The Importance of Safe Isolation in the Workplace – Michael’s Story

The Importance of Safe Isolation in the Workplace – Michael’s Story

With statistics showing that one trade professional per month is killed on average as a result of working with electricity on-site, we learn more about how a collaborative industry group is working together to ensure that individuals and businesses understand the importance of, and best practice behind, safe isolation in the workplace.

Michael Adamson was a 26-year-old experienced electrician who tragically died in a preventable electrical incident in 2005. He cut a cable marked ‘NOT IN USE’, which was in fact wired into a distribution board and was not safely isolated.

Michael’s sister, Louise, now travels around the world speaking to organisations and conferences and was recognised in 2018 as the ‘Most Influential Person in Health & Safety in the UK’ by The Safety and Health Practitioner.

She explains: “I’ve made it my goal to tell Michael’s Story because he isn’t here to tell it himself. Michael was young, engaged to be married and had his whole life still ahead of him, when he left home one morning and didn’t return. He died in an entirely preventable electrical incident.

“There were many failings in health and safety leadership, culture, processes and practices which resulted in my wee brother’s death, so the aim is to stop this from happening to any individual or family again.”

Louise adds: “Attitudes towards safe working practices in the electrical industry desperately need to change, and it’s shocking to hear that so many installers’ lives are being gambled with through non-supply or use of vital equipment.

“You want the people working for you, or with you, to go home safe and sound to their loved ones at the end of each and every working day, night or assignment.”


Spreading the message further

Of the many hundreds of individuals who have now heard Louise tell her brother’s story, one was so touched (and shocked) by the detail in the presentation that he has made it somewhat of a personal mission to ensure that the message reaches the widest possible audience and that the importance of its sentiments are never lost nor forgotten.

Since listening to Louise recount the events of her brother’s final day, Malcolm Duncan, MD of Super Rod, has spent a huge amount of time and effort generating awareness, undertaking industry research and creating content that can help to deliver the safe isolation message in the most effective way possible.

He says: “As soon as I heard Louise tell her story, I knew it was something we had to support to help her raise awareness. We didn’t know how widespread the issues of non-compliance would be but the reality revealed by the survey work we’ve carried out has been far worse than we had initially thought.

“The sad truth is that every year 12 trade professionals in the UK, on average, are killed by electricity whilst working on-site, and the majority of those deaths are avoidable. Professional electricians and installers risk their lives every day by not following basic safety procedures like using a lock-out kit or test equipment to ensure there is no charge before starting work.

“Enough is enough, so we need to come together as an industry to collaborate on creating a safer working environment for all around us.”

An initial survey, conducted a few years ago with over 800 respondents, yielded some quite shocking results in terms of working practices and attitudes. The most recent version, carried out in 2022 with over 2,000 respondents, still clearly shows the scale of the problem, and that the solutions lie in the hands of the industry itself.

The key takeaways from the 2022 survey revealed:

• 30% of domestic installers reported that they RARELY or NEVER used a lock-out kit to isolate the electrical supply they’re working on.

• 1 in 10 do not even have a safe isolation kit in their van or toolbox.

• 1 in 70 stated that they don’t use any test equipment to ensure there’s no charge.

• Perhaps most shocking is that almost 50 of those who responded stated that they were experienced enough not to make mistakes, so didn’t need to test!

A collective industry responsibility

With much work still to do, Malcolm quite rightly acknowledges that the education process shouldn’t lay at the door of one individual or organisation, and that the whole industry should instead take a collective responsibility for a practice that is ultimately designed to keep its operatives safe and sound when undertaking their everyday work.

It is this joint obligation that forms the basis of the latest safe isolation awareness campaign, which has seen a number of organisations and individuals agree to come together to pool their time, effort and resources.

The likes of IET, NAPIT, NICEIC, ECA, SparkSafe LtP and Electrical Safety First, along with leading industry brands, will be providing input, resources and expertise to ensure that a consistent, single message is delivered through trade show attendance, articles and editorials, video content and social media activity. Another industry survey is also planned for the summer of this year.

From the coalface, proactive individuals like Apprentice 121 founder Mark Allison, will also be giving up their time to ensure fellow professionals are engaged and informed on the subject.

Malcolm concludes: “The goal of this campaign is simple – to drastically reduce avoidable accidents for electricians and other contractors working on-site.

“It’s encouraging to see so many putting their egos aside to work alongside competitors, delivering a collaborative solution to create a safer working environment for us all.”

Access more details about the campaign, the survey, and the 12 step guide to safe isolation here

Access the ESF Safe Isolation Best Practice Guides here

Read more about Michael’s story here

Read more industry feature articles here

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