Honoring the Line Trade

Aug. 12, 2016
The Lineman's supplement honors the line workers who work long days and nights to keep the lights on.

In the early years of the line trade, linemen had no formal training. Instead, they learned how to set poles and string lines the hard way — on the job — and many did not live to see the end of the workday. Through the establishment of work unions, safety standards and apprenticeship programs, aspiring linemen are now trained to handle the demands of line work. Utilities are investing in their own in-house apprenticeship programs, and community colleges and lineman’s colleges are also preparing candidates to work in the trade.

Randy Tindle, a lead lineman for Alabama Power, says today’s aspiring linemen have more opportunities for training and education than ever before. After spending many years working in the utility’s distribution department, Tindle is now sharing his knowledge and experience with the younger apprentices. By mentoring the new workers, he hopes to set them on the path to success. “If I can teach them everything that I know and then they can learn a few things on their own, they will be better linemen than I am. That is my goal,” he said.

Training Tomorrow’s Linemen

As more veteran linemen retire, electric utilities nationwide are cultivating the next wave of line workers through intense on-the-job and classroom training sessions combined with rigorous apprenticeship programs. In this year’s supplement, we explore a topic close to the heart of linemen everywhere — training the next generation of line workers.

Over time, utilities have focused on protecting their most valuable asset — their field workforce — by investing in personal protective equipment and continuous training. Gone are the days when apprentices were expected to climb a 40-ft pole without training and fall protection. Instead, many utilities now screen applicants to ensure they are not afraid of heights and are fit enough to handle the physical demands of the job. Then they embark on an intensive climbing training program, in which they learn how to scale structures safely.

While today’s linemen may use bucket trucks to access structures, many trainers at utilities believe apprentices still need to know how to climb. As such, they make climbing an integral part of the curriculum and, in the process, help to curb the number of falls and fatalities.

Utilities do not stop there. They often train the apprentices as well as the veteran linemen who have been working in the field for decades. Through these refresher training courses, journeymen linemen can practice key skills that will help them to restore power, respond in emergency situations and do their jobs more efficiently.

Traveling Back in Time

Over time, the nature of line work has stayed virtually the same. Linemen are still stringing wire and setting poles, just as their forefathers did decades ago. Nearly everything else, however, has changed, from the type of clothing they wear to the equipment and tools they use in the field.

Early linemen worked long hours in severe weather without hard hats, flame-retardant clothing or fall protection. In contrast, many of today’s utilities equip linemen with the tools they need to get their jobs done swiftly and safely. For example, rather than using standard hand tools, linemen now use battery-operated presses, crimpers and drills. In turn, they can enjoy longer careers in the field with fewer injuries.

Lineman Vincent Martinez says switching to cordless tools has sped up work practices at Bonneville Power Administration. “The line trade is evolving daily,” he said. “It seems like there are so many tools becoming available to do our job safer and more efficiently.”

Inventing New Tools

To improve the technology for their brothers and sisters in the line trade, linemen are always inventing new products. Late at night, after working a long day in the field, they often labor in their basement or garage workshops on a device that can help to save man-hours or even save a life. We honor these linemen as “industry innovators” by sharing their stories of invention from concept to full-scale production.

Learning from Storms

In this year’s supplement, we also offer lessons learned from severe storms. Three utilities share their strategies for making systems more resilient against severe weather. Superstorm Sandy affected these utilities in different ways, and as such, they have taken proactive steps to prevent future storm-related damage.

By hardening their systems, training their field workforce and taking a proactive approach, utilities are able to reduce outages and improve the productivity and safety of their field workforce. At the end of the day, that is what it’s all about — giving linemen the opportunity to make the lights shine while enabling them to go home to their families each night.

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