May is Meant for Celebrating Spring and Safety

by Jan Niehaus

With contractor projects kicking off and distributor revenue edging up, May is the perfect time for safety reminders.

Fortunately, May just happens to be national Electrical Safety Month, an event and campaign sponsored by the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI). And Safety Week (May 3-9) is promoted by the Construction Industry Safety Initiative and the Incident and Injury Free CEO Forum. They note on their website: “Every year, more than 80,000 workers suffer an injury on construction job sites across the U.S.” They recognize Friday, May 8 as National Employee Safety Appreciation Day.

Within the construction trades, safety is championed by hundreds of local organizations in myriad ways. For example: The Independent Electrical Contractors (IEC) Chesapeake chapter co-sponsored the Annual Safety Fest on April 16th, offering 20 classes in an eight-hour day plus exhibits and networking. “The Safety Fest sold out again this year, with more than 120 attendees,” said Grant Shmelzer, executive director of the IEC-Chesapeake chapter, “The state and federal requirements are constantly changing. The NFPA [National Fire Protection Association] 70E guidelines on arc flash are just one example. Our members need to know this.”

So, what are electrical distributors doing to promote customers’ safety and safety inside their own companies? What are you doing? Opportunities abound:

  • Sell safety products.
  • Train customer employees on safety regulations and compliance.
  • Train customers on the safe use of tools and how to safely complete certain high- risk tasks.
  • Provide safety refresher training to own warehouse employees and drivers.
  • Train employees in first aid, CPR, and AED.
  • Inventory and remove hazards at all branches and headquarters.
  • Initiate action to identify counterfeit products and keep them out of circulation.
  • Integrate safety awareness into routines and company culture.

Interestingly, all these opportunities can generate revenue; build vendor and customer relationships; and lower operating expense, e.g., insurance premiums, absenteeism, lower productivity. Some initiatives can do all three!

For Friedman Electric Supply, an Exeter, Pennsylvania-based division of Sonepar, safety has long been a priority. “The safety of our customers and employees is a top goal for us,” said Courtney Shatrowskas, marketing manager.

Let’s count the ways.


  • The Friedman Safety Committee, which meets monthly, includes Shatrowskas, the HR manager, lighting design director, business development manager, cost manager, counter associate, inside sales associate, and Rich Potero, the company president.
  • Every month, the Safety Committee emails safety tips to all employees, e.g., handwashing for all employees, how to properly pick up a box for warehouse and delivery associates.
  • Safety is a fixed topic on the agenda for daily pre-shift meetings at the main warehouse.
  • Branch managers routinely inspect their facilities, following a standardized checklist, e.g., up-to-date fire extinguishers.
  • Biannual fire drills ensure that employees can safely evacuate in an emergency.
  • Online safety training programs are always available.


  • Friedman publishes a special safety products catalog, including Personal Protection Equipment (PPE), ladder accessories, lockout devices, and more.
  • In collaboration with their vendors, Friedman conducts monthly training classes, some heavily hands-on, at various locations: customer offices, jobsites, Friedman headquarters, and branches.
  • The Tool, Safety, and Hardware division head also leads specific training sessions, e.g., confined space rescue.
  • Many courses are free, while fees are typically associated with classes that provide CEUs.
  • Courses include arc flash, lockout-/tagout, safety clothing, ergonomics, fire rig structure and fire stop procedures, fall prevention, confined space rescue, proper use and disposal of chemicals, OSHA guidelines, generator installation, electrical meter safety and standards for category ratings, safe use of power tools, ladder and scaffolding safety.

“The most popular classes are arc flash, lockout/tagout, ladder safety, and PPE. We also provide free ladder inspections and safety audits targeting OSHA compliance,” Shatrowskas said.

Many electrical distributors partner with other organizations, much as Friedman partners with vendors. The IEC-Chesapeake chapter, for example, collaborated on the Safety Fest with Preferred Insurance Services, Inc. and the event’s primary sponsor Safety Environmental Engineering (SEE, Inc.), which provides safety training programs and contract safety officers to contractors that don’t have an in-house safety officer but need one for a specific building project. Electrical distributors provided trainers and PPE products to exhibit and demonstrate. “They also promoted the Safety Fest to their customers,” Shmelzer added.

ESFI President Brett Brenner expressed ESFI’s gratitude to WESCO Distribution for their assistance producing two workplace safety programs “Never Assume” and “How Do You Know?

In most companies and on most job sites, safety hazards are all too common. Fortunately, addressing them is always a win-win-win. You can boost revenue and reduce operating costs, while forging stronger vendor and customer partnerships. And with a little creativity, some safety initiatives could even increase employee morale.

For example, by challenging branches or departments to identify and remove safety risks (e.g., a tree root pushing up the sidewalk, loose tile, improperly stored chemicals, a sharp edge on an endcap shelf) and rewarding the team with the keenest observers, you not only eliminate workplace hazards, but also you foster teamwork and build a stronger safety awareness culture.

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