Success...Depends on Safety
When the first linemen's jobs were created in America, the death rate was about one in three. In 1840 the telegraph became popular, and the workers who strung telegraph lines on wooden poles-which proved more practical than stringing lines over available tree branches-became known as linemen.
By Paul Hull
When the first linemen's jobs were created in America, the death rate was about one in three. In 1840 the telegraph became popular, and the workers who strung telegraph lines on wooden poles-which proved more practical than stringing lines over available tree branches-became known as linemen. When electrification started as the 19th century ended, the job became more dangerous; a high percentage of workers died on the job, mostly from electrocution. Can you imagine that situation today? Where would you find willing workers? How would you replace the casualties? How much money would that many accidents cost you? Union efforts to create stricter safety standards were strong, but it wasn't until the late 1930s that safety standards improved. Programs were started to teach novices how to correctly do the job.
Today, safety is the key to the linemen's job. While it is still considered a hazardous occupation, the dangers are far fewer, or better anticipated, than ever. Training is essential for this dangerous work. Avoiding contact with an energized line is the most obvious caution, and that concern has generated numerous safety devices and clothing items-from gloves to complete outfits. There are many safety protection equipment and apparel manufacturers and suppliers, and you should regularly check their offerings to see what has been developed to make the job safer and more productive. Aerial lift trucks also provide protection and ease of work advancements, with most of them isolating the lineman from contact with the ground. Linemen and their supervisors know that avoiding ground contact in any way is the key to staying alive when working with energized lines.
Three of my young neighbors are linemen, and they consider safety procedures to be automatic. They would never break any of their safety rules because they have families who would miss them. If the linemen have a complaint, it is that their supervisors are more inclined to be careless than they are because they spend more time in the truck than where the action is. Some safety procedures might seem too fussy to a non-lineman-habits such as always following correct grounding procedures. Correctly sized grounds have been determined for personal protection, and the linemen follow those guidelines-whether they are working on main lines or substations.
"We must use the right parts and pieces when we are grounding equipment," one lineman said. "We like to place a cable connector on a cable component and a flat connector of a flat component. That just makes sense, doesn't it? We think it's important not to mix components. If we can, we prefer to ground only on clean components and not on anything that shows corrosion."
Not all linemen work with electricity or energized lines, but much of their work is still above ground. So, slipping and falling is a constant threat. With the advance of communications in recent decades, much of the work at height is still done with poles, even if underground systems steadily gain popularity. For those working at height, fall protection is a given. When working on aerial equipment or ladders, most workers have fixed fall protection; if that is not the case, they are careful not to rely on unsafe objects as their anchors. A conduit, for example, would not be a guaranteed anchor. If the lineman falls, the conduit probably would not stop his downward progression, and the pipe could end up on top of the fallen worker.
"We usually have no problem," another lineman said, "but it's still our way to find a good anchor if we need one. The minute spent readjusting a position to find that safe anchor is nothing compared with the months you could spend on your back, or on crutches, if you fall."
The tools a lineman use and the way they are organized are important ingredients for safety, comfort and a job well done. One tool is known as the hot stick. It warns the user of exposed high voltage from a safe distance and has been praised by emergency workers at accidents and clean-up crews after storms have blown down trees. Utility workers use this tool to find hidden current sources from a safe distance. As with all protective clothing, utility tools and safety devices, there are many versions, and it would be helpful to go through past issues of Utility Products-such as the July/August issue-to find reliable sources.
When talking to an experienced tool manufacturer representative a few years ago, he emphasized: "More important than the name on the tools you use is the way you use them." Use the correct tool for each task. Chisels aren't screwdrivers, pliers aren't wrenches and wrenches aren't hammers; these are the abuses usually associated with amateurs, but they also occur with professionals. The incorrect use of a tool is a safety hazard and can become an unnecessary expense for the owner. Hand tools can cause many problems; if you use them unwisely or not as the manufacturer recommended, you can hurt your shoulder, arm, elbow, wrist and hand-and there is always the risk of cuts, bruises, scratches and strains. A lineman should regularly check the condition of hand tools, looking for warning signs such as cracks, chips and blunt edges because the tool must be in good condition to correctly do its job. Wear gloves when using hand tools-even in hot weather.
If you are working below colleagues who are handling tools, make sure you are wearing your hard hat. A tool falling on a person's head might seem funny in a cartoon, but it's not funny if you are the one struck. A person who has a tool dropped on his head may never remember what happened. As with all safety and efficiency procedures, training and refresher training are useful. But, no matter how much you know about safe procedures and the right way to use equipment, the most important thing is to follow these procedures-every day, every week, every year.
I'd like to finish with praise for our linemen. We always hear the negative news, don't we? When storms such as Isaac wreak havoc on communities, especially on their power lines, the prominent news is how many poles were down or the number of customers without power. The reporters then move to the next disaster. In truth, the real, heroic story starts after the storm-when the linemen arrive and restore everything. After Isaac, for example, 704,000 Entergy customers in Louisiana were without electricity. Imagine the linemen's efforts, still working in bad weather, to restore power to 688,000 customers in a few days. It's hard work and it's long work. And, it's usually well done. Thank you, linemen.
Theoretically, linemen work in constantly dangerous situations. The training offered to linemen before they go anywhere, as well as affordable equipment and clothing developments, have reduced accidents. Supervisors and managers should check with their local suppliers to see what is new and better for employee protection.