I’m an electrician, and a power lineman. It’s what I always wanted to be. If you’d like proof, there are family movies of me at four years old, in company jacket and hard hat, pantomiming the motions of climbing a pole on hooks. I knew how to use the equipment of a power company by the time I was ten, and wired my first building when I was thirteen. I know every cycle of the electric code since 1968. It’s a major part of who I am. In truth, many men dream of Ferraris, I tend to dream of bucket trucks.
Yesterday, I was flipping through (whatever the equivalent is for a PDF) one of my supplier catalogs. Nearly 500 pages of the stuff that makes it possible to keep your lights on. Except it’s not, not anymore. There’s maybe three hundred pages of things that make people like me more productive. The other nearly two hundred is stuff mandated by the government, that impedes my work, or simply costs me, and therefore you, money.
But there’s twenty pages of stuff the government makes me use to try to keep a half asleep motorist, who’s texting while driving, from running over me, including those reflective and gaudy shirts we all wear. The way I learned to climb poles (the same way my dad learned by the way) is now illegal, because, horrors, you could fall. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing intrinsically wrong, in being conspicuous when we work along the road, nor is flame and or arc resistant clothing a bad thing, even if it does materially increase the incidence of heat stroke. And by the way, we didn’t have this problem when we wore 100% cotton and wool.
Incidentally, are you aware that my company, like most contractors, will no longer, for any reason, work on energized panels, even though we know, through experience, that we could save half to three-quarters of the time spent troubleshooting, because often in a dead panel, we’re just guessing. But the way the law is now, we can’t. First we have to be qualified, which is nowhere objectively defined, then we have to have calculated, by a licensed engineer, (none of whom will do it, because of liability, and because the client won’t pay the cost) the arc flash energy available. Then if by some miracle, we have that information, we have to have the appropriate clothing and personal protective equipment. That last statement includes everything you are wearing, and some of them preclude you complying with other parts of the law. The personal protective equipment includes hard hat, safety goggles, face shield, and rubber gloves, shirt, pants, jacket, underwear, and your boots, all suitable for the hazard. Then the work has to be performed with insulated tools.
All in all, instead of the two hundred dollars of clothing and equipment a competent man needs to troubleshoot this panel (he does need more available, sometimes) we have now gotten to the point of the romantic knight in his plate armor that fell off his horse and can’t get up. Why? Because after spending about ten thousand dollars on this stuff, I’m so clumsy, and I have so much sweat running through my eyes, that I can’t see what I’m trying to do, and I can’t hold on to anything smaller than my arm anyway, so I try for about a half hour, and by then I’m bordering on heat stroke.
That’s why I don’t do it anymore, it’s the best part of electrical work for a good electrician, but it’s over. Oh and by the way, according to the American court system, because I was in that panel room (assuming I’m qualified to be there, whatever that means this week) every mistake made in that panel room since it was designed to build widgets for World War I is now my fault. I’m required to fix them, nobody is required to pay me for fixing them, and they won’t. And so I, like most electricians, will no longer do industrial work, for any amount of money, and fewer and fewer are doing commercial as well, and for the same reasons.
And if that isn’t enough, if something does go wrong, fingers point and the lawsuits begin before the wounded are at the hospital but, we all know who’s going to get the blame, the one who can’t afford the $1000/hour attorney, that’s who. When he loses, he’ll declare bankruptcy because he doesn’t have several million dollars in the bank, and somebody else’s insurance can pick it up.
So, I’m a representative of an industry, the electrical utilities, that were so safe that when the Occupational Safety and Health Law was passed (late 60s or early 70s) they simply adopted our safe practices but, now, we are forbidden by law from doing our work in anything resembling a productive manner. Why? because every time somebody gets hurt, we write a new regulation, irregardless of anything that was in place before, to prevent an accident from occurring that in 90% of cases was the fault of the guy (or girl) who got hurt.
And that is what happens in the real world when you make the competent work with the incompetent. Work, productive work, is done by people who know what they are doing, if you are going to make it safe for idiots, you are going to make it impossible for the productive ones to stomach, and they will vote with their feet.
Don’t believe me? Ask around, if you are a Fortune 500 hundred manufacturing firm, how many electrical contractors will work for you. I bet it’s less than a dozen, and I’ll bet I can find 10 for each of them that is more competent, who will refuse to work for you. Because big business in America is run by accountants who can’t see past the end of the quarter, and legal departments who only know how to blame everybody else. It’s to the point that on a two man crew, the paper work is a full time job, that doesn’t tend to work out well.
And that, my friends, multiplied by however many trades there are, is part of why nothing is manufactured in America anymore.
As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;
And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!
- What Is Personal Protective Equipment? (daydaily.com)
- Safety Photo of the Day – May 8, 2013 – “What’s Wrong With Using This As A Face Shield?, It’ll Work Just Fine!” (ehssafetynews.wordpress.com)
- Arc Flash Regulations Overview (ehssafetynews.wordpress.com)
- It’s National Electrical Safety Month! Are You Prepared? (emedco.com)