Linemen often actively participate in daily safety tailboards, wear the latest personal protective equipment and follow the proper work procedures. In turn, they are often able to go home to their families safe and sound every night. But what happens when they are off the clock?
At the 2015 International Lineman’s Safety and Training Conference, the speakers drove home the point that linemen must think about safety both on and off the job site. Even if a lineman is seriously injured away from work, it can have a lifelong impact on the lineman as well as on his or her crew, utility, family and friends.
Case in point: Tony Crow, an operator for a Texas Utilities coal-fired power plant wore his safety glasses, hard hat and steel-toed boots every day at work. One day, when he was locking out and tagging out equipment, a concrete stack suddenly crumbled, missing him by 50 feet but killing one of his coworkers. While he considers that to be one of the worst days of his life, he was relieved to have escaped from near death and serious injury.
“I felt 10 feet tall and bulletproof,” Crow said during his motivational talk, titled “Safety 24/7,” to a crowded room of linemen at the Overland Park Convention Center during the free conference.
In the Blink of an Eye
Little did Crow know, 10 years later, at the age of 46, he would become permanently blind while quail hunting. For 26 years, he religiously wore safety glasses every day to work at the power plant. That day, however, he was not wearing his safety glasses or a brightly colored shirt. When he was standing behind tall brush, he was nearly invisible to his 17-year-old son, who accidentally shot him in the face with a 12-gauge shotgun.
“My family’s and friends’ lives and my whole world changed in the blink of an eye,” Crow said. “When the doctor told me that I would never see again, I remember thinking that I never saw blind people working at the power plant.”
After his accident, so many family members and friends packed the waiting room the hospital medical staff thought he might be a celebrity. In fact, 72 people were in the waiting room to support his family when he was in intensive care — and he is from a town with a population of only 3,000.
“I realized that day that it wasn’t just about me,” said Crow, who started the organization INJAM — “It’s Not Just About Me” — to help others.
Today, Crow visits groups to spread the message of not leaving safety habits at work, but instead taking them home.
“Many people think that since it is their time when they go home, they can do things they would have never done at work,” Crow said. “That’s why there are four times as many loss-time accidents away from work than on the job site.”
The Power of Electricity
As all linemen know, however, not all near-misses, accidents and serious injuries occur away from work. For example, Shawn Spiwak, a Kansas City Power & Light (KCP&L) lineman, lost an arm, leg and finger during a work accident. While he is no longer able to climb poles, the lineman used his injury to help educate others about electricity. To this end, he and another lineman built a specialized safety trailer to demonstrate the power of electricity to schools, first responders and community groups. At the end of the first day of the safety conference, the pair gave several demonstrations outside the convention center to the large group of linemen.
“This trailer was built and designed with the intent of showing various folks outside our industry what hazards can be created if you don’t respect and follow the proper guidelines around electricity,” said Vic Taylor of KCP&L, who helped manage the safety conference this year.
In addition to focusing on the lifelong effect of injuries on linemen, the conference also discussed how workers can prevent tragedies through personal protective equipment. For example, Danny Raines, the president of Raines Utility Safety Solutions, returned again this year to talk about rubber cover-ups, and Rick Hawthorne of Carhartt explored the changes to fire-retardant clothing.
The safety conference also featured Charlie Cartwright, a motivational speaker from Lockton Corp., and Chris Overman, the safety and human performance manager for Nebraska Public Power District. In addition, Gary Knapp of the Kansas City Police Department educated the linemen about how to stay safe and secure when dealing with agitated customers.
By offering topics that resonated with the linemen, this year’s conference attracted nearly 220 attendees, Taylor said of the one-and-a-half-day conference.
“Each year, we continue to draw more and more participants,” Taylor said. “We always look for current trends and motivational speakers that spark their interest in safety.”
Editor’s note: To see a photo gallery of the Safety and Training Conference and video clips of the KCP&L safety trailer in action, visit www.tdworld.com/electric-utility-operations.