No Splash, No Ripples – A Path to a Better Job Brief

If we looked at an incident or accident like a splash from a rock hitting a calm pond, and the ripple rings extending outward from the point of impact as layers of people or parts of your life that were affected by the accident, how far do you think your ripples would reach? If we can stop the splash of an incident, we can stop the ripples. I believe a meaningful, quality job brief is the first step.

I was invited to lead discussions on job briefs at the Utility Arborist Association’s (UAA) New England Safety Summit last fall in Marlborough, Massachusetts. It was an honor to be asked because I am passionate about the effectiveness of a meaningful, quality job brief. If we can stop just one splash, then it will have been worth it.

About 100 attendees and I started our day listening to three gentlemen tell their stories about accidents they were involved in and the trials and difficulties they and their families dealt with as a result. It was amazing how many family members, friends and co-workers were affected. With that as our focus, attendees were then randomly broken into five groups, and each group of about 20 people, ranging widely in experience levels and ages, went into five separate breakout discussion rooms.

We started by asking each group why we do job briefs and what they are for. The reasons were clear: focus/refocus the crew, develop a safe work plan for the task at hand, explain each individual’s task as it pertains to the work plan and create a safe work environment. This includes identifying the hazards associated with the job and determining how the crew is going to mitigate those hazards.

We then discussed what each of them had in common on the headings of the job briefs they had brought along with them. Most were relatively similar and included date, time, location, emergency numbers, closest hospital, a utility contact and contact information for the general foreperson. This all seemed pretty generic, but when we really discussed it, we realized how important this information is. For instance, “Where is the closest hospital or emergency personnel?” This is great stuff to know, but if we cannot accurately describe our location, it could cost the crew valuable minutes that could mean life or death to a potential victim. An accurate location with address, cross street, landmark or even GPS location would be beneficial. The more on your job brief about your job-site location that you can give to emergency crews, the better.

If we looked at an incident or accident like a splash from a rock hitting a calm pond, and the ripple rings extending outward from the point of impact as layers of people or parts of your life that were affected by the accident, how far do you think your ripples would reach? Photo by marianna armata/ Flickr.com.

In some situations, we may need the power shut off or a power line removed before rescue crews can reach the victim, so the utility contact information is crucial. If they cannot find you, they cannot help you.

On all the job briefs that were at the summit, voltage and minimum approach distance (MAD) were front and center, but the location of the crews’ first-aid kits was not discussed on some. The Department of Transportation (DOT) requires companies to have stickers on the sides of their trucks marking the location of first-aid kits, but whether the kits are stowed in the correct place and stocked with supplies can be overlooked. It is important to check every day that the kit is in the proper location and ensure it is stocked in case of an emergency.

Bring your first-aid kit with you if you are working at an off-road work site. Minutes could mean everything. Your first-aid setup should include a trauma kit. Chain saw cuts are not usually small, so a 2-inch-by 4-inch piece of gauze isn’t really sufficient. One of the attendees mentioned he carries a rescue bag with him in the off-road vehicle or equipment. This is a good practice, and the crew should be made aware of its location, moving it as the crew moves through the work site to keep it close.

Bring your first-aid kit with you if you are working at an off-road work site. Minutes could mean everything. Photo courtesy of John Ball.

The attendees also brought up another idea, which was to discuss an emergency plan. Lewis Tree is already using this idea, which they call “The Worst Case Scenario Plan.” The crews talk about what each crew member’s job would be if the unthinkable were to happen. If your crew practices this or talks about it every day, then your crew may be better prepared if something were to happen.

One subject that sparked a lot of debate was digital job briefs. There are some companies that have implemented tablets and smart phones to do job briefs on. We came up with pros and cons, and ultimately the jury is still out as far as our group discussions were concerned. Some of the pros we came up with were time-stamped data entry, instant data collection for companies, less paperwork for crews to contend with and for the companies to store, possible auto generation of hospital locations and possible auto generation of work locations.

Some of the cons were lack of physical documentation for anyone to review; password protection limiting access to others entering the job site; short battery life in cold weather; no access to data if a device is damaged or it fails; a possibly greater emphasis on check boxes or copying and pasting, rather than on writing the information in; and forgetting the device at home, leaving the crew without the ability to create the job brief, period. One attendee mentioned that he had been doing the job briefs on his phone and the phone had been placed in the job-brief bag at the end of the work zone, per company policy, and then run over by a car. His phone cost substantially more to replace than a paper copy.

As part of the discussion, we used a book of work sites. We took five to seven photographs of each site to try to give every angle of the work area. I then asked the attendees to create the hazards and hazard-mitigation parts of their job briefs. After they had done this, we discussed as a group what we had come up with. This turned out to be a great exercise. We had the chance to see what everyone else was picking out by looking at the photos. This is where having multiple experience levels created an interesting dynamic and intriguing conversation.

Being prepared can save lives. Crews talk about what each crew member’s job would be if the unthinkable were to happen. If your crew practices this or talks about it every day, then your crew may be better prepared if something were to happen. Photo courtesy of John Ball.

We had, depending on the group, department heads to ground workers with one year of experience all in the same room as equals, picking out hazards and deciding how to mitigate those hazards. It was encouraging to see what the first-level ground persons were finding for hazards. They picked out hazards that some experienced attendees did not. But these young attendees learned a lot from what the more experienced people in the room did find. Some of the department heads gained experience regarding what their crews do to create a quality job brief. I am hoping all of the attendees took something learned from our discussions back to their crews.

We learned a lot from each other during our discussions. I truly believe a meaningful, quality job brief can stop the splash and we can stop the ripples. Personally, I know co-workers and friends who have had incidents that resulted in severe injuries, which could have been avoided with a meaningful conversation about the job at hand, a work plan and the potential associated hazards. Sometimes in our industry we need to take a step back, slow down and really inspect the task at hand. Creating a quality job brief will get all of us in the habit of doing just that.

Shawn Reed, Certified Arborist, is a contract arborist with Asplundh Tree Expert, LLC, working in National Grid’s Central Division in northern New York. He has been in the industry for 23 years and with Asplundh for 10. The Utility Arborist Association – MA Safety Summit was hosted by Unitil and National Grid at the Best Western Royal Plaza Hotel & Trade Center in Marlborough, Mass., in September 2018.

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