In my 24 years with Kansas City Power & Light (KCP&L; Kansas City, Missouri), we haven't had any accidents with our fall-protection work, which says a lot about our workforce. As a company, we are charged with providing the safest possible work environment for our 2500 workers. We keep our line crews safe by conducting practice training sessions, fall-protection equipment inspections and general safety meetings.

  1. Practice rescues

    Every fall, we hold a bucket-truck rescue. If you don't pass the test, you can't stay on the crew. The goal is for the workers to safely get the person to the ground and then remove the victim from the bucket to get proper medical attention. Each year, we also conduct a pole-top rescue to simulate when someone has a medical condition and blacks out on the pole. We strap our mannequin, Tuff Kelly, in like a lineman, rescue him and get him ready for CPR. Our linemen have to figure out how to get a 180-lb man to the ground in three minutes or less.

  2. Train linemen on truck features

    Every time we buy a new vehicle, we give our line crews a full rundown of the truck before we send them out into the field. The bottom control handles may be on the side or on the front of the base, and we don't want our folks to have to figure out where the controls are during a rescue.

  3. Require full-body harnesses

    When I first came through in the field, we wore body belts, and everyone thought they were safe. Now we know if we had fallen out of the bucket, we would have been bent over like a pretzel, torn across on our midsection and drowned on our own body fluid. There's a 3-minute survival rate with the belt, but you have a 20-minute window in a full-body harness before bad things start to happen. When we first got the full-body harnesses, our workers didn't want to wear them because they thought they couldn't do their work or reach far enough. To show them what would happen to them if they fell out of a bucket with their body belt on, we threw a mannequin off one of the man lifts at our training yard. We videotaped it in high-speed film, and you can see how the neck snaps, bends and flips up. When they saw that, they said that they would rather be in the lanyard with the full-body harness. It was a night-and-day difference in their attitudes.

  4. Partner with vendors to make equipment modifications

    We started requiring full-body harnesses in 1996, and since then, we have gone through four different generations of harnesses. The vendors have helped us to meet the needs of our workers by making modifications such as a wider strap or a different buckle. If it's user friendly, then our linemen won't fight it like the first generation of full-body harnesses. Now they can just shake it and put it on like a jacket.

  5. Organize daily safety kickoffs

    Our daily safety meetings range from 10 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the topic. Our safety rep talks about near misses in the field and tells us about other locals. Every other month, we have a big meeting with the union safety reps and management and talk about any areas of concern.

  6. Perform field audits

    Our management safety reps, union safety reps and other members of management visit the work sites to make sure that everyone is wearing their personal protective equipment and is following safe work habits. If there is an area that we need to improve on, we use that as one of the topics for the safety kickoffs.

  7. Inspect equipment

    Every six months, we pull in all our guys and do an inspection of their fall-protection equipment. If a harness or lanyard is cut, worn or thin, we throw it out and issue a new one. If it doesn't pass, it gets put out of service, and we cut the loops so someone can't use it again. Each one has a serial number, and every time we inspect it, we write it down and verify whether or not it's in good working condition.

KCP&L believes that all employees have the right to work under safe conditions. Our belief in fall protection is so important that it is listed as one of the four Major Safety Rules agreed to between management and union. By requiring our linemen to follow these fall-protection safety practices, as well as all other safety practices, we can help our crews to come home safely at the end of each day.

Keith Kensinger has worked for KCP&L for nearly 24 years. He started off in vehicle maintenance and later got a journeyman lineman apprenticeship and went into the trouble department. In 1994, he became a supervisor and was offered a job in corporate safety. He became the customer operations safety manager for KCP&L in 2003.