Less Falls for Line Technicians?
Transmission line projects are springing up across the state so NPPD can provide relief to power congested areas and increase electrical reliability for customers when they need it most. Similarly, NPPD’s numerous, skilled line technicians also rise to the occasion as quickly as needed to ensure stability and reliability of NPPD’s transmission system – both new and old. They do so by climbing utility poles, repairing damaged lines during seasonal storms, and maintaining lines on a regular basis to ensure the lights are on – and stay on.
Consider for a moment what it would entail to be a line technician. Imagine climbing a utility pole that hovers more than 40 feet up in the air. Would you rely solely upon your body and complete focus on your task at hand to complete the job safely? Maybe it’s windy out. Rain is pelting you in the face, and the pole is continuously swaying. Could you be swayed at that time into applying whatever safe practices you could to make it home safely at the end of the day?
More and more, line technicians are recognizing the value of safety during that long climb up the pole. After NPPD’s Transmission and Distribution Department experienced a scare a few years back involving a colleague falling from a pole and breaking his leg, it was enough for Columbus Transmission and Distribution Manager John Humphrey to form a team to look into additional safety options for NPPD crews. He knew that keeping teammates from experiencing a similar accident would free them from months of pain, recovery or even death.
“When a colleague gets injured on the job, you take it upon yourself to find a way to make a dangerous job safer,” Humphrey said. “That’s why as of last December, NPPD line technicians are fully compliant toward using fall arrests. We want to send our teammates home in the same shape they came to work – or better!”
Fall arrests, of which NPPD offers many varieties depending on each line technician’s preference, are intricate strapping devices that use friction to create a form of fall protection for those climbing poles.
“Line technicians have a term they use when they fall while climbing,” said Humphrey. “It’s called ‘gaffing out. Say a technician’s hooks loosen from the pole he or she is working on. They may fall a few inches, or they may fall the length of the pole to the ground. With the use of fall arrests, line technicians will fall no further than a few inches, saving them from hurting themselves by sliding down and burning themselves on the pole, or a lot worse.”
“Introducing fall arrest units for lineworkers can be a continuous decision for a utility, but it is integral to keeping line crews safe,” said two U.S. utility speakers who recently rolled out fall arrest units for their crews, according to Public Power Daily.
The units are gaining track among utilities across the nation, and NPPD has set the bar high in terms of their use. Enlisting the help of Norfolk Distribution Superintendent Brent Arens, Kearney Senior Project Coordinator Bruce DeHaven and York Transmission Distribution Superintendent Scott Walz, the team went to work in 2012 implementing the devices among NPPD’s transmission and distribution crews.
“We contacted vendors and scheduled a time for them to come out to Northeast Community College, where a line technician program is offered east of the college,” said Arens. “There, we have an indoor arena with utility poles and power lines – perfect for learning the trade in a climate-controlled environment.”
Select NPPD teammates, as well as NPPD’s wholesale partners, including Cornhusker Public Power District, Loup Power District and various other NPPD customers, were invited to participate in a fall arrest demonstration.
“The demonstration allowed other utilities to see the importance of consistently using these devices,” said Walz.
Then, over the better half of 2012, NPPD crews placed their order and began implementing the units in everyday practices and tasks.
“Omaha Public Power District is also going into full compliance with fall arrests based on our approach,” said Humphrey. “In addition, we saw many line technicians sporting fall arrests during the American Public Power Association (APPA) Lineworkers Rodeo held in Kissimmee, Fla. on March 23. Although the devices aren’t mandated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration or APPA, rest assured it’s only a matter of time.”
York Distribution Superintendent Ray Boston agrees.
“While at the rodeo, we witnessed a line technician from another utility begin to slip,” said Boston. “Luckily, he was using a fall arrest and stayed right where he was. If he hadn’t been, he would have been on the ground.”
Boston added that like the many tools line technicians use to perform their job correctly, safety, and namely, the use of fall arrests at all times, is the most essential.
“It’s a tool that further evolves the job of a line technician,” he finished. “Its like using a harness. Back in the 80s, no one wore them. Now, everyone does. It’s an industry standard, just as fall arrests will soon be.”