Fred Wenzel is one of thousands of linemen who know all too well the aches and pains caused by repetitive work.

I met Wenzel at the International Lineman's Rodeo last fall in Kansas City. This rodeo is a major event that draws linemen from all over the country to compete in contests of skill, swap stories and share work practices. Linemen come alive at this rodeo. This is their element. They take center stage. The rodeo grounds seemingly crackle with anticipation as linemen, encouraged by their families and coworkers, compete against the clock to change out crossarms, replace insulators and climb poles. Safety is heavily stressed with the dead man rescue, a staple of the contest.

A lineman's life is an outdoor life. Linemen speak their minds, but mostly they speak with their hands. They speak through the splices they build, the insulators they hang and the conductors they string. Unlike most of us who attend meetings, shuffle papers, send e-mails and answer voice mails, a lineman sees daily reminders of his accomplishments. Spend a day with a lineman, and he'll say, “I built that line” or “I hung that cap bank.”

Combating Needless Pain and Suffering

Fred Wenzel is an imposing figure at 6 ft, 7 inches, and 300 pounds. With a full beard and a perpetual tan, Wenzel seems to radiate energy and good health. I can see no outward indication that Wenzel or any of the linemen at the rodeo are suffering from the physical strains of their jobs. Most linemen just don't like to talk about their aches and pains; they would prefer to suffer in silence.

Wenzel describes frequent bouts of pain this way: “Too many nights I'd be going home sore, I would really be dragging. I couldn't get a good night's rest because a shoulder would be burning or an elbow or a hand would be falling asleep from the injuries of an average day's work.”

Wenzel decided to do something about the situation all linemen face. He and four fellow linemen from We Energies (Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S.) went to the rodeo to share what they've learned about the wear and tear of repetitive work on their bodies. They are members of an ergonomics team charged with developing ways to reduce back problems, carpel tunnel syndrome and rotator cuff injuries that come with using their bodies as tools.

These linemen are the driving force behind a total overhaul in the way their company looks at line tools. Wenzel lifts a battery-powered compression tool that is now standard at We Energies. This tool has replaced the hand tool linemen have used for decades. Linemen gather around the booth to check out this and other labor-saving tools. Wenzel tells the guys how the team was able to get management buy-in and justify the purchase of injury-reducing tools.

Too many linemen get to the end of their careers only to find they are too busted up to enjoy their retirements. Wenzel wants to change that and is asking other utilities to join in. States Wenzel, “If we band together, we'll have more clout with the vendors to get the tools we need. Then we can all work quicker, smarter and safer.”

Let's support Wenzel in his quest to revolutionize the way line work is performed.

Editor's Note: The We Energies tool team is planning to return to the International Lineman's Rodeo, which is scheduled for Oct. 16-18, 2003, in Kansas City. Look for additional coverage of this We Energies initiative in a future issue of T&D World. For more information, you can contact Fred Wenzel at fred.wenzel@we-energies.com, or Patricia Seeley, the We Energies ergonomist, at (414) 389-4382 or patricia.seeley@we-energies.com.