Ice-covered tree limbs crashed onto power lines in the Midwest in early December 2007, leaving a million homes and businesses without power, according to Fox News. To get the lights back on, utilities from across the country sent line crews to Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma.

After restoring electricity to the Kansas City community in just a few days, Kansas City Power & Light (KCP&L; Kansas City, Missouri) sent crews to the harder-hit areas of the region. KCP&L sent 20 utility crews and 20 tree crews to western Kansas to help Westar and sent 6 utility crews and 10 tree crews to the St. Joseph, Missouri, area to aid Aquila.

KCP&L spent more than a week changing out cross arms, setting poles and hanging new transformers. When working in inclement weather conditions, safety precautions become even more important to our crews. To keep the linemen safe despite the frigid temperatures, the utility follows these six work practices out in the field.

  1. Stay focused

    KCP&L line crews meet for a safety stand-down at the start and end of every shift. During these meetings, the linemen learn who is working in their area, what voltages are involved, how to protect themselves from freezing temperatures and the importance of foul-weather gear. One of the phrases that we preach to linemen when they're restoring power following an ice storm is “be where you're at.” This means that whether they're on a pole, in a bucket or on a ladder, they have to stay focused on their surroundings at that point in time. We emphasize that they need to focus on the present to get the job done safely.

  2. Wear personal voltage detectors

    In the daily safety meetings, KCP&L also reviews the use of personal voltage detectors, which linemen wear on their chests. These devices alert them ahead of time if a tree branch is lying on a primary or a chain link fence is energized. This is especially important when homeowners turn on their backup generators when the linemen are restoring power. If the homeowners don't follow the instructions, the linemen could get electrocuted when the generator fires up and energizes a fallen line. To prevent this from happening, KCP&L equips each one of its field personnel with personal voltage detectors to keep danger at arm's length.

  3. Gain traction

    During severe weather conditions, linemen can slip and fall on black ice. KCP&L used to minimize this hazard through ice-melt products, but for the last two years, the utility has equipped any outside personnel, from cable splicers to linemen, with Yak Trax. This product slips over the linemen's boots, and the steel studs on the bottom provide traction and extra gripping power.

  4. Knock ice off power lines

    Ice often encapsulates wooden poles and overhead lines, and any vibration can cause the ice to shake loose. If a lineman looks up when this happens, the ice can fall from the lines and hit the lineman in the face. For this reason, KCP&L linemen use fiberglass telescopic sticks, which range from 5 ft to 35 ft. The sticks, which are designed to open and close switches, can handle different attachments such as hammers. Linemen can use the hammers to chip away the ice and minimize the risk of falling on the pole or being struck by falling ice.

  5. Protect your eyesight

    Icicles can turn into daggers when they fall from overhead lines. To keep linemen safe, KCP&L equips all its linemen with a fire-retardant ski mask and safety glasses when they're working on restoring power following an ice storm. The safety glasses, which are tinted during the day and clear at night, wrap around the linemen's heads to keep foreign objects, tree branches and pieces of ice out of the eye.

  6. Wear insulated clothing

    To survive in the cold temperatures, linemen layer their clothing and wear insulated rubber boots that are qualified for 25 degrees below zero for a sustained period of time. They also wear three layers of gloves: a cotton liner, a rubber glove and a leather outer glove. Insulated rain gear helps block the wind, and two or three layers of cotton clothing with flame-retardant clothing keep them warm.

Keith Kensinger is the customer operations safety manager for KCP&L, where he has worked for almost 24 years. He began his career in vehicle maintenance and later became a journeyman lineman in both the construction area and the trouble department. He subsequently accepted a job in corporate safety in 1994. In 2003, he became a safety manager for KCP&L.