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Apprentice Development Programs: What Should be Included?

Over the years, I have received many questions asking what it takes to become a journeyman lineworker after being hired as an apprentice. In response, I have prepared the following overview of the skills training I believe needs to be covered. Please note that this is only an overview; some companies will need to deliver training for their specific policies not covered here.

To become a journeyman lineworker, approximately 8,000 hours of combination classroom and field training are required, with all on-the-job training (OJT) to be supervised by qualified electric utility journeymen mentors or supervisors in the field. If an apprentice has earned a certificate from an accredited line development school, the employer should evaluate the apprentice’s proficiency and understanding of that coursework. It’s possible that the training period with the employer could be shortened to give the apprentice credit for their previous training.

Acceleration of an apprentice development program should only occur after company management approval. Mentors (i.e., crew journeymen) should be available for apprentices in the field who are not working directly under a supervisor to ensure constant support during all training. I recommend that apprentices initially be categorized by employers as entry-level apprentices. These apprentices must meet all training and proficiency requirements before becoming advanced apprentices.

Apprentices must not be allowed to perform tasks they have not been trained in. Proficiency demonstrations are a requirement after they receive classroom training. Instructors and evaluators or assigned mentors should also evaluate each new apprentice to determine future training needs.

Instructors and employees involved in the OJT of the organization’s apprentices must understand that although the apprentices have been exposed to and are trained in specific areas/tasks, they are not necessarily proficient in these areas/tasks. Direct supervision is required while employees gain more experience and demonstrate their competence.

It’s important to remember that an apprentice should not work on exposed energized secondary or near exposed primary conductors until a minimum approach distance and distribution cover-up training session has been delivered and documented. Once the training session has been documented, the apprentice must be under the direct supervision of a journeyman mentor. They must never be allowed to work on or near energized distribution primary conductors or equipment at 600 volts or more without a journeyman lineworker either with them in a two-man bucket or in another bucket nearby. A list of assigned tasks should be completed by each apprentice and evaluated before proceeding to energized work alone, but bear in mind that a second qualified person shall be immediately available on the job site as required by OSHA 29 CFR 1910.269(l).

There is one exception. An apprentice who has been formally trained in single-phase underground distribution (UD) switching may cover exposed secondary with a 1910.269(a)(2) qualified person present for switching purposes only. Elbows in a dead front underground transformer are not considered exposed primary parts because the elbows are fully shielded to the ground.

Basic Line and Equipment Skills
Apprentice training begins with basic line and equipment skills. Training topics include climbing qualifications and the traditional skills and physical abilities necessary for a new employee on a line crew. Climbing qualifications should be completed within the first six weeks of employment.

Upon completing basic line skills training, apprentices are considered qualified climbers according to OSHA. Being qualified climbers does not mean they are proficient climbers, but OJT allows them to practice their climbing skills and gain more experience. Apprentices should be allowed to practice climbing skills at every opportunity with appropriate supervision so they can safely gain more experience.

An apprentice in this portion of the development program should also receive training in the following areas: safety and compliance; overhead distribution construction standards; overhead materials; basic hand tools; truck tools; knots and splices; tensioning down guys; wire identification; identifying pre-formed wire grips; compression connections; handline makeup and operation; introduction to overhead transformers; digging pole holes by hand and via mobile equipment; driving ground rods; load-buster operations; bucket truck rescue; streetlights; telescopic stick operation; secondary service makeup; company policies and operating procedures; prevention of vehicular fires; truck and equipment grounding; and work area traffic control and warning devices.

In addition, this portion of the training should include the basics of operating equipment, such as the following: bucket truck and digger derrick operation; truck setup; reading load charts; digging pole holes; installing power anchors; setting and removing poles; installing and removing transformers; backing short and extended trailers; hitching a trailer to a truck; extending and retracting material trailers; loading and unloading poles on a trailer; driving on the road with and without a load; open- and closed-center hydraulic systems; backhoe operations; digging; backfilling; power delivery bulletins; truck and equipment retrieval; truck and equipment grounding; proper vehicle chocking; and installing and removing poles in energized transmission and distribution lines.

Basic Underground Skills
Based on the type of work your company does, basic underground skills training can be incorporated into the first sections of the apprentice development program. This portion of the program provides apprentices with an introductory understanding of UD work. Training topics should include underground safety; job briefings; UD standards and systems; specifications; print symbols; reading construction prints and one-line diagrams; underground tools and materials; terminating primary elbows, splices and risers; installing and terminating underground transformers; ringing out and tagging cables; load-buster operations; secondary splices and terminations; installing parallel services; underground streetlights; writing switching orders; single-phase switching; isolating, tagging and grounding primary and secondary cables; power delivery bulletins; inspection of pad-mounted equipment; UD installation and operating procedures; and safe practices for making excavations.

