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October is ‘Safe Work’ month in Australia. We’re heading Down Under with special guest Cookie, an award-winning powerline safety expert from Queensland, Australia! In this episode, he illustrates the importance of powerline safety, the significance of ‘unintentional blindness’ and shares life saving tips in the event of a contact. Tune in to learn more about his innovative app ‘Look up and Live’ along with how your organization can proactively prepare for powerline risk..
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Real leaders leave a legacy. They capture the hearts and minds of their teams. Their origin story puts the safety and well-being of their people. First, great companies ubiquitously have safe yet productive operations. For those companies, safety is an investment, not a cost for the C-suite. It’s a real topic of daily focus. This is the safety Guru with your host, Eric Michrowski, a globally recognized Ops on safety guru, public speaker and author. Are you ready to leave a safety legacy? Your legacy success story begins now.
Hi and welcome to the safety Guru today. I’m very excited to have with me, none other than Cookie. And we’ll get to his name very soon. But he’s Australia’s health and safety professional. The year in 2020 out from Queensland, Australia an expert in powerline safety. So, I’m really looking forward to this conversation. So, Cookie, first, we’ve got to get into the name. How did you end up with that nickname?
Well, my given name is Glen Cook. So, in Australia were very good at giving people nicknames, but we weren’t real creative on this one. It just became a Cookie. My old band or my father was called Cookie as well. Very officially known as Cookie. So, yeah, just from schoolmate, from all my mates and everyone just started calling me Cookie in this role, it’s a very good name to sort of break them barriers very quickly with workers. Right. So, you’re instantly approachable.
Yeah, I absolutely agree. So, tell me a little bit about how you got into safety, but more specifically about power line safety.
I’ve been an electrician for over 30 years now. The bulk of my time was on the tools, climate pals, digging holes and putting power lines back up after natural disasters and storms and cyclones and stuff like that. So, I sort of fell into an Inspector role. So, I’m an Inspector as well. And I became a senior Inspector up in Fan of Queensland in Cans. And I sort of worked all over Queensland from Cans in North Queensland, right up to Thursday Island, which is in the Torah Straits in Queensland, all over Cape.
You all can even bit of time in Brisbane, like I never thought that I’d ever be in safety. No one likes a safety go. Here comes to safety guy. Look at, you know, it wasn’t where I thought I’d be at all. And then being a senior Inspector, I’ve done over 300 shock investigations as well. So, part of that role is investigated fatalities. But on top of that, I was also the first responder to numerous accidental contacts of power lines. So, my cross Korea sort of moved to Harvey Bay, which is sort of in South Queensland.
And I moved here. And within the first couple of months, I had another incident involving accidental contact with power lines. And, you know, I was employed as a leader here in Harvey Bay, and I got a phone call something’s going on down the road. And I just jumped in my vehicle straight away because all my guys are out working. And I thought I go and have a look myself. I started driving down the road, and then I could see a big commotion near an elevated work platform.
You know, the fires were there, the ambulance were there. I thought about myself because I knew straight away, I’ve gone. Someone’s contacted power lines. You know, I thought about myself, though I still sat for this day of self as you me. But you do think about yourself, right. And I’m like, why me again, I’m bet to see something that is not nice. And I instantly forgot about that because I looked to my left. And it’s the Harvey Bay High School. And it’s lunchtime. And there’s about 80 to 100 kids all lined up on the skill fence.
And they’ve seen a person accidentally electrocute himself operating an elevated work platform with he had a paint roller in his hand and got too close to eleven0 volt power lines and was instantly killed after he got too close. Like, on this particular day, he didn’t even touch that power line. He just got too close. And then for me, I’ve gone. Why don’t people understand, why don’t people in the construction industry, why don’t people in the agricultural sector understand how dangerous power lines can be if you get too close to them?
