Arc Week Season 2, Ep. 5: Respect Your Environment – Swimming with Sharks and Working with Arcs

Tyndale presents Arc Week: a unique, week-long educational look at the world of arc flash hazards through the lens of Shark Week. Join Scott Margolin – our dedicated technical expert by day and passionate shark enthusiast in his free time – for engaging, memorable parallels that bring important lessons about risk protection and PPE to life.
Catch it all: Season 1,
Season 2, Season 3.

In this episode, our host Scott Margolin, Vice President of Technical, is on location in Jupiter, Florida, where he’s joined by arc flash experts Hugh Hoagland of ArcWear and Kinectrics, Rich Gojdics of Enespro PPE, and Jason Iannelli of the Electrical Training Alliance (ETA) and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). In total, this team has over 105 years of combined experience in the industry.

Why are they together in Jupiter, you ask? To show it’s possible to do something that seems inherently dangerous safely, IF you have appropriate hierarchy of controls – including behavioral safety, situational awareness, a top-quality service provider, and the right Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

As Hugh Hoagland joked, “don’t tell my wife until I’m home safely.” Or, more simply; “We’re either going to be back for lunch or we’re going to be lunch, one of the two.”

Rich Gojdics admits to feeling some fear of the unknown, “but we’re going to be prepared – have a safety talk, the right equipment, the right PPE, and it’s going to be a great day,” he said. As we’ll see, that makes all the difference.

Because they’re about to perform a potentially-hazardous task, the team starts by signing a waiver – much like a hot work permit.

Will they go through with it? Will they make it back onto the boat? What will they learn in the process? Tune in to find out:

So How Do We Do This Safely?

First, let’s reset our expectations. Unlike working energized, this is not as dangerous as it looks.

Sharks have been grossly misrepresented by movies and TV shows for decades. In reality, Sharks should be admired, not feared. Most sharks, most of the time, are actually cautious, deliberate, and predictable. In fact, our guide compared them to puppies but with bigger teeth. When it comes down to it, cows kill and injure more Americans each year than sharks do.

Though we’ve debunked these myths, there’s still a potential risk to acknowledge.

It all starts with training, situational awareness, and PPE – and a top quality guide. Our dive today is with Florida Shark Diving – the best at what they do. They’ve even worked with the Discovery TV network on Shark Week. The day gets underway:

  • Swimming with sharks, like working with arcs, begins with a safety briefing – where we learn about the hazards and the task ahead. Our guide goes over the dive profile – including a run-down of environmental conditions like those we examined in Episode 1, and hidden dangers we explored in Episode 2.
  • Next the team places the bait in the water and dons their gear and PPE. Check out the chart in Episode 1 for a breakdown on the PPE for different shark dives – and their arc counterparts.
  • Then, into the water they go!

Enter: Team Shark

The team encounters Silky Sharks, Bull Sharks, and Sandbar Sharks. Don’t miss the video above to see these amazing animals in action – the sharks, we mean! The other guys are okay too – get to know them better in the video above.

Just as we would try to avoid an arc hazard, the sharks make their own hazard assessments around one another and avoided the “higher voltage” species in attendance.

Florida Shark Diving Weighs In

Check out the video above to hear from the guide team.

  • For them, it’s all about safe and clear interactions with sharks – aimed at changing perspectives and sharing appreciation for these often misunderstood, mischaracterized animals.
  • For their part, the crew is always keeping their head on a swivel and assessing the hazards to keep everyone safe.

They Made It!

Back on the boat, the team celebrate a great experience, a job safely done, and talk about the dive.

“I was prepared to be really scared, but [when it came down to it] I was thrilled to be in the water with the sharks and wasn’t fearful of them,” Rich Gojdics said. That said, “I wouldn’t want to do this with just any old crew,” he said, “this crew was top notch, we were well prepared, and we were trained for what we would experience.” Jason Iannelli had a similar experience; “After we got there and we were surrounded by professionals it was cake,” he said.

The team agreed the experience made them think of industrial electricians and lineworkers around the country and how they work every day around the kind of danger many would run from. For electrical professionals, it’s all in a day’s work.