Again, apprentices should work under the direct supervision of qualified journeymen lineworkers. Journeymen and supervisors must understand the importance of reinforcing basic underground skills so that apprentices can safely gain more experience.

Advanced Apprentice Training
At this point, apprentices should be trained in basic line and equipment skills and underground skills. They also will have gained additional experience and knowledge from closely supervised field exercises. Up next is the advanced apprenticeship training component of the development program. In this stage, apprentices perform work in the field, both from the pole and via aerial devices.

Initial training should be delivered in the following areas: line construction; print reading; framing poles; sagging and tying in conductors; transformer installations; single-phase transformers; open and closed delta banks; wye-wye banks; phase rotation; service connections; paralleling transformer banks; streetlight installation and maintenance; field installation; troubleshooting; system coordination; Kirchhoff’s law of current division; meter installations; and Ohm’s law and basic electricity. Apprentices shall receive OJT in a directly supervised environment.

As noted earlier, in this portion of the training, apprentices perform all fieldwork – except climbing tasks – from an insulating aerial device. After introductory training, apprentices should perform tasks on energized lines under the direct supervision of a qualified journeyman. Topics to be included in the introductory training are safety procedures for live-line work; job briefings; proper distribution cover-up; de-energizing for the protection of the employee; temporary grounding; energized conductors; paths to ground in the work area; replacing insulators on three-phase construction; polymer insulators and tracking; pin insulators; disc insulators; C-suspension; dead-ends; replacing a steel arm with a fiberglass arm; transferring conductors on three-phase construction; suspension; and climbing tasks on taller distribution poles.

Apprentices perform all work, except climbing tasks, on energized three-phase construction. The overhead training topics include replacing poles in energized conductors; transferring conductors; installing and removing gang-operated switches and reclosers; installing and replacing fused sectionalized switches; replacing lightning arresters; splicing tensioned conductors; climbing tasks on taller distribution poles; and online and offline capacitors.

Apprentices must be given work assignments that reinforce the skills and work methods learned in all types of overhead line work except reconductoring, for which they have not yet received specific training. This portion of the training does not cover reconductoring an existing three-phase line or adding conductors to an existing single-phase line. Distribution reconductoring requires all the training and experience gained through this development program, plus field experience gained while working on crews. The moving and setting of conductors also requires an understanding of NESC rules; the effects of conductors sagged at less than specifications; clearances on existing equipment; and truck and equipment grounding.

At the end of the overhead portion of the development program, apprentices’ skills and knowledge should be evaluated.

Advanced Underground Skills
An apprentice in the advanced underground portion of the development program receives training in the following areas: three-phase transformers and risers; installations and terminations; single-phase and three-phase switching; writing switching orders; operating manual and automatic switching cubicles; pad-mounted open delta banks; 1000-MCM terminations; when and how to use phasing sticks; service restoration and earth gradient devices; cable and fault locating; radar scopes/cable faults; impulse generators/thumpers; racking in and out of breakers and switchgear; and operating and switching customer-owned distribution systems.

Apprentices should be given work tasks and assignments that reinforce the methods and skills learned during their advanced underground training. Near the end of the OJT period, apprentices should undergo a knowledge and skills evaluation. Each apprentice must pass this evaluation to be eligible for promotion to a vacant lineworker position. Company management and safety and training employees should formally evaluate the apprentices.

As a reminder, the material included in this article is an overview. In no way does it include all the items that an apprentice must learn to become a journeyman lineworker. As with other industries, line work offers a continuous learning journey without end. This article merely addresses the first steps.

Lastly, keep in mind that all OSHA training should be provided by qualified instructors and certified by the employer before employees can be considered qualified.

About the Author: Danny Raines, CUSP, is an author, an OSHA-authorized trainer, and a transmission and distribution safety consultant who retired from Georgia Power after 40 years of service and now operates Raines Utility Safety Solutions LLC.

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Danny Raines, CUSP

Danny Raines, CUSP, is an author, an OSHA-authorized trainer, and a transmission and distribution safety consultant who retired from Georgia Power after 40 years of service and now operates Raines Utility Safety Solutions LLC.