Right. And I sort of got found out on my business in this investigation because once I got interviewed by the investigators because not coming from this region is sort of well-known in my own patch up in Font of Queensland. But moving to a new area, people start asking these questions and they’ve gone, well, you know, you’ve got a lot of experience there. And I met my wife, boss, Aaron Smith, who basically has empowered me to do what I do today and sort of explain the job to me.
He’s like, you should come work for me. And I’m like, no, I’m not interested in safety. And he said, I started asking questions. I said, What’s the title of it? And he said, oh, community health and safety advisor. And I said, sounds like a condone at the hospital. Oh, you’re right. I’ll stick with what I’m doing, right. And then, yeah, he did explain a little bit more to me. And I went. Actually, I think this is an area where I could actually help people. Right. And, you know, it was nearly ten years ago to the day, it’s probably about ten years and six months since I sort of started this role.
And, you know, like I said, I never thought I’d be in safety, let alone win a national award in safety. So, yeah, it’s been an interesting journey to be, to be honest, Kudos and the award.
So, tell me a little bit about power line. Obviously, power lines, high voltage, very dangerous. But how come people have so often make contact with a power line or get close to it and go through that? Because, as you said, it’s not necessarily making contact. Sometimes it’s just getting close to it.
Yeah, that’s right. I mean, when I first started this role, I’m looking at it from a very on a power industry employee. Right. And I was looking at it like people are just silly. How can they not see the power lines? And are they just working too close? And that’s what I was thinking. Like, people are just taking risks. I quickly found out that it’s just not the case. So, when I first started the role, I realized that I had to take off my power line employee had and start thinking about it from a worker perspective.
So, once I started looking at all the stats, and I quickly realized that 90% of these incidents are all workers. So, their workers in the construction and agricultural industry primarily. Right. The other are normally just people cutting trees in their front yard or stuff like that. So, I started looking at it and talking to just, you know, putting myself in that situation. Like, for instance, I knew nothing about the cotton industry and Cotton’s. A very big industry in southwest Queensland coming from North Queensland, knew a lot about can, the cane industry.
But I didn’t know cotton. I basically went to one of our cotton regions, one of the local depots. So, I don’t want to know about more about the cotton industry. And he introduced me to a cotton farmer. And I went on the farm for a day, and he showed me his whole operation and the height of the machines and what they were up against. And I’ve just gone and quickly realize that people simply do not see the power on to the stories that I’ve heard in the last ten years.
People have got a very similar story. Every time I say to people say what happened on that particular day, and they say, Cookie, I wanted percent knew the power lines there. I just didn’t see it and doing lots of training and that in human factors over the years, I’ve just gone, wow. All these trainings coming back to haunt me. And then I quickly realized it’s could be humans. And we got human fat.
And our eyes and our brain actually don’t work that well together. So that eyes and your brain aren’t, like the video camera on your phone, you simply will not pick up everything in your sphere of vision. So being able to explain that to people when I jump up in front of an audience and helping people understand that they’ve got these human factors and they actually don’t see power lines. It’s just powerful. Right. And I term at inattentional blindness. So, I sort of did a bit of research on Google and there’s lots of different teams that people use for it.
I explained it as an inattentional blindness because I’ve met a few pilots and they do lots of work, inattentional blindness and human face. And they sort of term inattentional blindness. So, I sort of grabbed on to that term just to try and explain it to people. Having understood why people are hitting power lines. So, I always ask people who said, so when you strove here this morning before I’m doing my talk, I say, how many power lines did you see? And people look around the room and they go, how does Cookie?
No, I didn’t see any power lines. And I go, well, you know, you don’t see them, but I drive around and I look at them all day. I get in trouble. When we go on holidays, I’ll be looking at power lines. And my wife and kids began days. Look at power lines again. I’m like, I might be a little bit weird, I suppose, but that’s the industry. I mean, I see them, but normal people don’t because your brain has actually trained you to your brain’s constantly trying to conserve energy and your brains gone.
