Communicating Hazards Using a Pre-Job Brief

Paul Chamberlain, American Electrical Testing Co., LLC Columns, Safety Corner, Summer 2023 Columns

Protection from hazards always begins with proper prior planning. An important aid to planning a job correctly and thoroughly includes using a tool known throughout the industry as a pre-job brief (PJB). These tools are commonly used at tailboards or tailboard meetings in construction parlance, but no matter what they are called, they are all designed to help you do the same thing: Identify the relevant hazards and communicate them to other workers on the job while creating and documenting your PJB. Accurate, concise, and understood communication is key. 

Per the updated requirements in the 2021 edition of NFPA 70E, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace, Article 110.1(I) states the following in regard to a pre-job briefing:

Before starting each job that involves exposure to electrical hazards, the employee in charge shall complete a job safety plan and conduct a job briefing with the employees involved.

  1. Job Safety Planning. The job safety plan shall be in accordance with the following:
    • (1) Be completed by a qualified person
    • (2) Be documented
    • (3) Include the following information:
      • a. A description of the job and the individual tasks
      • b. Identification of the electrical hazards associated with each task
      • c. A shock risk assessment in accordance with 130.4 for tasks involving a shock hazard
      • d. An arc flash risk assessment in accordance with 130.5 for tasks involving an arc flash hazard
      • e. Work procedures involved, special precautions, and energy source controls
  2. Job Briefing. The job briefing shall cover the job safety plan and the information on the energized electrical work permit if a permit is required.
  3. Change in Scope. Additional job safety planning and job briefings shall be held if changes occur during the course of the work that might affect the safety of employees.

NFPA even goes so far as to include a sample job briefing and job safety planning checklist under Informative Annex I. Although using this specific form is not required, a similar form should be created to help the employee identify and mitigate the potential hazards. 

OSHA REQUIREMENTS

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), under 29 CFR 1910.269, Electric Power Generation, Transmission, and Distribution Standard, provides a requirement for conducting a PJB. 

OSHA 1910.269(c)(1)(i): 

In assigning an employee or a group of employees to perform a job, the employer shall provide the employee in charge of the job with all available information that relates to the determination of existing characteristics and conditions. 

1910.269(c)(1)(ii):

The employer shall ensure that the employee in charge conducts a job briefing that meets paragraphs (c)(2), (c)(3), and (c)(4) of this section with the employees involved before they start each job.

OSHA also requires the PJB to cover:

…hazards associated with the job, work procedures involved, special precautions, energy-source controls, and personal protective equipment requirements.

Additional PJBs may be required during the day should the task or workplace location change significantly enough to change the hazards involved in performing the work. Ensure that all workers who may be impacted by the change are notified of the changes by communicating those changes during a review of the new PJB. 

The more hazards that may be present to the task performers, the more detailed the PJB should be. Additionally, more extensive PJBs may be necessary for inexperienced employees. The only time a PJB DOES NOT need to be conducted, per OSHA 1910.269(C)(5), is if that employee will be working alone:

However, the employer shall ensure that the tasks to be performed are planned as if a briefing were required.

On OSHA’s website under eTools, it is suggested that a checklist be used to facilitate the PJB: 

Keeping a written record of job briefings is not specifically covered by the standard, but it is a best practice to do so. A written checklist can include the hazards, procedures, precautions, and PPE requirements associated with a job, as well as a column for employee signatures indicating they are knowledgeable about job hazards and safety procedures. Such documentation can help ensure that proper briefings are held at the right times (for example, beginning of a shift) and that everyone has been informed. For an example checklist, see the Job Briefing and Planning Checklist in Annex I of the National Fire Protection Association’s NFPA 70E, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace. 

As can be seen in this quote, even OSHA refers back to the sample PJB in the NFPA 70E.

IDENTIFY AND MINIMIZE THE RISK

I have seen many versions and styles of PJBs. They come from utilities, large manufacturers, individual testing companies, and others. All of them are designed to do one thing, and they do it fairly well: They help the task performer(s) identify and minimize risks associated with the hazards of doing the task. Some PJBs focus strongly on physical hazards, others focus on task-specific procedures, and some help identify human-error traps. Since a PJB is designed to be a quick, and simple-to-use tool for the task performer, it is hard to develop a form that encapsulates all of those needs. The employer should be able to identify which hazards are greatest or are a more pressing need to address with the workforce and develop a PJB adequate to identify those hazards.

ELECTRICAL ENERGY

One item of concern that should be addressed on every PJB is the need to identify the means to prevent the inadvertent or unexpected release of electrical energy. Since that is one of the greater and most prevalent hazards within the testing industry, it is also a good idea to identify how it will be controlled, and the means of controlling it. Individual lock out/tag out, switching and tagging, live-line clearance, or the use of grounding should be indicated on the PJB. Additionally, it is a wise idea to provide a space within the form to indicate lock, or tag, or ground locations to ensure proper removal when the work is completed.

Addressing and indicating electrical shock and arc flash boundaries on the form is also advised. This will make it easier for performers to advise visitors to the work location about the various approach distances. The level and type of personal protective equipment (PPE) required to complete the task should also be indicated on the form.

CONDUCTING THE PRE-JOB BRIEFING

The crew leader, or the person who fills out a PJB form, must review all potential hazards with the performers of the task and give them ample opportunity to ask questions. A properly performed PJB should be a give-and-take discussion, not a dictation. The review of the PJB should be conducted with ALL personnel who may be affected by task performance, and with anyone else whose work may impact the task. This includes contractors, subcontractors, and peripheral workers on the job site. 

Once the review is complete, all persons attending the briefing should indicate their understanding of the knowledge transferred. It could be as simple as printing their name on the PJB itself, or the PJB could include a separate sign-in sheet. Remember, if the task or the job location significantly changes, a new PJB must be filled out and a new briefing performed, or the old PJB form must be amended and reviewed as necessary. Should a visitor arrive on-site, they should immediately be stopped from encroaching upon the work area, and the PJB should be discussed with them so they are apprised of the potential hazards on the job site.

SUMMARY

Identifying, mitigating, and communicating potential job hazards is important to prevent possible injuries or accidents. It is up to the employer to provide an adequate means of identifying and addressing those hazards. A PJB form is required in most cases and is an easy and effective means of identification and communication. The employer should ensure it is adequate for the tasks the employees will be performing, and the employee should USE the provided form to aid in the prevention of potential injuries. 

Should an employee have suggestions on improving the form, they should voice those suggestions to the employer. After all, it is the employee’s form to use.  

Paul Chamberlain has been the Safety Manager for American Electrical Testing Co. LLC since 2009. He has been in the safety field since 1998, working for various companies and in various industries. Paul received a BS from the Massachusetts Maritime Academy.