Back to the Beach: Parallels with Electrical Work

This experience brought many important lessons to life for our divers:

  • Behavioral Safety:
    • Lesson #1: if it puts you in harm’s way, “yes” is the wrong answer.
      • In both swimming with sharks and working with arcs, the person most likely to be killed or injured is the one who’s trying to please the customer, foreman, company, crew, or rush the job and ends up doing something without the right PPE or without the necessary preparation.
    • Lesson #2: avoid contact with live hazards whenever possible – don’t work hot unless you have to!
      • In the water, the team was instructed not to extend their hands to the sharks. Avoiding contact puts you in the safest position.
      • A diver who is about to enter the water with sharks has made a conscious decision to do so and has proper training and has signed a waiver – much like the way a worker who is about to do hot (or energized) work has made a decision to sign off on an energized work permit.
  • Situational Awareness:
    • Lesson #3: assess risk and account for all foreseeable hazards
      • Florida Shark Diving closely monitored the sharks, the divers, the captain, and all factors of the environment – current, etc.
      • At any point if something changes, stop, reassess, and get a better game plan before you proceed.
    • Lesson #4: training and experience are critical
      • When a shark got too close for comfort, Hugh Hoagland remembered his training and crossed his arms across his chest to maintain his personal safety and avoid any miscommunication with the shark.
      • A dive flag on the team’s boat signaled to other boats that divers were in the water and to not come too close. In the world of electrical safety and arc flash, there’s a similar set of boundaries to prevent an unqualified worker from approaching an area where you need to be qualified and skilled to recognize the hazards and complete the work safely.
  • Service Provider:
    • Lesson #5: when your job is protecting people, safety has to come first – maintain the utmost loyalty to that.
      • Expertise, experience, focus, and track record all matter a lot in any situation where your wellbeing (or even your life) on the line, and our dive team used the best guides around. This makes all the difference!
      • Use someone who understands the trade, who does it right, and doesn’t cut corners. Heed Hugh Hoagland’s advice: “Don’t hire the cheapest contractor, hire the safest contractor.”
      • Don’t use a fly-by-night outfit – lives are quite literally in your providers’ hands. Look for suppliers with expertise, who can provide training, and who have a track record for quality and accountability.
      • Jason Iannelli echoed this: “My life depends on it, my crew’s lives depend on it. We all work together to make sure we return home safely at the end of the day.”
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE):
    • Lesson #6: PPE is important from start to finish.
      • Don’t undervalue the importance of choice. How many choices are available to your workers? As Jason Iannelli said, “it has to work for the individual or they’re not going to wear it.” Comfort, style, and functionality are critical, too.
      • Keep in mind that workers need different options for different situations.
      • Product availability and trust in manufacturers and distributors is central to safe electrical work.
      • Choose PPE that fits your workers: it should be like an extension of your body – one that moves with you and breathes and helps you perform the work you’re there to do.
      • In most of the injuries and fatalities we see, the outcomes were preventable – caused by people wearing fuel. Hugh Hoagland has seen this firsthand, time and time again.

Do you have a flash fire – rather than an arc flash – hazard? The hazards may differ, but the valuable lessons in this episode – and series – are relevant to workers in oil and gas and other industries that use PPE to protect workers from thermal hazards. Lean in! Be sure to select quality PPE and leverage an experienced service provider – your workers’ lives depend on it.

The Bottom Line

Contrary to popular belief, sharks are not mindless unpredictable killing machines. The dive guides even compared sharks to puppies – they can bite you but they don’t want to. Electricity is much the same – it doesn’t “want” to have an arc flash. If things are properly maintained, properly cared for, and procedures are followed, you usually won’t have an arc flash. But if you do, the right PPE is so important.

Remember: it’s possible to do something that seems inherently dangerous safely, IF you have appropriate hierarchy of controls – including behavioral safety, situational awareness, a top-quality service provider, and the right Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

Thank you for joining us for Season 2 of Arc Week. Miss an episode, want to go back and re-watch or share with a colleague? Click here to catch it all on-demand. Start your countdown for Season 3, premiering Summer 2022.


Series: Arc Week

What do sharks and electric arcs have in common? Watch the full series to find out. In each episode you’ll find engaging, memorable parallels that bring important lessons about risk protection and PPE to life. Visit each season’s hub to catch it all:

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