are four employees [11]. As noted earlier, today we do not know what
types of workers who get killed or injured while working on or we do not know about electrical incidents and accidents
near electrical equipment: risk takers, risk bearers, risk because of incomplete and fragmented accident reporting
sekers, and risk finders. This paper will highlight risk, harm, data: for example, many electrical accidents involving ladders
dIsaster, and accident research, which informed two recent are classed as falls rather than electrical accidents.
communication interventions developed in Ontario and Therefore, under reporting of electrical incidents is still a
designed to minimize risk taking by expert electricians and problem.
other trade workers. The propensity to take risks and to bear To summarize: electrical injuries have increased by 45%
risks amongst workers can be better explained through the [6], and a lost-time injury due to electrical contact is almost
lens of the 21 drivers noted above and through use of new 100 times more likely to kill a worker as compared to all other
evaluation techniques utilizing personality, temperament, and types of construction injuries combined [12]. Over 50% of all
style testing. Such identification could help determine those deaths and injuries by electrical contact are caused by live
who are most likely to take electrical risks and those who are work, and 79% of all electrical injuries and deaths affect
most likely to bear electrical risks and how this knowledge can workers who are not licensed electricians [6].
help to change the face of electrical accidents. These data lead this author to suspect that the majority of
those killed and injured due to occupational electrical contact
A. Who Gets Injured? are vulnerable workers, or risk bearers and risk finders.
These other trade workers are often subjected to the Demand
As noted, in the main it is not trained electricians who are for risky work, as are electricians; however, they experience
getting killed and injured in this manner; 79% of all those more serious consequences because they do not have the
injured or killed by occupational electrical contact were not rigorous safety training, skills, on-the-job experience, or
licensed electricians. Rather, they were employed as HVAC, mentoring to be working on or near energized circuits.
millwrights, drivers, service technicians, elevator repair, and
so forth [6]. Why are these other trades bearing the brunt of B. The Heuristics of Safe Electrical Work
occupational electrocution and working on live equipment over
50% of the time? Trained electricians know the danger of live Finally, the 45% increase in electrical accidents from 1998
work. These other trades perhaps do not because they have to 2006 versus 20% drop over a similar time frame of all other
construction injuries [6] speaks to the need for urgent action in The author developed and undertook research utilizing both
developing mitigating strategies for these vulnerable trade quantitative and qualitative methodology with five groups of
workers who, for a wide variety of reasons, work on or near electricians and trade workers (all were volunteers and all
energized equipment and machinery. This potent stew of were male). Research included action research in a focus
negative and alarming trends argues for real and immediate group setting, a visual aids survey, and the Keirsey
change. Temperament II Survey. The visual aids survey was
In summary, these other trade workers do not have what this completed by 352 electricians from the International
author calls the heuristics of safe electrical worle the on-the-job Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and, though the sample
experience in a workplace culture where problem-solving, base who completed the temperament test was small ( n= 50),
discovery, and vicarious leaming of the intricacies of the craft of a vast majority of electricians and trade workers tested
electricity takes place every day on the job site. The rigorous showed a propensity to be extroverted in personality type [14].
safety training shared with electricians and electrical apprentices This was an important finding because young, single, male
is working given the 21:79 ratios noted before. Is the electrician extroverts are the most likely of all workers to take risks. In its
safety-training regime perfect? By no means; however, general 2005 Annual Safety Report, the Electrical Safety Authority of
trades can learn a great deal towards improving electrical safety Ontario noted that apprentices in the electrical trades are
by adopting the best practices of licensed electricians. getting killed or injured at a higher rate than journeyperson
electricians [15], and though these incidents are not as
C. Organizational Drivers of Electrical Risk frequent as those for general trades, their incidence is still of
great concern.
At the blunt end of electrical accidents, several actors are
important to reach, educate, and inform: clients or any client in E. How Do We Limit the Supply of Those Who Will Work
a position of authority, general contractors, consulting and Live?
design engineers, building owners and supervisors, shop
foremen, and managers, as these many organizational The author utilized several different types of strong
stakeholders are vital to solving the wicked problem of emotional appeal in the work site posters and trade
occupational electrical contact. Other blunt-end stakeholders advertisements in order to break through the clutter.
include: regulatory bodies, licensing, inspection, Workplace Research has shown strong emotional appeal can increase
Safety and Insurance Board, Ministry of Labour, other attention paid to advertisements, and if a person notices an
provincial and federal government agencies, colleges and advertisement, this will increase awareness and recall, and if
trade schools, industry associations, unions, and the various an advertisement is recalled, it can help in modifying risk
trade bodies involved in the institutional, commercial, and taking behaviour.
construction industries.
