Chicago Occupational Accident Attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers Represent Injured Linemen and Power Workers
While falling from the top of an electrical power pole is a constant danger to our nation's Lineman and Power Workers, suffering from a burn, or being electrocuted is a more likely hazard. Nearly all linemen work on live "hot" distribution lines caring electricity from the power plant to the business or residential home. In many incidences, the worker wears insulated gloves and other protective equipment to safeguard against contact with electrical power.
In the early years of electricity, at the turn of the twentieth century, nearly 33% of all linemen were killed in job-related accidents. However, the contributing factors to their deaths were typically tied to a lack of training, lack of experience, congested poles and non-standardized equipment and tools. Today, working on a live electric line is significantly safer than in years past. The electrical industry has developed effective standards and established safety procedures to minimize the major hazards that led to severe injuries and death.
Training is essential for keeping the lineman safe at all times. However, the safety procedures practice by one company might not be enforced by another, especially if the foreman or contractor develops in-house rules to increase productivity at the risk of the lineman performing shortcuts. There is a calculated risk to maintaining safety on the job where effective supervision is crucial to saving the lives of the workers and ensuring the job was done quickly and correctly.
To maintain safety, regional managers, district managers, and safety supervisors are to conduct safety audits to minimize hazards while overseeing the job. In some companies, the project manager, foreman or other supervisor is required to fill in forms as a part of safety protocols to ensure safety procedures are followed. In some areas of the country, foreman, linemen and power workers are required to take safety training courses.
Power Worker Job Duties
Linemen, journeyman linemen, and power workers oversee building and maintaining the nation's electrical power systems. These workers perform duties on the system from the power plant (generation point) to the meter on the commercial property or residential home. Their duties include working on lines attached to overhead structures that are as high as 300 feet tall or deep in a trench for underground vault located in dense metropolitan areas and rural environments. Some linemen also work on street lights and traffic signals.
Their common duties include:
- Following initiated planned projects
- Following established OSHA safety requirements
- Installing electrical poles and towers
- Performing maintenance and repair of transmission lines and overhead distribution lines
- Maintaining all existing wire or stringing new electrical wire
- Maintaining old transformers or installing new equipment
- Maintaining underground distribution systems or installing new systems
- Assembling and erecting electrical lines and transformers at substations
- Maintaining old and installing new outdoor lighting and traffic signals
- Tree trimming when necessary
- Maintaining heavy equipment
Much of the work done by linemen and power workers is performed outdoors during inclement weather high up on electrical poles and towers when the system fails due to bad storms. Many of these power workers operate heavy equipment including cranes, pullers, tension equipment, dump trucks, aerial lifts, digger derricks, and backhoes.
In many incidences, especially after severe storms have passed, the Lineman or Power Worker must travel to the disaster area to restore electrical power to the local community. Working away from home can be challenging, especially when the employee is away from home for weeks or months at a time. This burden often places the worker at higher risk due to the fatigue of working long hours under unusual circumstances.
A successful lineman is proficient in problem-solving, troubleshooting, organizational and analytical skills. These workers have a comprehensive understanding of building and electrical codes and must possess expert skills installing a variety of wires and power cables, making repairs to downed and damaged electrical lines, interpreting and reading electrical wire diagrams in inclement weather in dangerous working environments.
The worker must understand how to do their job using wire cutters, crimpers, and other hand tools. The employee must be adept at using climbing gear to ascend electrical poles to gain access to the overhead electrical lines using climbing spikes, gaffs, and straps. The power worker might also be required to use a boom lift bucket, typically attached to the company truck.
Common Power Worker Hazards
While homes and businesses depend on continuous electrical power, nearly every type of utility work is extremely dangerous to the men and women in charge of moving and managing electricity along the electrical grid. Linemen and power workers have an elevated risk of suffering burns, electrical shock, falling, and electrocution while working on the job each day. Even a minor accident can lead to a fatality.
Linemen and Power Workers understand the magnitude of the dangers of their workplace environment and the need to follow safety measures when working around electric lines. Every power worker must understand OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) safety regulations and become familiar with established safety protocols on how to handle tools, safety equipment, and supplies. Statistics maintained by the US Department of Labor reveal the potential risks common to most power workers and linemen. These risks include:
- Falling from significant Heights
- Environmental stress
- Fractures, strains, and sprains
- Explosions and fire
- Confined Spaces
Any failure to identify an on-the-job hazard and take appropriate measures could cause the power worker their life, or the lives of other workers at the job site. Additionally, failure to use PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) properly is a significant failure in the workplace. Workers who wear proper gloves are less likely to suffer severe hand burns should the employee touch a live electrical power line. Also, failing to protect against electrical currents using an effective ground system could make the workplace instantly dangerous.
