Linemen will soon caravan to Kansas City for the year's most important industry event: the International Lineman's Rodeo and Expo. For the last five years, I've woken up at the crack of dawn, driven out to Bonner Springs and witnessed thousands of spectators and competitors celebrate the line trade.

Since 1984, this event has grown to include more than 3,000 attendees from around the world. What started out as a small event in Manhattan, Kansas, has transformed into a not-to-miss event for the power industry.

The International Lineman's Rodeo Association (ILRA) has made changes along the way, but one theme has remained constant: a focus on safety. When the organizers started the first rodeo with 36 competitors, they focused on safe work practices, and the same is true today.

Here are a few ways that the ILRA and the organizers are maintaining the emphasis on safety for this year's event.

  • Safety is a part of scoring

    At the rodeo, the competitors are judged not only on speed but also on how well they adhere to safety regulations. For example, contestants can lose points for infractions such as a loose hard hat, mishandling tools or not wearing safety glasses. If they modify rubber gloves with holes, slashes, cuts or notches, they can be disqualified from the competition altogether.

  • Focus on fall protection

    This year, more utilities will be requiring their linemen to compete wearing full fall protection. Dale Warman, co-chairman of the ILRA, said that ILRA has redesigned the scoring to be more friendly for those who use fall protection. The board of directors, judges and advisory committee groups recently met to develop a plan recognizing those companies who require their competitors to use fall-protection equipment during the climbing events. The score team coordinators will work with the programmers to add an adjustment to the scoring program to recognize those participants wearing fall-protection devices.

    For example, each journeyman event and overall awards will be given out for first through fourth place. The judges will no longer award a fifth-place winner. Instead, they will give one award to the best fall-restraint team in each event and one for the best fall-restraint team overall.

  • Use of new technology

    New for this year, the ILRA partnered with UST to provide Multi-Use Technical Tools for the pole-top rescue event. Competitors must use the M.U.T.T. device when they're in the working position during this event. Otherwise, they'll risk losing points from their total score.

  • Educating linemen about safety

    Like last year, the ILRA is presenting a safety conference at the Overland Park Convention Center. This event will feature presentations designed to help linemen improve safety out in the field.

    For example, Mark Eaton, an NBA All-Star, will deliver the keynote address on “The Four Commitments of a Winning Team.” Next, a presenter will share a story about a personal injury, and a utility professional will describe electrical transmission and distribution best practices. During the second day of the conference, Danny Raines from Raines Utility Safety Solutions will give his presentation on “Being a Safety Leader and OSHA 269 Changes.”

  • Offering the latest in safety equipment

    In the days leading up to the rodeo, linemen will have the opportunity to browse the aisles at the expo. Over the last few years, I've noticed an increase in the number of flame-retardant-clothing manufacturers exhibiting on the show floor. More vendors are also showcasing personal protective equipment from safety glasses to leather gloves and heavy-duty boots.

For 2012, about 70 companies will be showcasing their latest tools and technology. By taking the time to visit with vendors, linemen can discover new products that will help them improve their productivity as well as their safety.

With the job of a lineman listed as one of the top 10 most dangerous jobs in America, it's imperative for line workers to continually look for ways to stay safe in the field. By attending the International Lineman's Rodeo and Expo, linemen can learn new strategies to keep themselves and their crew members out of harm's way.


Editor's note: At the International Lineman's Expo and Rodeo, I try to visit all of the utility tents on the competition grounds. But please e-mail me at afischbach@tdworld.com if you have an idea for a story for Electric Utility Operations, and I'll find a time to meet you at the Overland Park Convention Center or at the rodeo. Also, I'll be attending the 2012 Transmission Maintenance and Management Conference in Winnipeg, and hope to see T&D World readers at that event, as well.