Much research and work is still needed to understand what If we know the personality characteristics of a target
exists in organizations and their operations models that allow audience, it may be possible to tailor campaigns to zero-in
men to take risks. However, other forms of direct on the characteristic motivations, attitudes, and feelings of
communications are working, tailgate briefings may have the audience.... Knowledge of the psychological
saved many lives, and the leading-edge work being characteristics that motivate you to engage in health-risk
undertaken by Harrington et al. [13] has suggested that behaviors may thus help public health officials choose more
continual use of this simple tool can be effective in reducing effective campaigns, which would motivate risk takers to
workplace accidents. minimize harm. [17, p. 1061]

D. What is Being Done to Limit the Demand for Live Electrical F. Safety Communications Aimed at Different Personalities:
Work and How Do We Protect Vulnerable Workers? The Supply and the Demand

In 2008, a consortium called the Electrical Safety Coalition Research and the literature show that male extroverts (as
was formed in Ontario led by the International Brotherhood of noted, 100% of research participants were male) demonstrate
Electrical Workers Construction Council of Ontario, the a marked disinclination to say "no" when asked to work live
Electrical Contractors Associations of Ontario, and the and are the personality type most likely to take risks:
Greater Toronto Electrical Contractors Association. This core
team was able to recruit most of the Health and Safety ENFJ's [a personality style that is extraverted and uses
AgenCies in Ontario and included the Provincial Ministry of intuition, feeling, and judging to navigate through life] know
Labour, the Electrical Safety Authority of Ontario, Industrial and appreciate people.... They are apt to neglect
Accident Prevention Association, Construction Safety themselves and their own needs for the needs of others.
Association of Ontario, and the Electrical and Utilities Safety They have thinner psychological boundaries than most, and
Association. The aim of this first-ever consortium, which we are at risk for being hurt or even abused by less sensitive
later named The Electrical Safety Coalition, was to research people. ENFJs often take on more of the burdens of others
what exists in organizations and on the job site that allows or than they can bear. [14, Explanation, para. 4]
permits those in a supervisory position to demand that others
undertake live or risky work without proper safety protection of Thus, we have a personality type that is both more inclined
planning. The goal of the campaign was to suppress the to take risks willingly and, as well, more inclined to take a risk
Demand for live work. if someone asks them to do so. Communication techniques
designed to improve safety need to be different for different
personality types because those who are extroverts learn campaign aimed at suppressing the Supply of those who
differently from those who are introverts, and important safety would take electrical risks on the job [18]. This multi-media
and risk-deterrent messaging must recognize that one size campaign was built on research learnings and utilized several
does fits all in communicating electrical safety different types of emotional appeal: shock, fear, guilt, respect,
Looking at the supply and demand for risky electrical work familial ties, and love, in order to reach many different kinds of
and how to change this condition, a fully integrated personality types. Familial love scored consistent attention
communications program was created for the Electrical Safety appeal as did fear and guilt, based on a Likert-type scale
Coalition, called the "Just Don't Ask Campaign", with the ranging from like very much to like, to dislike, to dislike very
central element being the "Just Don't Ask Authorization Form" much, in response to visual examples of ads and posters.
[16]. This form was designed (a) to educate employers and From 2004 to 2010, the Electrical Safety Authority of
those in a position of authority to understand the dangers and Ontario also chose to pick many different and important
risks involved in live work so they would stop asking for this electrical harms, such as power lines, farm safety, ladders,
type of work; (b) to empower electricians who, through job tree trimming, dump trucks, multi meters, and so forth, in
pressures, economic vulnerability, or personality style, are order to educate specific target audiences on these harms.
more inclined to say yes to a request for live work, and, as a With this focus, several highly effective consumer and trade
by-product, (c) to help remind those who take risks to avoid communication campaigns were successfully launched for the
doing so [16]. Electrical Safety Authority of Ontario over the past six years
Reports from the field suggest that very few of our forms [18].
