It probably wasn’t the kind of late-summer trip to Florida they had in mind, but about 3,200 workers from across the United States and Canada are in the Tampa area this week and TECO is grateful to be welcoming them. Forget about utility conventions, trips to Disney World or the beach – they’re working hard alongside our crews, around the clock in shifts, to restore everyone’s power after Hurricane Irma.
The crews are here to help as part of the mutual assistance pact with other utilities that TECO belongs to through its membership in the Southeastern Electric Exchange. Of course, with restoration needs this big – more than 6 million customers without power from Irma in Florida alone – it’s an effort that needs the help of people traveling from far beyond the Southeast.
“While these line, tree and other workers hail from places that are very different from West Central Florida, their expertise with the tools and techniques to restore power is the crucial common denominator they share with our crews,” said Mark Downing, TECO’s corporate safety director. “At the same time, we can’t overlook many of things that can pose challenges unique to working in Florida – especially this time of year and at all hours of the day, since we have crews working 24-7 to restore our customers’ power.”
Downing is part of a big team at TECO helping make sure the out-of-area crews have the safety guidance they need to get the job done.
“While much of what we communicate with the visiting crews is technical and specific to power restoration, there’s still a lot of good safety information for everyone to take to heart whether you work for TECO or not,” Downing said, emphasizing that “Only trained, certified professionals should engage in the kind of work that our crews do to restore power – never anyone else, for your own safety.”
With that said, while the full slate of guidance we provide crews is much more extensive, here’s an overview of some of what Downing and his team members are sharing with visiting crews:
- Safety is TECO’s top priority.
- We believe that every injury is preventable.
- Proper personal protective equipment (PPE) is mandatory at all times while working in the community.
- It’s everyone’s responsibility to look out for each other – and to speak up if they see or sense that any situation may be unsafe.
- The restoration effort will not be successful if even one injury occurs.
- All injury “near-misses” must be reported so we can learn from them and prevent them in the future.
- Proper hydration (drinking water) is critical!
Hotel safety (visiting crews need accommodations, and that’s where hotel safety comes into play)
- Always know where fire exits are located.
- Take the exit route (including stairway) to familiarize yourself.
- No open flames in rooms.
- Utilize specialized personal protective equipment with chainsaws.
- Beware of kick-back that can occur when pulling a running chainsaw blade free if it gets stuck in a tree limb.
Heat illness prevention
- Heat and humidity are a potentially deadly combination in Florida.
- Hydrate with plain water the evening before work.
- Avoid energy drinks, which can speed up your heart rate and actually leave you more dehydrated.
- Drink at least a bottle of water each hour.
- Watch your buddy – offer water to help him or her stay hydrated.
- Feeling nauseous, dizzy or overheated? Take a break and cool off.
Customer generator reminder
- Many customers have generators – more in Florida than many areas due to the heat and humidity.
- TECO communicates the following guidance to customers: DO NOT connect your portable generator to your home’s circuits. Plug your appliances directly into the generator. Connecting your generator to your home’s circuits may cause power to flow to outside lines, posing life-threatening danger to power restoration crews. Also, DO NOT operate portable generators inside or near air conditioning ducts or in any enclosed space (including a closed garage) where deadly carbon monoxide gases could build up.
- Assume they are connected incorrectly and ground accordingly.
- Ears are best generator detector – listen for them!
Eye injury prevention
- Always wear proper PPE.
- Know when to add a face shield.
- Report ALL eye incidents, even if you think you washed debris away.
- Most recordable eye injuries could be prevented if treated immediately.
- Waiting a single day for treatment increases pain, discomfort and complications.
- Use the proper tool for the job.
- Always cut away from your body.
- Dull knives can be more dangerous than sharp ones.
- Wear proper cut-level gloves.
- Never any texting while driving (this is against the law).
- Ask for help when backing up and out of your spot.
- Pay attention to blind spots when turning.
- Assume impatient drivers will do the unexpected.
- Allow plenty of room between you and driver in front of you while driving, at stop signs and at lights.
- Wear mosquito repellent.
- Examine yourself each evening after work for ticks.
- Walk carefully in brush – snakes!
- Be cautious around ponds, streams and bodies of water – alligators!
- Alligators can run faster than you – don’t approach them!
- Assume every wire is hot – energized and therefore deadly – until it is tested and grounded.
- Beware of electric back-feed!
- Ensure customers/bystanders stay at least 100 feet from downed wires.
- Keep visitors out of work zone until you invite them in.
- Any official visitor must be provided a safety briefing and added to tailboard sheet.
- Media, company visitors, etc. are all treated the same with respect to the guidance above.
- Ensure visitors have proper PPE before entering work zone.
- Know emergency contact numbers before work begins.
- Know where you are located so you can describe location to emergency responders.
- Check vehicles before operating.
- Walk “circle of safety” around your vehicle before getting behind the steering wheel to detect obstructions that may be hard to spot if you don’t look for them.
- Perform necessary inspections on critical equipment – grounds, cover, gloves, hoists, rigging, etc.
From all the men and women at TECO, and on behalf of our customers, thank you to the out-of-area crews helping ours restore power in the community. Above all, stay safe!