The Capacity Model® is bringing our lineworkers home safely
MATTHEW COMPHER, Vice President, Safety, Health, Environmental & Quality at Quanta
In any industry, the most important asset of a company is its people. But this is especially true in our industry as our lineworkers are responsible for so much—the American way of life. They keep our lights on and our electricity flowing. Linework, though, is a hazardous field, and every job comes with risks. Several years ago, on a late-night flight commuting home to Houston, our CEO, Duke Austin, challenged me. He said, “Matt, we cannot have our clients pulling us along. We need to be leading our clients, our customers, and the industry in safety.” I began consulting industry thought leaders, formed an expert team, and got to work thinking about how Quanta would lead the way.
During the last several decades, we have seen that injury and illness prevention programs have helped reduce the number of occupational injuries but have done little to reduce the number of life-ending workplace events. We needed a way to help our lineworkers anticipate possible hazards and be able to make mistakes safely on the job site so that their chances of becoming harmed—or worse—could be reduced if not eliminated entirely. In 2019, this thinking, in partnership with Northwest Lineman College (NLC), gave birth to The Capacity Model. We embarked on a journey to start thinking about safety differently with a vision of eliminating life-threatening, life-altering, and life-ending events.
At the core of The Capacity Model is a human and organizational performance philosophy, which recognizes the fact that error is normal, and people will make mistakes. That acknowledgment, along with the work we are doing to increase understanding of how people interact with their work environments, enables our crews to identify hazards more effectively and put in place targeted protections (controls) so that mistakes can be absorbed without major injury or death.
The Capacity Model is not a program or initiative but a different approach to how we plan, execute, and learn from work. This includes consistent identification of hazards and effectively controled exposure to those hazards to protect our employees, the environment, and the people in the communities in which we work.
The Capacity Model uses elements of the Energy Wheel (a hazard-identification tool that crews use to identify 10 hazard sources such as motion, gravity, mechanical, or electrical) and STKY (a term that helps lineworkers notice “stuff that kills you”) to help our workforce identify and describe the hazards that are life-threatening, life-altering, or life-ending. Once those hazards are identified, the crew will have STKY discussions about what to do “when” their work process or system fails (not “if,” because we know mistakes happen). The crew then determines the controls that need to be in place beforehand to prevent a catastrophic consequence.
Establishing these controls is critical to the success of this new approach. But doing so will take deliberate planning and training. Quanta’s corporate safety team, along with NLC, is working to provide various training courses on The Capacity Model. At the operating unit level, Quanta is integrating the concepts of hazards and controls into the day-to-day work practices like enhanced job briefings and JSA (job safety analysis) forms that include STKY and the Energy Wheel.
For decades, safety professionals have been taught that achieving zero incidents is possible. That is a noble aspiration but the reality is that mistakes happen. We cannot reasonably expect that incidents will never occur. However, with a focus on building the capacity to fail safely into our work, we can strive to eliminate stuff that can kill you.
Quanta’s expectation is that every operating unit adopt The Capacity Model so that, over time, it will simply be a part of how we do business. We are early in our integration across the company and each operating unit will be at a different place in their journey of understanding and application. That’s OK. Our main goal is to meet each part of our business where they are now and to support them in the journey going forward.
We have refocused on the need to spend more time with leadership, onboarding them with the foundational concepts, principles, and methods that make integration of The Capacity Model successful. While we continue to offer courses for management and crews at Quanta companies, each operating unit has at least one “TCM lead” who is responsible for championing the approach locally.
The concepts behind The Capacity Model aren’t new. In fact, many organizations around the world are moving in the same direction as this new way of thinking. But Quanta is leading the way in the construction industry, and we are receiving very positive feedback from our peers and industry associations alike. The entire approach is aimed at bringing our lineworkers home safely each and every day.
If you are interested in learning more about The Capacity Model, reach out to: [email protected].
The Handline Magazine
This story was originally published in Northwest Lineman College’s The Handline Magazine, Winter 2021 issue.