You don’t need to worry about their power lines. They’re out of your reach. So, power lines are designed to be out of your normal everyday reach. And you’re normal everyday lives. Driving to and from work, going to get the kids from school, going to get shopping. But when you start work and you’ve got a ladder, you’ve got an elevator, work platform, you’ve got an excavator on the back of the truck, you’re using an excavator. All these things are very high and have got the, you know, the risk of actually contacting overhead power lines.
And then the further I got into it, then you realize that nobody understands how electricity works or the basic theory of electricity and what to do in an emergency, because that was the other thing that I found straight away in this role was the fatalities that I was seeing was people hit a power line. Then they panic and try and get out of the vehicle.
So, they’re the things that I promote my talks is my personal experience and why I got into safety and how become an expert. So, people then go, oh, cookies, the expert a bit listener who you’re talking about and talk about the legislation and why we have exclusion zones and why there’s laws to work around, Pallone, because if you hit them, you’re going to come off second best. But then also the basics on electricity, so as to people knowledge is the best defense when it comes to electrical safety and particularly Parello safety.
Because if you understand how electricity works and if you stay in the vehicle, you’ll be safe. You won’t get hurt. Talk to people all over Queensland, Australia, mostly in New Zealand, and I’ll be in Outback pub somewhere, having a meal at night after I’ve spoken to a group and I’ve got me look up and live shirt on and people come to me and say, what do you do? And then you say, I’m in Parel on safety and they go, oh, yeah. I know how that works.
You jump out and you shuffle away and they get it all wrong. Right. And I said you’ve missed the point that the most important point is to actually stay right. You’re more likely to win the Lotto or then actually hit a power line and have to escape. Right. So hopefully all the technology works and the power trips off or turns off. And if you just stay in the vehicle, you’re safe. But you don’t know whether it’s on or off. So, I always just push the fact that it’s staying the vehicle you call emergency and you wait for help.
If that takes 4 hours, you’re still going to be alive. Right. So, I’ve just seen too many people where you get into that fight or flight back to the cave man days. If you actually have that knowledge, knowledge is the best defense. If you’ve got the knowledge and you understand that you’re like a bird on a wire because the machines made of metal and metals are better conductive than the human body. You’re like, it’s going to go through the middle first. So just stay there so that’s the crux of what I try and communicate to my clients and people in my sessions is then if you understand how it works, it can save your life.
So, understanding why we actually make mistakes because we’re humans. Right.
One of the things that I remember when we first connected that really struck me. As you talked about. I believe the exact number was 25 times more likely to hit an overhead wire versus an underground. The call before you dig, can you double click on this? Because that’s a shocking difference. Same electrical circumstance. But why is it there’s more risk on the overhead versus underground?
I look at it comes back to the intentional blindness again. Right. So, I have been doing this for a number of years, and I sat down for a beer one afternoon with my boss and we’re hardly in the same spot at the same time. So, we’ve been together for the day and we had a feed and a beer. And I said to him, might we be missing the Mark when it comes to, you know, the overhead power on safety because we do these talks. But at the end, we don’t have a tool for people to actually plan works the power lines.
And I said to him, I’ve looked at the stats. We have one undergrad power line incident to 25 overheads. You know, it’s a huge difference. And I said the reason why people are hitting the overhead stuff is because of an intentional blindness. But the reason why we don’t hit underground power lines is people are about to dig and they go. Well, I can’t see that underground power lines. So, we do in Australia, we call it do before you dig to then you get the dog before you dig up and try and get a plan.
It is the start of a very simple plan. So, you’re already less likely to hit an underground power line or gas or communications already by just starting that very simple plan. Whereas with overhead, businesses rely on operators and machinery and workers to actually see the overhead infrastructure. And as we’ll set at the start, they simply don’t. So, we’re setting people and workers up to fail because they turn up on-site and look. 99% of these are all males as well. So, males just want to get their job done.
Let’s just jump in and, you know, way we go. And you just absolutely do not see the overhead infrastructure. So, I said, you know, we need a way to help people plan their work, their overhead power lines. And I think that’s where you get into is we developed a Lookup and Live app. So, a lookup and live com. Also, in the app stores, you’ll find the Lookup and Live app, which basically maps every power on in Queensland, New SAP, Whales, and South Australia at the moment.
