Qualitative Research to Improve Electrical Worker Safety

To work live or not work live. That is the question and decision that electricians face on a daily basis, and it’s an important one. It can mean the difference between life and death.

According to the Ontario Electrical Safety Authority the probable cause of 70% electrical related fatalities over 2004 to 2013 in Ontario was improper procedures. Despite improved worker training and education, serious electrical injuries and fatalities were not declining as much as expected. Many of these tragedies were the result of working on live wires.,

Last fall, through my affiliation with Decision Partners, I was part of a research team contracted to study this on behalf of the ESA. We conducted in-depth qualitative interviews with 60 Ontario electrical apprentices, journeymen and inspectors to discover the influences on their decision making to adhere to safe work practices – in particular, their decisions to work live.

One key finding was that nearly 90% of the electricians reported working live, either by choice or inadvertently. Another key finding was that the decision to work live is not always so clear cut – meaning it’s not always single decision with a single right choice. In some cases there are no other options. Linesmen working on overhead power lines, for example, have to work live. We also learned that the workplace is complex and dynamic, yet only 50% of electricians reported doing a hazard assessment before starting a job.

The results of the research are now being used to help develop ESA’s risk communication strategy and materials, with the goal of reducing the number of critical occupational injuries and fatalities among Ontario’s electrical safety workers.

You can learn more about this important research and the mental modeling approach that we used through a webinar, presented to the Ontario Risk and Insurance Management Society (ORIMS) on April 20, 2016 by Sarah Thorne, Co-Founder and President of Decision Partners and Dr. Joel Moody, ESA’s Director of Safety, Risk, Policy and Innovation.