Linemen and Power Workers' Wages
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics 2016, data concerning the employment statistics of the previous year, 1360 Linemen and Power Workers were working in the Chicago, Naperville and Arlington Heights metropolitan area. On average, Linemen and Power Workers in northeastern Illinois earn $63,670 every year (mean wage), which is $30.61 per hour. The wage is slightly lower than the national averages. See Chart
Power Worker and Linemen Fatalities
Even linemen and power workers doing their jobs for decades remain at serious risk of being severely injured or killed it job-related incidents. There is a risk because many accidents are the result of safety measure violations and a failure to follow the best practices and protocols when working on and around ‘hot' electrical wires. Some stories involving recent fatalities of power workers in linemen throughout the United States include:
- Case 1: Franklin County, Tennessee – A 22-year-old Winchester, Tennessee power worker lost his life while working in Texas to restore electricity to the victims of Hurricane Harvey. The young lineman was sent by his company American Electric Power Company to Victoria, Texas after the area became a disaster zone by the hurricane to work on power outages. In September 2017, members of the Victoria Fire Department respondent to a call that the lineman had been electrocuted. The responders transported the victim in critical condition to the local Citizens Medical Center where he succumbed to his injuries.
- Case 2: West Jordan, Utah – A Rocky Mountain Power lineman died of electrocution while out in the field with another worker attempting to identify the cause of a power outage in West Jordan, Utah in October 2017. The other worker had returned to the company truck after troubleshooting the problem when he was startled by a scream and an electrical noise. Returning to the job site, he noticed his co-worker had fallen to the ground. The injured lineman was transported to the local hospital by first responders but succumbed to his critical injuries five days later.
- Case 3: Moultrie, Georgia – A veteran 48-year-old Georgia Power lineman was killed on a job-related accident by electrocution while working on a power pole to restore electricity to residents and businesses by the Tift-Berrien County line. A brief time before the accident, the lineman had returned from Texas to repair power outages caused by hurricane Harvey. The injury occurred while the lineman was repairing a downed power line. The first responders repeated attempts of cardiopulmonary resuscitation was not enough to keep the man alive.
- Case 4: Fairmont, North Carolina – In August 2017, a 24-year-old Robeson County lineman working for East Coast Electric of Pembroke died while changing an electrical power pole with a group of company employees. The late morning incident occurred while co-workers were exchanging a power pole. The accident happened when an electrical arc past through the pole and the victim, who was standing by the pole, before entering the ground.
- Case 5: Godwin, North Carolina – A 47-year-old electrical power lineman lost his life because of work-related electrocution. The employee was working in a bucket moving a powerline as a part of the Spring Lake Ray Road widening project. The Aberdeen-based Electrical Construction Co. employee had only worked for his employer for approximately one year when he was killed by 7200 Volts re-energizing the wire during the relocation process. OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) is investigating the incident to identify violations and determine if employees followed health and safety standards.
According to OSHA, the facility rate for electrical power lineman and workers is 20.3 for every 100,000 employees. Compared all other occupations, this statistic is significantly higher than many other hazardous jobs..
Staying Safe and Alive – What to Do
Staying safe on the job requires full attention, no matter what is going on in the lineman's daily life. Following the best safety practices listed below can help workers minimize the potential risk of being severely injured or killed in their work environment. These practices include:
- Remain aware and alert of your surroundings. When performing any work on or around live electrical lines, be mindful of who and what is around to avoid equipment and dangerous scenarios.
- Be sure and use every tool appropriately as it is designed. This means using tools that you are familiar that can help perform the job safely. Familiarities of the result of constant training by utility company managers that stress the need for the best safety practices.
- Work in teams. Performing duties alongside coworkers can build an effective safety team that looks out from one another through ongoing communication until the job was completed and all workers are removed from a hazardous working environment.
- Slow down. It is crucial to take time to perform the job, and never rush for the sake of safety, no matter how proficient the worker is performing the proper technique.
- Wear appropriate safety equipment. Utilizing the best PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) is one of the crucial safety steps any lineman or power worker can do to commit to working safely. This equipment often involves the appropriate gloves, shoes, helmet, and clothing that provide the employee the extra layers of safe protection.
It is crucial for the worker to recognize that they have control over their safety and the safety of all coworkers on the job as long as they follow the established protocols and safety procedures. Staying safe requires remaining diligent and speaking out loud any time a hazard is identified.
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