A compact line crew maintains miles upon miles of overhead and underground lines at the Department of Energy’s largest energy and science laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Up until eight years ago, five linemen serviced the entire laboratory, and ORNL contracted out the construction work to external construction crews.
Recently, however, ORNL has ramped up its field workforce. By hiring more linemen, ORNL can handle maintenance as well as construction work. As the ORNL line crew brings more linemen on board, training has become paramount, especially when it comes to fall protection and pole-top rescue. Through the refresher courses and investment of new equipment, the supervisors are striving to create and promote a safety culture at the lab to protect their field workforce.
Creating a Practice Pole Yard
Although the linemen are able to maintain the majority of the infrastructure using bucket trucks, they do face certain situations where they must climb the wood poles. For example, because of a new ruling, linemen can no longer use their Altec bucket trucks on terrain with a 5% grade or more. In these situations, where the crew can’t park the trucks on level ground, the linemen must rely on their climbing skills instead of on bucket trucks.
To ensure its linemen have the skills and the training to work off of poles, ORNL set up an outside pole yard last December. This yard is located a few miles from the line shack, where the linemen keep their project materials and personal belongings on the laboratory grounds.
The new practice area consists of five wood poles that measure 40 ft to 45 ft. Three of the poles include transformer banks and two of them are freestanding for straight climbing and pole-top rescue. ORNL not only uses the pole yard for formalized training sessions, but the linemen can also get exercise and gain hands-on experience on their breaks or on slow work days when the trainers are not available.
In addition, the supervisors wanted to create a safe and controlled environment where they could watch job candidates perform skills like climbing poles and wiring banks of transformers. That way, they could evaluate the potential new hires on more than just in-person interviews.
Trying Out Fall-Restraint Devices
Recently, the ORNL leadership team had the opportunity to use its new pole training yard as the site of a refresher course for its veteran linemen. The first day of the training session focused on climbing the poles and familiarizing the linemen with different types of fall-restraint equipment.
Back in April 2015, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) began requiring linemen to wear fall-restraint devices when climbing above 2 ft. During the recent training session, an instructor from the Institute for Safety in Powerline Construction gave the linemen the opportunity to test out devices from four different manufacturers: Buckingham Manufacturing, Capital Safety, Jelco and Bashlin.
While the crew had already invested in Bashlin Patriot harnesses, the trainers wanted the linemen to be able to try on different harnesses to discover a fall restraint with the best fit. That way, the supervisors could increase compliance to the 100% fall protection requirement while making the linemen as comfortable as possible in the field.
Following the trial, the 10 linemen selected one of two different harnesses, the Buckingham Super Squeeze Easy Squeeze and the Bashlin Patriot. On the first day of the training, the linemen learned how to use these devices correctly and safely, which was challenging for those accustomed to free climbing for the majority of their careers. Since many of the linemen had not climbed wood poles since the OSHA regulation had changed, they used the training session as an opportunity to get up to speed and back in shape.
These veteran linemen faced a learning curve when it came to climbing the poles with fall protection. For example, they took their time to make sure everything was fastened correctly before leaning back. Also, they had to get used to the fact that if they cut out, they would fall against the pole rather than down the pole because of the added protection.
Performing Pole-Top Rescues
While linemen may think there are no situations where they can’t use a bucket truck, the crews at the lab know otherwise. For example, in emergency situations, when an injured coworker is near or at the top of the pole, linemen must be able to climb the pole quickly and get their coworker down to the ground.
For that reason, the crew devoted the second full day of training to pole-top rescue. As part of this session, the linemen learned how to use a hand line from Buckingham Manufacturing called an Ox Block. Twenty years ago, linemen used to drive a screwdriver into a pole and then lower down the hurt man, but since that technique is no longer allowed, the crew learned a new way to perform the hurt-man rescue.
As on the first day, the trainers had the linemen watch a video and take a written test before going out into the field to perform the hands-on training. After placing the dummy up on the pole and ensuring that the linemen were comfortable with the equipment, the trainers then taught them how to use the Ox Block to perform the rescue.
Because ORNL has its own fire department on site, the trainers invited the firefighters to attend the training and learn how they can participate in the rescue. That way, they would know how to step in and take over the care of the victim in a real-life emergency.
By training the linemen how to respond in the event of an emergency, the instructors hoped to make the rescue become second nature to the field crews. If a victim is not breathing, the rescuers only have four minutes to get oxygen to the brain before brain cells begin to die. As such, the linemen learned how to perform the rescue procedure swiftly and safely using their fall protection devices.
Going forward, the linemen plan to have the fall protection devices on their bucket trucks at all times to use when climbing the wood poles or rescuing a coworker.
The author would like to thank Oak Ridge National Laboratory linemen Travis Proffitt and Brian Burch for their contributions to this article.