have been signed and handed back to electricians, with In 2010, the author created and the Electrical Safety
anecdotal reports that clients, when presented with the form, Authority of Ontario launched a blended communications
are responding, "What's with you guys? Everybody is asking campaign in an effort to address both sides of the deadly
us to sign this form." This suggests that workers are, in fact, equation of Supply and Demand aimed at educating workers,
presenting the "Just Don't Ask Form" to clients when asked to and supervisors to the risks of three specific harms: arc flash,
undertake risky work, and that clients are now working with 347 volts, and power lines, as well as utilizing a variation of
their electricians and trade workers to undertake safer the "Just Don't Ask Authorization Form" [16] [19]. The early
electrical work practices. One disturbing trend is the success of this initiative was demonstrated by the wide range
anecdotal report of job sanction against electrical trade of provincial and national organizations that placed their logo
workers who presented this form for signature, thus on this form as a show of solidarity and support for this unique
supporting the author's suspicion of vulnerable electrical empowerment and intervention tool.
Combined, the key learnings of the normalcy and demand H. Why is This WorK Important?
for live work and extrovert's natural inclination to be the go to
or solutions guy to work live, if requested, suggested the need 'The fast growing risk literature so far provides the least
for creation of a "Just Don't Ask Authorization Form" [16]. guidance where the majority of practitioners are required to
This intervention was backed by a powerful communications operate---within the complex, multidimensional and textured
campaign utilizing job site posters, trade advertising, public layers that lie between high level policy decisions and low
relations, and a website to gain attention while educating and level incident response" [3, p. 17].
reminding viewers of the risks involved in electrical work. This is the sharp end of electrical accidents, the operational
level: (a) where electricians and trade workers are doing the
G. Fear Alone in Safety Communications is not Effective work of installation and repair of machinery and equipment;
and (b) where general trades people are going about their
Of note, however, the author's research found, and the tasks, often unaware that they are near a hazard. Electrical
literature confirmed, that the use of fear appeal alone in safety accidents are not one of sequential development; therefore,
communications is not effective in modifying behaviour [1]. the Tree-Based Models are inadequate to show functional
This type of emotional appeal will garner attention; however, dependencies that are so important to the systemic view [4],
the same principal applies if one spots a snake in the forest: It which allows for greater inclusion of the potential and highly
is difficult to take one's eyes off of it, and there is an overall inter-related causes of electrical accidents.
feeling of dread. With a fear appeal alone, cognitive There is little research work being developed at the sharp
processing of safety messages may not take place, as the end of accidents, such as electrical accidents, in part because
oldest part of the brain, the amygdale, is active in high fear in North America, we lack comprehensive population-based
(and high pleasure) situations, leaving little in the way of databases of all occupational incidents, accidents, and
message recall of anything other than fear. Little in the way of fatalities [4]. Instead, much policy and thought is devoted to
messages concerning safety actions or desired behaviour the blunt-end factors that are removed from space and time of
change is registered. Only a strong fear memory is implanted. where the real work takes place: at the sharp-end.
In order for fear appeal to be effective in safety
communications aimed at modifying risk taking and risk III. CONCLUSION
bearing, it must be accompanied by two important elements:
(a) the safety message being proposed must be efficacious at This paper calls for the need to recognize electrical hazards
minimizing harm (i.e., Don't Work Live); and (b) the workers as being unique and different from all other types of
must deeply believe that they can put this advice into action. construction hazards because electricity is odourless, toxic,
Also, in 2008, the author created and the Electrical Safety and invisible. If contact is made with an energized electrical
Authority of Ontario launched an arc flash awareness circuit or machinery, its outcome is largely a matter of luck [5]
and is approximately 100 times more deadly than all other [3] M. K. Sparrow, The Character of Harms: Operational
types of lost-time injuries combined [12]. The Electrical Safety Chal/enges in Contro/. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge
Authority of Ontario data show that "death by working live has University Press. 2008.
not declined in the electrical trades" [19, p. 20], thus
confirming that experts still take inordinate risks, while non [4] E. Hollnagel, Barriers and Accident Prevention.
