02 June 2006

Safety on the back burner

Today my foreman called me on the Nextel and told me that on the 14th floor, the welders needed a 50-amp breaker, and asked me to swap a 30-amp one out for it. I've done it a few times before so it wasn't an issue. I don't mind working on hot gear, and the panel is only 240 volts phase to phase, if I'm not mistaken. Apprentices in second to fourth years are allowed to work 250 volts, phase to phase. I'm a fourth year so...I grabbed John, my journeyman, and we took care of it.

About halfway through, my foreman calls me and asks, "Hey, what's your twenty?" I told him I was on the 14th floor, changing out the breaker from the south panel. He asked if I've got Little John with me. I said yes. There was a pause, and he asked, "Aren't you comfortable with doing that shit yet?" And I said, "Yeah, but the JATC mandates that apprentices can only work on hot gear if under the direct supervision of a journeyman." He said, "Yeah, ten-four." I was more than a little shocked. I mean, he's an instructor. He's taken NFP70-E and OSHA like the rest of us. He's heard how many our local has lost to on-site accidents while working hot circuits just in the past few years. I'm not all that experienced in this.

And what really upsets me is once, maybe a week or two ago, I changed out a breaker without a journeyman. I knew better but it was just real quick...famous last words, right? While in the panel I dropped the tip to my 10-in-1 screwdriver about thisclose the the busbar. And just for a split second I though, "Oh my God, it's going to arc." Luckily it didn't, and I was able to get things back in order but it really scared me. And later that day I said, "Look, I really don't feel comfortable working anything hot without a journeyman nearby." And he said no problem. And now this?

I don't know if he's stressed or what...I know he's missing a few guys from our crew and pressure is on to get generators going for the corporate center and the bowling alley, plus there's another OSHA inspection coming up, plus topping out is in a few weeks...but still, I'm not going to die for what I make an hour. It's not worth it. Nothing's worth that. It only took about 10 minutes to get up there and take care of the breaker.

Whatever...it just really seems that sometimes, once a journeyman takes on a crew of his own, things change. And not always for the best.

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