On the Safe(ty) Side
What if you were told that something you use every day without even thinking about it could be dangerous? You’d maybe look with confusion to your vehicle, cooking tools, or appliances. But would electricity even cross your mind?
Cass County Electric Cooperative’s Manager of Safety Mike Mead said people rarely do consider electricity as one of the hazards to their safety.
“We use it every day, and we don’t even think about it,” he said.
Consider a child climbing a tree, a homeowner plugging in a generator, or a line worker driving along a flooded road to reach equipment that needs repairing. All of these people could come into contact with power lines and face serious injuries or even death as a result of an easily prevented situation. Unfortunately, due to the nature of electricity, people often forget about the risks associated with coming into contact with power lines and other electrical equipment before it’s too late. That’s why Cass County Electric Cooperative strives to educate members and employees on electrical safety, with Mead leading the charge.
Mead, who has worked for CCEC since January 1997, oversees all aspects of the cooperative’s safety education, including public safety awareness, employee and contractor training, OSHA, NISC, and DOT regulation compliance, and more. And whether Mead is traveling to a school to demonstrate a variety of safety equipment to students or explaining power line safety to individual homeowners, his primary goal is always education.
“Electricity is so dangerous, but it’s so all around us that we forget about it. We forget that danger that’s constantly there,” Mead said. “In the blink of an eye, it changes your life. It’s not forgiving.”
He explained that electrical safety issues are much different from, say, placing your hand near a hot stove burner. When you near the burner, you feel the heat and recognize you should not touch it. If you accidentally touch it, you instantly pull back as a reflex and are warned to never do it again. Electricity is less forgiving. Power lines do not give off heat as a warning that they should not be touched. And if you do come into contact with one, the result would be shock or electrocution — much more severe than the result of touching the stove burner.
Mead conveys these drastic differences to members in the community so they don’t encounter one of those preventable hazard situations. And working with members is his favorite part of the job.
“The members are the reason I work at Cass County Electric,” he said. “I love that the members are our friends, our neighbors, our family. I can be out walking the grocery store, and people come up to me and ask me questions.”
And whether he is sitting behind his desk or in the cereal aisle, he is happy to answer questions if it means educating members toward safety.
“It’s all about education,” he said. “Maybe a member will be upset because we cut their trees way back. Well, if you explain to them that the tree can conduct electricity with that little tabletop demo where you take a piece of wood and start it on fire, then they can see, ‘Okay, this is why we have to cut it back, because my kid could be climbing that tree and get electrocuted.’”
By advising members and employees on important safety issues, he aims to give them the tools to make their own safety decisions when he isn’t there to give direction.
Here are a few key safety tips to keep in mind:
- Keep away from power lines, and never assume a wire is safe to touch. This includes keeping trees, ladders, kites and other items from getting too close to lines.
- Report any fallen power lines to CCEC immediately.
- If your vehicle comes into contact with a power line, do not exit your vehicle. Call 911 and CCEC for help and wait for help to arrive. If your vehicle catches fire and you must exit, jump as far as possible from your vehicle, never touching the vehicle or equipment and the ground simultaneously. Proceed by shuffling your feet, keeping them touching as you move.
- Never enter a substation or other marked electrical area without authorization.
- Make sure your home has ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) and arc fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs) installed. These interrupters shut off circuits when they sense a hazard that could contribute to electrocution or an electrical fire.
- Never use water to try to stop an electrical fire. Water conducts electricity and can exacerbate the fire. You should use a chemical fire extinguisher for electrical fires.
- If you use a portable generator during an outage, make sure the generator is located in a properly ventilated space — never in a building or garage. Generators should also be installed by a qualified technician to make sure the electricity from your generator is not flowing back onto the power lines when work is being done on the lines.
- Replace or repair frayed or damaged electrical cords in your home.
- Do not overload outlets or extension cords. Pay attention to their capacity when you plug in devices.
- Do not plug major appliances like refrigerators or washing machines into an extension cord. These should be connected directly to a wall outlet.