And we’re also talking to all the other States to see whether they want to join in New Zealand. And I’ve also spoken to some of the guys in Canada as well about joining the Look Up and Live app to basically overlay power lines onto a Google map. So, it allows people to just start that plan from a project that’s nine months out or twelve months out. What’s there? Okay. There are some high voltage power lines that are going to be the way for our unit development, or, you know, whatever it is on a farm like we’ve got a harvest, we’ve got a plan.
What is the plan to work around this overhead power on and being able to put that plan in place reduces the risk of hitting an overhead powered on? We have managed to reduce a few of the incidents. So, since we’ve implemented it in 2017 as a trial with lots of different industries, we’ve reduced total contacts by 25%, and in particular in agricultural, we reduce the instance by and in in aviation. We reduced it by as well. So, it’s been a very successful tool to be honest.
And people are using it, which is great, but a simple concept.
But really at the end of the day, it sounds like I need to have a plan and really understand my hazards and be aware that the hazards may not be as visible as I thought. And if something goes wrong, understand how to manage the circumstances, which is really state put.
And that’s right. So, in the app, we’ve got all that emergency information as well. Right. And the other beauty of it is it’s a serve you type application so do before you dig in. Australia is very much okay. I want to excavate here and then all the members get sent your information and they will send it back bit by bit. Normally it’s in a schematic, right. But whereas with the overhead stuff, people are after different information. So, looking at it on a desktop or a laptop or even using it on your phone together the next job, for example, I know a lot of crane companies are using this, so they type in their address for the next job.
They have a look on their phone and they go, oh, yeah, there’s power lines there. So, when they’re on the way, they’re thinking about it. Once they turn up at the construction site, for example, their brain is now going, oh, you’ve seen that on your phone and then it’s identifying all the hazards. Like I said, because it’s images, right? We’re humans. We love images. Right? We want to correlate and make sense of things. So, once you’ve looked at it on your phone, you turn up on site, you go, oh, yeah, that’s the line I’ve seen that was eleven 0 volt and the exclusion zone is 3 meters.
Because I’ve seen that on my phone. And the phone also told me that I will look up and live app has told me that I need a safety observer to safely work there. So, I’m going to ring the construction company and ask him where the safety observer is because he needs to watch me work to make sure we don’t. It just allows people to put those control measures in place.
So, it makes sense in a large organization you can do. Training can create more awareness. But some of the work that you’re talking about is also done by very small organizations. Like when you’re talking about some of the vegetation management, cutting out trees, some of these large companies, but I’m assuming some are quite small. How do you get that message through? How do you get leaders to make sure they put the right emphasis and awareness around it?
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It’s the face-to-face interaction, right. Like the world’s changed in the last two years. We all know, but really the face-to-face stuff when you’re able to stand in front of a group or stand in front of CEOs or managers and really get that point across that us humans make mistakes. Even the best of your workers can make a very simple mistake by not identifying that power on hazard because our own brains have trained us to go. Power lines are not an issue for you.
So having that really simple tool that’s in the palm of your hands on your phone, just by looking at the map on your phone, when you turn up on site, you’ve already reduced the risk of actually hitting an overhead power line. So, the message is so simple. Right. And the tool is very simple. So, I use a theory called Protection Motivation Theory, which I learned from communications professor called Sam Ham. He sorts of explained it to me, and I went, oh, yeah, that’s a good idea.
And then I showed him some of the stuff. How I communicate with people goes, Cookie, you already doing it. So, you didn’t know about the theory, but this is what you’re doing. And with safety, you really need to have that element of fear. So, number one, you need to understand how dangerous power lines actually are if you get too close. So, telling people about parking, and if you get too close in an arc, an arc is nearly 300 degrees Celsius.