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harm mitigation and communication strategies aimed at
electricians and trade workers. Carefully utilize emotional [6] Government of Ontario, Ministry of Labour, Electrical Blitz
appeal in your communications because it is effective in 2008 by Industrial Health and Safety Program. Ottawa,
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21 drivers identified and how these allow or encourage men to
[7] J. Downer. Anatomy of a Disaster: Why Some Accidents
take risks. If you have identified that you have a
are Avoidable. London, UK: Center for Analysis of Risk
preponderance of risk takers in your workforce, you will need
and Regulation at the London School of Economics and
to utilize specific communications techniques in order to gain
Political Science. 2010.
their attention and to start modifying their risk-taking
behaviour. Consider the social and behavioural implications [8] Electrical Safety Authority, Annual Report. Toronto, ON,
of attempting to change the culture of an organization, a work Canada: Author. 2008.
crew, or a seasoned veteran whose response can range from
"We've always done it this way" or "I can control the risk" to "If [9] Acumen Research, ESA Contractor Survey November
I don't do it (take the risk), the next guy the boss asks, will!" It 14, 2008 Preliminary Results. Toronto, ON, Canada:
is not easy to break a 100-year-old tradition, but with time and Electrical Safety Authority. 2008.
patience, it can be achieved.
Demand to see the aggregated electrical incident data, [10] R. Ely and D. Meyerson, Unmasking Manly Men: The
because today we really have no idea how prevalent under Organizational Reconstruction of Men's Identity. Harvard
reporting of accidents is. Hollnagel wrote, "Near misses are Business School Working Paper, No. 07-054. 2007.
only rarely reported, and unsafe acts as a rule not reported at
all" [4, p. 25]. This condition perfectly fits electrical near [11] Electrical Safety Authority, Occupational Health and
misses and unsafe acts (precursors of accidents), because Safety System Review Comments. Toronto, ON, Canada:
these types of events leave little in the way of noticeable Electrical Safety Authority, 2010.
marks. Victims simply report receiving "a tingle or a jolt".
Introduce the "Just Don't Ask Authorization Form" [16] [19] [12] Government of Ontario, Ministry of Labour, Occupational
or a variant of this to your organization, workplace, or Health and Safety Branch Blitz on Electrical Safety in
construction trade to help empower those who, through Construction, Blitz Period October 2009. Ottawa, ON:
amenability of personality or through economic pressure, will Queen's Printer. 2009.
bear construction risks. Protect and educate your young
workers, if they are male, single, and extroverted, they are the [13] D. Harritington, B. Materna, J. Vannoy, and P. Scholz,
most vulnerable workers on your job site because they are the "Conducting effective tailgate trainings." Health Promotion
most likely to take risks and bear risks. Finally, train your Practices, 10, 2009: 359. doi: 10.1177/
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[14] Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, n.d. Retrieved August 25,
Acknowledgement - I would like to acknowledge Mr.
2010, from
John Pender of the International Brotherhood of Electrical
Workers Construction Council of Ontario for his vision and [15] Electrical Safety Authority, Annual Report. Toronto, ON,
unswerving commitment to the on-going need for new Canada: Author. 2005.
information and new tools to help reduce occupational
electrical accidents. [16] Electrical Safety Authority, Electrical Worker Safety.
Retrieved August 22, 2010, from
[1] G. Howe, Why Men Take Risks and What is the Role of
Why Men Take Risks: A Way to Mitigate Risk Taking by [17] A. Caspi, H. Harrington, T. E. Moffitt, D. Begg, N.
Experts, Library and Archives Canada. 2008 [AMICUS Dickson, J. Langley, and P. A. Silva, "Personality
No. 34493019]. differences predict health-risk behaviors in young
adulthood: Evidence from a longitudinal study." Joumal of
[2] B. Rorhamm, Risk Attitude Scales: Concepts and Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 73-5, November
Questionnaires, Project Report. Melbourne, Australia: 1997, pp 1052-1063.
University of Melbourne. 2002, p 3.
[18] Electrical Safety Authority, Arc Flash Campaign, 2008. advertising business for 25+ years. His academic studies,
Retrieved August 22, 2010, from which focus on improving electrical safety, inform his work and his firm, Howe Brand Communications. He has spent the
Larc_flash.html last decade developing unique risk and harm mitigation
strategies for a wide range of clients. He is a founding board
[19] Electrical Safety Authority, Annual Report. Toronto, ON, member of ESFLca, has spoken to national and international
Canada: Author. 2009. audiences, and has written widely on how to utilize modern
communications techniques to help modify electrical risk
V. VITA taking or risk bearing on the job site.

Gavan Howe graduated from Royal Roads University in

2008 with an MA in Leadership degree and is currently taking
a PhD in Human and Organizational Systems at Fielding
Graduate University. He has been in the communications and