In this dangerous business of working around power lines, linemen need to watch each other's back. “We're like policemen. We cover each other,” says Entergy's Hank Bradford. “No crew is perfect. Everybody's got their problems, but when it's all said and done, and someone is up in the air working on a hot primary line, another lineman better be watching. One mistake could result in permanent disfigurement or cost a life.”

An Eye for Safety

Equipment, codes and standards are always changing, but after 34 years in this business, Duke Energy lineman Gene Barbour says the importance of safety never changes. “Everyone needs to keep their eyes on the task at hand. You have to work together. And it's not just the young apprentice that needs an extra set of eyes, we old guys sometimes get a little too used to doing something,” says Barbour. “Whether you have one guy in the air, or two or three, everyone needs to be looking at what's going on. Teamwork was what safety was built around when I was coming up, and it's still one of the basics.”

Entergy lineman Clay Murray had a first-hand experience in watching someone's back. “I'm from the country. I've learned that in the city, the challenges are different — more people, buildings and traffic,” says Murray. “When we're working on the side of the road in traffic, we take all the safety precautions. We put our cones out. We flag. And I've still had to jump in a ditch to avoid getting hit by traffic.”

Murray remembers working along a two-lane road when a motorist drove by the warning flags. “He ran over one of the safety cones and didn't even stop. I saw him coming and warned my crewmates,” says Murray. “The cone was under the car, and he just kept going.”

Company Culture

Watching out for one another is the responsibility of every member of a team. Entergy serviceman 1st class Steele Netterville says that to be successful, your company needs to be behind this team approach. “I believe our company's safety philosophy has saved lives. When Hurricane Katrina hit, we all knew we were in for a long restoration campaign,” says Netterville. “There was so much to do but, more important than getting our system back up, our company emphasized operating safely. Every week we talked about keeping on our toes and watching out for each other. Thank God the whole utility world came to help us. They witnessed this brotherhood. Except for cuts, scrapes and bruises, I never saw anyone get hurt.”

Retired transmission lineman Jim Handley from Atlanta remembers when a fellow lineman wasn't paying attention. “We were up on a transmission pole, untying a 46-kV line. I noticed that Jack wasn't paying any attention to what I was doing, and he hadn't said anything all day,” recalls Handley. “I was using a pair of tree trimmers to cut the tie wire, and he was unrolling the cable. At the time, I had been in this business about 35 years longer than Jack so, finally, I stopped what I was doing and said, ‘Wait a minute Jack. Look at me. I need you to watch what I'm doing. And if you don't start talking to me, I'm going to get your attention.’ I was holding an alligator tie stick in my right hand. I think I got my point across.”

Communication and Focus

Entergy lineman Greg Binns from Madison, Mississippi, says communication between linemen is critical. “I get really uncomfortable working with a lineman who will not talk,” says Binns. “He needs to know every move I make, and I am going to know every move he makes. We have to communicate.”

A confidence builder for Binns has been participating in training exercises. “Each year we go for refresher training at our facilities in Clinton, Mississippi,” says Binns. “We practice pole-top rescue, getting to someone in trouble on a pole or in a bucket as quickly and as safely as possible, and lowering them down to the ground. We then practice performing CPR. The other linemen don't know it, but I observe and see who is taking this seriously. Why? Because some day, it might just be me they will have to rescue.”

Knowing you have a conscientious team allows you to focus on your work. “If I do get into trouble, someone who knows what to do will be there to get me down and possibly save my life. It's the worker who isn't taking the training seriously who makes me nervous.”

Binns isn't the only lineman who checks to see if his co-workers are taking their work seriously. Lakeland Electric's Robert Padgett is always checking. “When I'm working from a bucket and I look down, I better see someone looking back at me. It works both ways. When I have a greenhorn up in the bucket, someone on the ground should be talking to him, giving him guidance. That's watching your back.”