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  • Thomas Arnold

Confusion kills.



Confusion is often at or near the root cause of almost every serious incident we have investigated. Perhaps there is ambiguity regarding the job objective, the steps involved, the primary hazards, the mitigations, or the roles of individual crew members. As safety observers, we may or may not be there for the actual pre-job briefing or tailboard. However, one way for us to confirm clarity is to ensure those involved have all the relevant information and documentation on-site and available.

Our Critical Observable Action (COA) is:

The crew has a thorough tailboard and documentation onsite and available.

Following are some additional questions our observers ask to confirm clarity:


Does the tailboard thoroughly and clearly communicate the job objective?


We want to make sure the tailboard is very specific about what the crew intends to accomplish that day. The more detail we find, the more comfortable we are. We prefer not to see industry-specific lingo in that we want to ensure that the broadest possible audience understands the scope. In addition, we would expect to see the steps involved to accomplish the job objective. If the scope changes significantly, we would expect the crew to re-brief the job, and thus to have created a new tailboard document, or at least to amend the existing one.


Does the tailboard cover the Primary Hazards of the job?


Primary Hazards are those hazards that, if left unmitigated, could lead to significant injury or fatality.


When we first arrive on a job site, our observers take a moment to identify the Primary Hazards. We typically start with the following:


  • Fall from Heights / Dropped Objects

  • Vehicles and Equipment

  • Electrical Contact / Arc Flash

  • Suspended Loads

  • Struck By

  • Atmosphere

  • Excavation


There are no doubt many other Primary Hazards, but this list has served as a good starting point for the majority of the utility worksites we have observed over the years.


Has everyone signed the tailboard?


It is vitally important that everyone on the job site has read and signed the tailboard. One quick way to determine this is by simply counting the people working and comparing that to how many people signed the tailboard. If there is a discrepancy, we ask the foreman.


Are additional required documents (beyond the tailboard) accessible and completed correctly?


Depending upon the complexity of the job, several documents in addition to the tailboard may be required to help confirm clarity. Additional documents may include:

  • Traffic control plan

  • Congested Area Plan (Helicopters)

  • Circuit Map (if required)

  • Lift Plan (cranes and suspended loads)

  • Grounding plan


Does the tailboard include their Emergency Action Plan (EAP)?


We will discuss Emergency Action Plans in more detail in a future post. Our observers look for precise information as to what the crew plans to do should something go terribly wrong. Information we would consider vital would include the worksite address and the nearest medical facility. We would also confirm a rescue plan relevant to the work at hand, necessary rescue equipment, and qualified personnel required to execute the plan.


Is the crew documentation immediately accessible?


Some crews use electronic tailboards, others use paper. Either way, the information must be readily accessible when you ask. Some tailboards will post essential information (including their EAP) on the side of their truck. The foreman should not have to dig through his truck tp produce his or her documents.


While confusion is not the only Primary Hazard that must be addressed on every worksite, we would suggest it is the first one.


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