California's ENG Safety Proposal: Good Government

May 2000 was the worst month for ENG safety. On May 2 a three-person crew from Fox's WTTG-TV had an accident in Alexandria, VA. On May 22 a two-person crew from L.A.'s KABC had a collision, and on May 27 a crew member from KGAN in Cedar Rapids grounded a 115,000-volt power line. The Virginia, California, and Iowa accidents were only the second of their kind in their states; the Alexandria accident the second of its type in the Washington, DC market.

After the L.A. accident, KABCâs owner, ABC, and the California broadcast unions teamed up to investigate what underlying safety issues caused the accident in the first place. They were determined to prevent similar accidents from happening.

Over the next year, broadcast union members, 40,000 strong, grouped together to create proposals for laws that would require employers to inspect trucks for safety defects and create other definitions for the safe operation of ENG trucks. The result of those efforts helped spring California lawmakers into action.

ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, other broadcasters, truck integrators, and electric utility representatives attended advisory board hearings in the summer of 2001 with engineers from the California Occupational Safety Standards Board. In those hearings, specific language was approved to allow ENG truck operators to work under job performance-sensitive safety guidelines. (A subcommittee was later formed for further refinements.) The attitude of broadcast management was very supportive and constructive. The integrators seemed grateful too, as they tend to be the ones left holding the product liability "bag" in court but still have to sell the trucks on a competitive basis. To utility people, promoting safe practices around power lines goes back to the days when power grids were being constructed in the late 1800s. At that time, one of every two linemen was killed on the job. Concern about this led to the formation of the National Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

The hundreds of hours dedicated by all sides of the broadcast industry produced a model which, when fully implemented, will have a profound effect throughout America, and maybe in other countries. It will provide definitions, education, training, and periodic equipment safety inspection protocols. Once written into law, penalties for violations will further define the standards. Compliance increases the overall level of professionalism. It will also protect companies from costly liability issues, as it seems that the amount of available cash dictates the amount of any ãaward.ä (The death or injury to a non-employee, or worse, a calamity in a Y2K celebration-type crowd, has been a dodged bullet up to now.)

Integrators, most of whom have done a great job implementing safety devices and strategies, may see safety guidelines taught to every employee through the life of the product. In all, it can be a win-win situation, perhaps the beginning of a time where operators will not be crippled, killed, or simply frightened out of their wits, or their careers, because of lack of education or training.

On May 16, 2002, the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board met in San Diego. This Board consisted of those who could actually ink the proposed language into law. According to many observers, the two years in which the issue has gone from accident to probable legislation has been "light speed." Some late corporate input may lead to some language modifications, and another hearing may take place, but itâs all in the right direction. ENG will never be the same again, and that is the intent of all involved.

Are the proposed standards a product of good government? Maybe KABC's accident survivor Adrienne Alpert said it best. She literally lost an arm and a leg in her accident. Her quote in the LA Times on May 16 was a somber portrait of the frustration and conflict felt by a litigation-pending accident victim:"I can't talk about it, I wouldn't want to shoot myself in the foot÷I only have one." Given that one single party cannot do it all by itself, the Standards Board got all of the parties together. Now the industry is closer to some positive resolve. Iâd say itâs great government.

See the proposed standards on the Web at: OSHSB/electronicnewsgathering0.html

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ENG Safety Memo