I’ll say it again. 300 in an in. Right. So, I just had a cup of coffee before. It’s like 70 to 80 degrees. And if I split it into my lap, it’s going to burn me rockfall 300 in an instant, just a tremendous release of energy at one point in time. So being able to sort of show that even a still ad with an arc coming from a power line to a machine, for example. And it could be anything from an agricultural machine, a crane to an excavator tip truck.
You know, showing that type of stuff makes people interested because it shows a bit of fear. Then you need to have that feeling of self-worth getting back to your family. But to make an ad work or that communication method work, it needs a really simple way to change your behavior. And that’s why the Lookup and Live app is absolutely working because you’ve got it on your phone and you can easily find it a lookup and live com. So, save it to your home screen or download the app.
You’ve got it there. You just look at it on your phone and you’re instantly identifying the hazards. And that changes your behavior. And for listeners in Europe or the US or Canada, you mentioned Canada potentially coming on to the app as well. Is there something similar to help visualize where the lines are?
Look, I’m sure there’s others out there that are using this are technology that we’re using. I’ve seen lots of similar products. I haven’t really seen anything, I suppose, similar as what we’re doing where we managed to, you know, get other distributors to actually start working together. And that’s the beauty of this product is if you can find it all at one location, like, even if you’ve got your own product off to the side that you can communicate to your customers. I suppose your own way if you want to do it.
But once the data is made public, if we all share it onto one application such as Lookup and Live. Com, you Zoom town to your part of the world. And once you click on that power line, it tells you who owns it. So, if you click on it in Queensland, you might find that argon or energy on it. If you go to New South Wales, you might find a company called Essential Energy owns it. If you went to sketch on, I always have trouble with that name.
If you click on it as far, it might tell you that. Yeah, it might. Sax Power owns it, right. So, it tells you who owns it and how to find out their safety information. So that’s the beauty of it. So, the more people make their data public, the more we can add to this. I see it as an international damage protection tool. And the beauty of it, it doesn’t cost that much to operate wrong. I had no budget to build this app, right. I just went to two very smart individuals called Matt Piper and Thorston Horse in your business and said, I’ve got this idea.
I want to overlay all our power lines onto a map and they went away and built it and brought it back. So, what’s this? Look. I said, that’s perfect. I was like, this is awesome. And then, you know, basically took it to, like, I’m an advocate for all these industries that outside of our Power on distribution company. And I’ve got all these contacts within agriculture and construction and all I said, look, we’ve built this. Do you think this would be of assistance and everyone’s gone? This is great.
And like I said, when I do a talk and I go through all the stuff I said before and I get to look up and live part. And I said, look, I know I said at the start we’ve got all these dangers and all the rest of it. But here’s the tool to help you safely work. And when I finish the talk, people just come up to me and go, that’s amazing. Thanks for putting so much effort into this. And you can see your passion and obviously for it.
And people are just gone. This is going to change the way I work. And I think you’ve saved my life because I’ve worked close to power lines. And you’re 100% right. I haven’t seen power lines before. I’ve had so many close calls, and, you know, it’s just it’s working and it’s because it’s so easy. You know, we don’t have to make things long and complicated and make it into a full risk assessment. For example, this is just a simple hazard Identifier for power ones.
Make it visible.
And yeah, and I’ve got no doubt that this is state lives, no doubt.
Well, you had the stats before. It’s similar to the call before you dig. That is not operating normally by one company. It’s one number that you call from wherever to understand what are my hazards.
That’s right. And the beauty of it. You mentioned it before. It works for one man band or, you know, multinational company. Right. So, if someone wants to do some work in Australia and they’re based in Malaysia, they can look up the power on infrastructure in Queensland, on sales and have a plan before they even start. So, once they’ve won, that tended to do the work, they can start planning already for the power ones and contact the power one company to other underground them or remove them. If that’s the plan, or for a farmer we in Australia, there’s a new innovation called a rotor marker.
