Design Safety

Safety first, right? We hear this slogan often, and that’s good, but what does it mean?  When does “safety” begin? What comes first anyhow?

If you talk with Designer Tim Rossbach, he will tell you, “It’s at the forefront of everything we do in design.” When I talked with him it became clear that designers don’t even begin the design until they have addressed their own safety on the project.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) comes up before the designer leaves the office. Simple steps such as wearing proper footwear while on jobsites are important. Remember, if you look at most incidents that relate to utilities, slips, trips and falls are the most common injuries, year after year.

PPE is even more crucial once the project begins for individuals onsite. All personnel on jobsites should wear FR clothing (if working close to energized equipment), safety  footwear, high visibility safety vest, safety glasses and hardhat.

Familiarity with your surroundings is also extremely important. Paying attention to weather – yes, weather – is crucial. In Minnesota (where Tim Rossbach works as a Senior Designer) we have a little season known as winter. It seems to last most of the year, but dressing for the conditions could save you discomfort. This involves dressing in multiple layers, wearing winter boots with good traction, gloves which limit dexterity and a  personal favorite of mine… hand and feet warmers! Those little packets which we gladly pay a buck a piece for are invaluable when you are outside October through May in our cold climate. Awareness in the summer months is also important. Believe it or not, each year someone is sunburned, bitten by a spider or exposed to some other seemingly  unlikely culprit. So, yes, what you wear is important.

Once these fundamental items are addressed, then the design work can actually begin.

Typically, designers are the first set of eyes on a project. From the first site visit to the end of the project, designers are always aware of  jobsite safety hazards such as:

• Proper site access to install and maintain facilities
• Safe and secure area for field crews to setup and work
• Customer clearance issues – are they working too close to energized facilities? Are they following proper clearance guidelines?
• Is there exposed cable?
• Does the property owner have dogs or other pets that we need to be aware of?
• Are there other utilities near proposed facilities that may cause conflict?
• Is the site ready for crews to install facilities and clear of obstructions?
• Does the site have any customer-owned generating equipment that could back feed the grid?
• Traffic control considerations – lane closures needed, busy roadways, county and state requirements
• Permits and any special requirements the customer or city may have

To summarize, there are several things to consider before a designer can actually begin working on a project. We hope to maintain a safe environment before we even begin. That’s what Safety First means and that is how we approach safety at Xcel Energy.


Erica Fink is Public Safety Coordinator for Xcel Energy, Inc. She can be reached at Erica.Fink@xcelenergy.com. Tim Rossbach and Kelsey Loomis, designers with Xcel
Energy, contributed to this article as well.

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