DTE Energy (Detroit, Michigan) is training its linemen to think before they act with a company-wide safety program called Stop, Think, Act, Review (STAR). Launched four years ago, the STAR program is a self-checking system for DTE's 420 linemen and 200 contract linemen.

Through proper training, DTE is working to build a safer, more productive workforce. As a result, it has integrated STAR into nearly all of its training programs. Using the four steps of STAR, DTE trains its linemen: to stop and reflect on the task at hand; to think about what needs to be done before starting a task; to act to perform the intended action safely; and to review to verify that the completed result is the expected outcome. Here are some lessons DTE has learned while implementing the STAR program.

  1. Change linemen's mindset

    When the power goes out, linemen want to start working right away to get the lights back on. DTE urges them to take the time to evaluate the situation before beginning their work. Linemen, especially those who have been in the industry for many years, have done customer restorations all their lives. It's easy for them to become complacent, which is when injuries can occur.

  2. Start early and train often

    Rather than waiting until linemen become journeymen to start instilling the STAR mindset, DTE teaches linemen this concept from the beginning of its four-year apprenticeship program. That way, linemen can make it a habit from the start.

    To enforce the STAR program throughout the linemen's career with DTE, the utility requires linemen to attend regular training. Apprentices must attend a one- to two-week training session every six months for four years. All linemen must participate in pre-job briefings before the start of each job and every time the job changes to ensure that everyone is on the same page.

  3. Integrate STAR into each safety training module

    To protect its linemen in the field, DTE created a STAR program that focuses on many of the top hazards in the field, such as circuit restoration, lockout and tagout, and three-phase reclosers. The utility has written documentation on each of these topics as well as detailed safety procedures.

  4. Put it into practice

    While linemen face many dangerous, or even deadly, hazards in the field on a daily basis, DTE focuses on preventing incidents from three-phase reclosers. Although these devices help utilities to quickly restore service and maintain customer satisfaction, they can be tricky to operate and pose a danger to linemen.

    By following the STAR program, linemen ask themselves a series of questions. In the first step — Stop — they ask whether or not the recloser is open or closed, whether or not it's locked out, and whether it's a loop scheme or voltage sensing. They then must find out if the recloser opened due to the loss of potential or because of a fault. After that, the next step — Think — is to evaluate the status of the tie recloser, which is the device that ties the two circuits together. After stopping and thinking about the status of the recloser, then they move on to the next step — Act. They contact the system supervisor with the recloser status, and then check the tie recloser and patrol the circuit for the fault or cause of the loss of potential. For the final step — Review — they go over the findings with the system supervisor and discuss the required protection for the crew.

  5. Invest in a hands-on training trailer

    DTE trains its linemen at its training center, on the job sites and at its many distribution centers. To drive home the importance of the STAR program, DTE invested in a 6-ft by 12-ft flatbed trailer, which can be pulled with a standard pickup truck.

The trailer features two reclosers — a three-phase, triple-single recloser with a form-six control cabinet and a three-phase NOVA recloser with a form-five cabinet. When plugged into a 120-V source, the mounted cabinets allow the linemen to gain hands-on experience by taking the reclosers through all the operations. Every time changes occur in the control panel, DTE updates the trailer with the latest technology.

Four years ago, DTE was looking for a training program that would be easy for its line crews to remember out in the field. By following the four steps in the STAR program, the line crews can eliminate nearly any type of accident.


Jeff LaCombe is a lineman and an instructor at the DTE Energy Training and Development Center. lacombej@dteenergy.com

George Schomberger is with the Center of Excellence for overhead and underground work. schombergerg@dteenergy.com