So, it’s a spinning red and white marker that gets attached to power lines. And it’s really working for the agricultural and construction, in particular, the aviation industry, because this new marker is very visible. It’s basically red and white and it spins. So, when something is spinning on a power line or moving, it absolutely negates the inattentional blindness, because what our eyes and our brains do like is movement. So, it’s back to the cave man days again. So, something that’s in your peripheral vision and it moves, your brain goes, that is interesting and you look at it.
So, these Rotor markers, these red and right spinning markers are making a huge difference in these industries once they’re installed. So, if someone does the lookup and live out comes up with a plan, part of that plan is to identify the power lines and Mark them because, for example, they don’t have enough money to move them.
So, it’s an admin control. But it’s a really effective admin control, because what it does is change. Firstly, the operator or the worker will identify that the power lines are near right. But it changes their behavior because once they’ve identified it, they go all power lines. I’m going to lower everything down to the lowest point, or I’m not going over there anymore, or I’m going to get the safety observer to come and watch me operate. Well, I can safely be there. And these two tools to look up and live tool in the rotor marker have actually come out at a very similar time.
So, I put the success that we’ve had down to these two products. The rotor Mark is still gaining legs, as is the look up and live tool. But I see moving forward these two things being very practical way to negate power line safety. And they’re very cheap, like they’re only about $100 each. And you don’t need multiple markers on par lines. You just need one every around 50 meters and your eye will set. And like for aviation in particular, pilots can see them from over a kilometer away.
So, you know, gives them, you know, six times more time to react. For aerial applicators coming in spraying crops, they’ve got six more times to react if they’ve missed where the power line is, for example. So that’s part of the reason why we’ve seen a reduction in the aviation industry as well, but just giving people that ability to plan plus those rotor markers. Yeah. And like I said, it’s the movement factor. So still or static balls that we use to Mark power lines, the smaller balls, in particular, the ones that are about four or 300 mills.
They’re really hard to see, and you can only see from about five to 600 meters, whereas those rider markets because they’re spinning every Kilmer. So, it’s just another tool that we’ve got an Arsenal to try and stop accidental context. Yeah.
I really appreciate your passion for an important topic like this where unfortunately, there’s too many fatalities, too many people that get into harm’s way. And the effect of, like you said, an arc flash. If you survive, it can be very, very lasting scars and burns as well. So, I really appreciate you sharing all of this at the end of the day. If I summarize it’s, create a plan, be aware of it, whether it’s through markers, looking in teams of an app, but making sure workers really understand where those bar lines are and then also understanding how to respond.
Understanding an arc flash, understanding a safe distance away from the lines. And if you do end up how to basically stay. But is that correct?
Hey, Mike, you hit the nail on the head there, Mike. Good.
Thank you so much. And thank you for as well. Building that up. They look up to live. If you’re in Australia, New Zealand, you can download that tool and hopefully it will come up as well in other parts of the world, because I think it’s a great concept to create awareness. Create one platform where people can see where their hazards are.
You can download it anywhere in the world. It just doesn’t have a little power on it. Not on it yet. So, if you want to check it out, just go to the app store and search, look up and live. You’ll be able to find it. Yeah. If anyone wants to contact me more than happy to talk about pay line safety. And if you want to add your data to the map, this just to have a chat, it doesn’t cost a link.
It’s a simple data share arrangement. Excellent.
Well, thank you so much, Cookie. I really appreciate you coming on to the show, sharing examples of stories, some tips, but also in terms of building some tools that are having meaningful impact in terms of saving lives.
No worries, Eric. Thanks.
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ABOUT THE GUEST
Glen Cook (Cookie), is an experienced and Passionate Powerline Safety Specialist based in Australia. Cookie is extremely passionate about raising powerline safety awareness and was the 2020 Australian Health and safety professional of the year. Working as an electrician for over 30 years within the construction and utilities industries he has been first responder to serious injury/burns and fatalities due to accidental contact with powerlines. Cookie is the driving force behind the award winning lookupandlive.com app that is assisting workers plan work near powerlines.
Glen Cook – Community Safety Specialist