A year after Mike Honeyman bought into the Arctic Arrow Powerline Group one of his newer crew members was electrocuted while working on high-voltage wires. The lineman narrowly survived his brush with 14,000 volts but not before losing an arm and a leg. Honeyman and his fellow owners had to deal with the aftermath: the knowledge that someone who worked for them was seriously injured and will never be the same, the deep scrutiny of multiple regulatory agencies, and perhaps worst of all—a community that felt maybe they didn’t care about people.
The video below is unusual only for Honeyman’s candor in describing his feelings about what happened. The people who examined the safety plan he’d created for the company could find no real fault with it. But when he asked himself what he could have done differently or better, he had to admit he’d failed to foster a culture of safety. He’d created the correct set of rules but not the correct mindset.
Honeyman’s description of the impact of the accident reminds me of a story I heard during a panel discussion at a meeting of the local remodeling association. The topic was the worst things that had happened to people in their construction careers. One of the panelists was an engineer who had done the design work for the renovation of an unreinforced masonry building. The contractor failed to follow the shoring plan and a brick wall collapsed—killing a laborer. During the resulting lawsuit it was determined the engineer was not at fault for the accident. But that doesn’t mean he was not affected by the experience. As he put it to the contractors in the audience, leaving aside how unpleasant it is to be sued, it’s a terrible thing to be involved with a project where someone dies or is seriously injured. “The accident happened 25 years ago and yet I think about it every time I start a job. It’s the kind of thing that stays with you.”
If there’s a silver lining to the tale of the man who was electrocuted, it’s that he was able to come back to work as a foreman and now functions as a safety officer. I imagine that when he talks about safety—and what can happen if you make a mistake—the guys on the crew actually listen.