The IBEW prides itself on having the best trained workers in the business, and no skill claims a higher priority than safety.
But IBEW Director of Safety and Health David Mullen has been flying blind.
When Mullen began his job in July 2014, he found that accidents and fatalities were woefully underreported. Many locals and business managers were not even aware of their constitutional requirements to report serious lost-time accidents and fatalities to the International Office.
“Imagine as a business manager, you were going into contract talks without information about wages and benefits,” Mullen said. “That’s what it’s like for me going to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) or the American National Standards Institute without accurate accident information.”
So, for the last year, Mullen, with help from the IBEW’s Information Technology Department, has overhauled the electronic accident reporting system, Form 173, making it both easier to find and simpler to understand and use. Now, he is leading web-based info sessions, or ‘webinars’ teaching business managers and local staff how to use the new system.
In them, Mullen delivers some surprising statistics. In 2014, only 10 IBEW fatalities were reported to the International Office using Form 173. “I wish that were all we had,” Mullen said, “but the number was clearly higher.” OSHA officials estimated the number higher, at 22, and members of the IBEW’s Construction and Maintenance Department and Safety Caucus came up with numbers ranging from 22 to as high as 38.
“We have to do better than that,” Mullen said. Of the nearly 850 IBEW locals, just 125 have used Form 173 to report accidents or fatalities, and only 20 to 25 do so regularly. The new system, accessed from the 'Safety and Health’ page of IBEW.org, aims to fix that.
The new Form 173 takes just a few minutes to complete and, for the first time, can be edited later if new information comes to light, like accident investigation results or when citations are issued to an employer. “We hope this will encourage business managers to fill out the form within a few days of the accident instead of waiting for the results of investigations that sometimes take months to complete,” Mullen said.
Another feature of the overhauled system allows business managers to designate other members and staff who can also fill out Form 173, again with the hope of increasing the rate at which accidents and fatalities are reported. Business managers were sent a PowerPoint presentation in early August with instructions on how to register new users and navigate the website.
With the improved system and his department’s aggressive education program, Mullen hopes the IBEW will have a much better picture in the months and years to come of real-time accidents and fatalities, enabling him to better represent members’ interests when new safety rules and regulations are discussed. “Better, more accurate information,” he said, “gives us the tools we need to keep workers safe.”
Photo used under a Creative Commons license from Flickr user Steve Case