Penn Power Line Leader David Airgood is among the hundreds of FirstEnergy utility employees using the personal voltage and current detector while performing his daily work tasks.

FirstEnergy Protects Line Workers With New Devices

Feb. 2, 2021
The voltage readers offer a sixth sense to its field workforce.

More than 12,000 FirstEnergy employees show up to work each day to ensure power is delivered safely and efficiently to more than six million customers across its six-state service area. In addition to launching its new “Stop. Look. Live.” safety campaign to educate the public about staying safe around electricity and near power lines and equipment, FirstEnergy is taking extra steps to keep its field employees safe, too.

The company has armed line workers and utility personnel with new, wearable safety devices that provide them with an extra layer of defense against hidden electrical threats in the field. The personal voltage and current detectors attach to the brim of any standard hard hat to provide audio and visual alerts when the wearer gets close to an electrical hazard.

Reducing Risk of Exposure

Unlike other personal voltage readers FirstEnergy employees have used in the past, this device issues a series of alerts like flashing lights, sounds and directional information to let workers know they are approaching energized electrical equipment. This extra layer of personal protective equipment (PPE) will be particularly useful in storm situations, when unseen power lines could be entangled in tree debris, or when utility workers are providing mutual assistance in unfamiliar service territories.

“Safety is a core value at FirstEnergy, and this device essentially provides a sixth sense to employees who work around electricity so that they can safely deliver the power our customers depend on each day,” says Laura Redenshek, director of safety for FirstEnergy Utilities (FEU). “It will help our field employees reduce their exposure to potential electrical threats that could be hidden in storm debris and dark areas.”

Rolling Out the Devices

FirstEnergy purchased 10,000 of these devices earlier this year for line workers, substation electricians, engineers, hazard responders and any other employee who works around live electricity in the field. They will be used in addition to the PPE utility workers are currently using and will not replace any of the in-depth safety training workers complete annually.

The new voltage readers were recently rolled out by FirstEnergy’s Ohio electric companies (Ohio Edison, The Illuminating Company and Toledo Edison), the Pennsylvania Power Company (Penn Power), West Penn Power and Potomac Edison. The company planned to implement this user-friendly device across its entire service area by the end of 2020 as more employees were trained to use it.

FirstEnergy Senior Safety Representative Stan Holmes II spent 25 years as a line worker and nearly five years as a line supervisor. He is now training field employees on how to use the new voltage and current detectors.

One of the employees who received training is Line Leader David Airgood. With 14 years of experience at Penn Power, Airgood is very familiar with the PPE that line workers rely on every day to complete their jobs safely. He has been testing the device for the past few months and said he is satisfied with its performance.

“The voltage and current detector is compact and lightweight, so it’s not cumbersome when attached to a hard hat,” said Airgood. “It will not only help protect line workers when performing storm restoration work, but when working at night, as well.”

Strong Sense of Teamwork

The release of the personal voltage and current detectors to FEU employees can be traced back to FirstEnergy's Labor-Management Safety Committee, which was created to bring management and bargaining-unit employees together to jointly address safety and human performance issues across the company.

The device was originally suggested by a former committee member who was a line leader and union member before he retired from The Illuminating Company. FirstEnergy leadership listened to this suggestion, then researched, piloted, tested and ultimately procured the device for employees.

“Making the voltage and current detectors available to our workforce is a direct result of the strong partnership that has been formed between FEU leadership and bargaining-unit employees to reduce exposure and improve overall safety,” said Redenshek. “It demonstrates what can be accomplished when people work together with the common goal of protecting their coworkers from injury.”

Lauren Siburkis is an advanced communications rep for FirstEnergy in Akron, Ohio.

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