Two days ago, my husband began to work on a transformer that was carrying 480 v of electricity. It was supposed to be "locked off" and not "hot". As he put it, "for the first time in 22 years I almost died because the union isn't backing me up, or protecting my safety. The union has been hijacked by the big contractors and they are sacrificing our safety for profit." Due to years of experience, my husband was able to save six other men who were about to work on the same "hot" system.
There is a safety routine that electricians use when testing and energizing transformers and electrical grids. However, even the most simple safety procedures have little by little been eroded away for the sake of convenience and cost. The lock down switch not available and replaced with some kind of wire stringing together several grids.(cheaper, and far from OSHA standards). He is working on a huge industrial site, that is considered a secret. I can't tell you what he is building. I can't tell you the companies involved. I can tell you that he came face to face with death as he almost began to work with his hands on a transformer that was supposed to be "off".
He got called away by his boss to do something else and this kept him from beginning the work he set out to do without thought or worry. However, when he came back to the transformer that he was wiring, he noticed a smell. It smelled like electricity, hot wires to him. He stopped and put his hand on the top of the transformer and noticed that it was humming. A sure sign that the transformer was "juiced". He yelled out loud to the men around him who were working on the same electrical grid and told them to stop and stand back. He quickly got his "tester" and found that the grid had been switched on. He doesn't know when it got switched on, or why.
He ran back to the lockout system with his foreman and sure enough, the switch was "on", the lock out (not a proper lock box) signed by a very young foreman. My husband can do a better job of explaining why and how they would use this system instead of the standard lock out. He said basically "it's cheaper." He went on to explain to me, why they hire such young men as foremen. He said that it's easier for the contractors to convince these young men to do as they are told, to not questions these short cuts. It can also be noted that this particular foreman, a favorite in his company, is still on the job, where other men have been fired for small safety infractions like not having their helmet on, or not folding up and putting away a ladder. Trust me, they know that this kid is a symptom of a bigger problem and they want all the guys to "look the other way". They have been told not to discuss it, for political reasons. The same foreman is still working right beside these guys, and no consequences have been given that validate the near death of these men. They like these young guys because the "old timers" are not as likely to be lead by the nose and the money.
I diary this account with trepidation as my husband is being told not to talk about what happened to him two days ago. But it's one of those things you just can't erase from your mind. My husband is clearly traumatized and he and I have no real illusions anymore about what is happening to the safety of laborers in America. There were several other instances on this job related to safety, but this one cut him to the core. He feels betrayed and he doesn't feel safe. He can't stop repeating how close he came to death. You don't survive 480 v. He tells me it can blow off your head. It stops your heart. It burns your insides.
My husband is 51 years old. Strong, smart, sober and worn out in every way. It's all he can do to move his body through the paces of the job he is on. In part, because he has seen his beloved union be turned into little more than a rag doll for the big corporations to throw around the room. With huge unemployment rates, with even my husband coming off a 2 year sit on the bench, there is no power behind the union anymore. Safety folks are hired to "look the other way" and to cheapen the cost of insurance. But real safety seems a thing of the past. My husband cannot imagine continuing to live with the very real stress of his job, both physical and emotional, in an environment that questions his right to earn a decent pay check, benefits and disability if God forbid the worst case did occur.
I don't want to hear how the unions vote republican. They don't in my neck of the woods. His union encourages voting, gives them regular information about what politicians are doing what for whom. Those guys, especially the electrical trade, are educated. They know the politics. They know who is supposed to be on their side. But right now those guys are working in fear, and some of the harshest back breaking conditions. With the looming thought that they won't be able to retire till 70 when 65 is more than they can imagine. While I respect the police officers and fire fighters of America, can I just remind people that construction workers, building your favorite buildings, are dying and being injured at a much higher rate than your firefighters and police officers. And when they die, no one marches in the street for them.
We have a crises people!! Corporate American is taken over every part of our lives. It's making the decisions about safety based on profit, not safety. There is no one to stand up for us, if we don't band together. It's happening. It's real. My husbands life is real. And we almost lost him this week...to greed.
Update: Okay got some details straightened out. They had been using air craft carrier cable instead of lock outs. The locks out tag outs have now been implemented. They had not been implemented previously. The foreman who did it, is still in place. There has been no consequences for this guy.