Nearly every lineman has known a coworker who has been injured or killed while on the job. These incidents burn in their memories and change their perspectives on safety forever.
After they lose someone, they often have a different mindset about their daily work. Rather than focusing solely on getting the job done, they often try to take their time to get their work completed not only efficiently but also safely.
Each year, the utility industry loses linemen through job-related injuries and accidents. These linemen are not only a vital part of their crews, but they are also often grandparents, parents or siblings. To prevent any more linemen from dying or becoming seriously injured, utility companies nationwide are taking steps to improve their safety programs. Oftentimes, however, the responsibility of working safe is left up to the linemen in the field.
In recognition of National Electrical Safety Month, here are some examples of how linemen and their utility companies are making a difference in electrical safety.
Focus on Safety
While most linemen love their jobs and cannot imagine doing anything else, they have one primary goal: to come home safely to their loved ones at the end of the day. This point hit home for me at the International Lineman's Rodeo last fall. I talked to many of the linemen's families, and they all told me how they often stay awake at night waiting for their spouses or parents to come home safely.
The opening ceremony also opened my eyes to how much danger linemen face on a daily basis. The announcer asked the linemen to bow their heads in silence in memory of those coworkers who lost their lives in the line of duty. As I looked around at all the linemen, I noticed many of them had their hand on the shoulder of their coworkers. I wondered how many of these linemen had lost a friend through a fall, electrocution or other job-related accident.
When competing in the Lineman's Rodeo, safety plays a key role in the competition. Many times, utilities won't even allow linemen to compete if they have had a significant safety violation prior to the event. In addition, the judges are trained to look out for any safety infringements during the competition. If linemen do not abide by certain safety rules and procedures, then they are deducted points.
The rodeo further focused on safety by adding a two-day safety conference. New for 2009, the Safety and Training Conference will be free to all attendees. The conference, which will be held Oct. 15-16 in Overland Park, Kansas, will help linemen to improve their safety practices in the field.
In addition to attending safety-related conferences, linemen are also working to not sacrifice their personal safety for productivity. Due to the slowdown in the economy, workers are expected to do more work with less manpower.
In an effort to increase their productivity in the field, linemen may be tempted to take shortcuts. For example, they may choose to not slip on their rubber gloves while working on personal protective equipment, or they may not wear fall protection when scaling a utility pole. If they do not abide by safety rules and regulations, however, they can put their lives on the line and endanger their coworkers. By taking a few extra minutes, they can sidestep a major injury or avoid their own fatality. Any kind of accident can result in significant loss time.
To place the focus on safety as well as efficiency, utility companies are offering their own in-house safety training sessions for their linemen. Oftentimes, line crews discuss specific job-related safety issues on the job, and other times, they attend more intensive, full-day seminars to keep up to speed on the latest advances in safety.
Training Apprentice Linemen
Another way that linemen are improving the safety of their field crews is by training the apprentices. Through their years of experience in the industry, veterans are sharing their stories of near-misses, accidents and injuries, and teaching apprentices how to perform line work safely.
Often, the apprentices will not fully realize the need for safety until they witness an accident firsthand. In some cases, it may even take a personal injury for them to understand the danger of line work. By taking the time to work with new linemen, however, experienced workers can help to reduce injuries and open apprentices' eyes to safer ways to do their jobs.
By setting aside time for training, wearing the proper personal protective equipment and following their utility's safety procedures, linemen can go home safely at the end of each work day.