In August of 2011, electrician Brandon Schroeder had a choice.
In his mind, he was choosing between doing something the safe way, or doing it the long way. Unfortunately, his choice caused an arc flash that left him badly burned and changed his life forever.
“I’ll never forget that transformer making this loud buzzing and humming sound. And I’m rolling away from this thing is fast as I could. I stood up and the grass around me is all on fire. There’s a mushroom cloud of black smoke. It shook a building a block away, and I’m standing right in front of it.”
“I mean, I’m luckier than the guy who won the lottery to be able to tell my story.”
A Life-Altering Choice
On this seemingly unremarkable day in August, Brandon lent his arc flash suit to a coworker. Which meant he didn’t have one to wear. His company only had 10 arc flash suits for about 60 electricians.
He had to choose between working without PPE, or asking the contractor to shut down a panel and slightly delaying the task.
Workers on every job site in the world do something similar every single day, without incident. They do something “a little bit” unsafe to save a little bit of time. Most of the time, they get away with it. Brandon was not so lucky.
An arc flash is hotter than the surface of the sun (about 35,000 degrees Fahrenheit) and moves at about 700/mph. This arc flash happened 18 inches away from Brandon’s face.
He survived a blast that shook neighboring buildings and melted the metal in the access panel. Although he was lucky to be alive, he didn’t feel lucky.
When he saw his badly burned face for the first time at the hospital, he immediately told his wife, “Just leave.” He was left disfigured and depressed, and he didn’t see how he could ever be the husband or father he once was.
After much angst, Brandon made a heroic recovery. He even turned his tragedy into his new calling, a safety advocate and motivational speaker for his own company, Believe in Safety.
He chose to be a safety leader instead of just a safety statistic.
What the Average Electrician
Probably Thinks About Safety
You would think having years of experience (like Brandon did) would make you a safer employee. But, tragically, that’s not the case.
Experienced workers take shortcuts every day. They get very good at these shortcuts and build full confidence in thinking what they’re doing is OK. Consequently, other people around them witness these unsafe behaviors, which leads them to think they can get away with it too.
“I knew that day that I was breaking safety rules. And I knew what I did, it was dangerous. But relying on previous experience, that’s what told me I could do this,” said Brandon.
“I relied on previous experience to try to get the job done. And I think that there are a lot of electricians out there with the same mindset that I used to have. I know what I’m doing, I’ve been doing this for years and I’m not going to make a mistake.”
Brandon did not enter an electrical workforce that took safety seriously, as an apprentice in 1997. He’s described the mentality around the safety culture back then as, “Get the job done efficiently.” This points to a widely-believed misconception in the 90s that safety took too much time.
Brandon now knows better. He has made it his mission to show other companies the truth about safety. But he still runs into the same misconception every day, particularly with smaller companies who don’t think they can afford to make safety a priority.
“Most guys have a mentality, ‘I’ve got to get this job done.’ Now, I am not saying that is the mentality 100% of the time, but I’m used to working with contractors that have 100 men or less,” said Brandon.
“I’m talking about the average electrical contractor out there. These guys are going to get the thing done. So that’s why I want people to be protected from the time they get out of their truck, until the time they go home.”
A Reluctant Leader
Incredible things happen when people turn the depression from a tragedy into inspiration. Brandon is living proof.
He now tells his story to everyone from major companies, to electricians with a small crew. At first, he didn’t want to tell his story. Brandon now sees the difference he is making, and telling his story is all he wants to do.
“Who wants to get up and talk in front of a bunch of people? Talk about how they blew up a piece of equipment and almost killed himself, over and over and over again. It wasn’t something that I wanted to do.”
“That first presentation I gave was one of the hardest things that I’ve ever had to do. But I decided if I could help one person avoid an accident like mine, and stop their families from going through what mine went through, then it’s worth it.”
Brandon has generously agreed to share his story with us at NXT 2018 as a featured speaker. If you would like more, click here to learn more about NXT 2018 in Scottsdale, AZ, September 27-28.