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Stay in the Yellow: Understanding Conditions of Awareness

I recently read a great blog post titled “If You’re in the Line of Fire, It Has the Right of Way” (see The post provides an account of a line-of-fire incident and covers the importance of situational awareness. The following three sentences resonated with me: “I believe line of fire hazards are most dangerous when we become task focused and subconsciously place our blinders on. Can you remember a time where you were immersed in your work and you became unaware of everything going on around you? It’s important to be engaged in our work, however we need to keep our head on a swivel, periodically checking our surroundings and rely on spotters…

The Fly in the Ointment

| Steve Martin |
“The fly in the ointment” is an old phrase that refers to an individual who spoils things for the whole bunch, someone who has dark energy that affects an entire group. It has become my greatest concern in line work. Now, you may scoff at my use of the word “energy,” but the truth is that we are all either transmitters or receivers of energy, and all of this energy is transmitted or received in frequencies. The entire universe functions on a nodal frequency of 432 Hz. That’s the frequency of the Fibonacci sequence that gives the diameters and spirals to our galaxies and even to chambered nautiluses deep in the ocean. And 528 Hz is the solfeggio frequency – the human vibration pattern that brings us in tune with every subatomic structure …

What We Leave Behind: A Cautionary Tale

| Dale West |
This is Aaron’s story, told by his mother, Jenny. Aaron’s father, Dave, loved his job. He was always tinkering with things and could never just sit still. Dave was wonderful, thoughtful, funny and caring – the most beautiful man I’ve ever known. When Aaron was born, you could see the love, devotion and pride in Dave’s eyes. As Aaron grew up, Dave wanted to be there when he woke up in the morning, play with him throughout the day and put him to bed at night. He cut back on overtime and jobs away from home so he could spend more time with Aaron. The thing that stands out most in my mind about how Dave and Aaron got along was when Aaron was 6 years old and wanted to play soccer. Dave told me it was so funny watching the boy play. Aaron was …

Recognizing and Combating the Half-Attention Mindset

The human imagination leads to invention, invention leads to innovation, and innovation leads to progress. The brainpower of humanity is why we have space travel, the electric grid and a cellphone in nearly every pocket. Who knows what we will come up with in another 50 years. Humans also have an amazing capacity for making ourselves believe things that may or may not be true. Self-awareness and rationalization are two of the most fundamental differences between humans and other animals. Because humans are capable of so much, we sometimes think we can do things that we simply cannot. One issue that I confront every day with my workforce ties into the categories of complacency and risk tolerance. By now, most if not all of us know what it…

Power Restoration Triage and Delta Systems

Triage is a common tool used to prioritize medical treatment based on urgency of need and severity of the injury or condition. For example, in mass-casualty incidents, victims are tagged using a color-coded system that identifies which individuals should get transported to the hospital first. Colors may vary depending on the triage system you use, but typically there are four colors – red, yellow, green and black – with red indicating that immediate transportation is required while black means that the individual likely will not survive. Beyond its medical uses, triage is also highly useful for prioritizing power restoration after a storm. For example, if a substation transformer blows up and another one isn’t readily available, the outa…

Words of Wisdom from a Longtime Safety Man

I first got into the electric utility industry in 1965 when I was hired to work as a lineman’s helper. Lineman’s helpers were also called by another name: grunt. At that time, you were not considered a grown adult until you were 21 years of age. I was just 18 in 1965. I could not drink, I could not vote, and I could not be a lineman, but I could be a grunt. So, I grunted for a couple of years and then went into the U.S. Army for a tour. The job the military chose for me was light weapons infantryman, so I was essentially still a grunt.

Training a New Generation

| R. Neal Gracey |
My personal journey in line work started October 2, 1978, on a two-man line crew. It was just my foreman and me. He was an old, seasoned power lineman, gruff and to the point. When we met, he looked at me and asked, “Can you climb 30 poles a day?” Heck, it was all I could do to not turn around and walk out! But I didn’t walk out, and he and I spent the next few years together setting poles and installing facilities in backyards and rights-of-way.

3 Reasons to Think Twice

| Dale West |
Loretta was excited but very nervous about her upcoming 20-week ultrasound; she and her husband, Vic, were told there may be complications with her pregnancy. Their son Levi was now 5 years old, and all three had been hoping for a little brother or sister for Levi for two long years. This ultrasound was going to be a big surprise for Levi – he’d get to find out what his mom would be having. Vic was traveling for work, but his boss agreed to fly him out the morning of the ultrasound so he could be with Loretta and Levi for the big event. The day before the ultrasound, Vic called Loretta to let her know that everything was going to be fine and that he would be home on an early flight the next day so he could be with her and Levi. Loretta s…

The Significance of Critical Steps at the Work Site

| R. Neal Gracey |
A “critical step” is an action that can trigger immediate, irreversible harm to people and assets if it is improperly performed. Such a step occurs in our industry whenever an action involves a substantial transfer of energy, movement of weight, or transference of something else that could cause or result in harm to a person or asset.

Safety Considerations for Matted Surfaces

Have you ever worked a job that involved matting? If so, were the hazards and risks of matting discussed during the pre-job briefing? We often focus on the electrical hazards of our work sites – and we should – but we fall short if we don’t also pay attention to other types of hazards. The remainder of this month’s Tailgate Topic will provide you with some items to consider when working with or from a matted surface.

Control High-Energy Hazards to Help Reduce Serious Injuries and Fatalities

Reducing and eliminating serious injuries and fatalities (SIFs) remains a challenge throughout the utility industry. The work required to generate, transmit and distribute electricity and gas often places workers near hazards that cannot be completely eliminated. Workers must be able to safely perform essential work without contacting or exposing themselves to sources of high energy.

Working Safely from Elevated Heights

Each year, OSHA reveals which of its regulations are most violated by employers across the U.S., based on the number of citations given. Violations of fall protection regulations are routinely in the top 10. Given that this is a widespread issue, I’m going to use this month’s Tailgate Topic to provide a brief overview of typical fall hazards as well as some protective systems you and your company can use.

5 Safety Factors to Consider in Unfamiliar Territory

| Bob Dunderdale, CUSP |
On a routine workday, it’s likely that you are in a familiar place. The people and the system around you? They’re probably familiar, too. But when we as lineworkers are asked to respond to storms or other emergencies via mutual aid or a storm call, all that can change quickly. Suddenly, we may find ourselves in unfamiliar territory. So, in this month’s Tailgate Topic, let’s review five safety factors we must consider when on a foreign property.

Getting Safety Communications Right with SBAR

Utility workers know getting communications right about safety – especially in pre-work discussions such as job hazard analyses, plans of the day and tailboards – is vital to going home safe. It can also be difficult to accomplish. However, we have seen firsthand the effectiveness of training lineworkers to use a communications tool called SBAR, which stands for “situation, background, assessment, recommendation.”

90% of Safety Rules are Written for 10% of the People

Ninety percent of all safety rules are written for only 10% of a company’s workers. Now, that is a bold statement, particularly from someone like me, who has been involved in making safety rules for over 30 years. First, let’s take a minute to look at how safety rules have historically been made. Then I will explain my bold statement. In the old days, a company had a group of safety people who developed the rules. I was one of these people who looked for holes in safety and devised potential solutions. We safety people then presented our rules to management. If management agreed with our new rules, we updated the safety book and sent it out to all employees. Later, we created a safety and management team who developed the rules together….

Simplifying Tasks to Improve Worker Safety

The prevailing wisdom is that experience prepares you for what’s to come – that if we have done something in the past, we are better prepared to handle it when we must do it again. For the most part, I think that is accurate. It is the reason we tell our young children not to touch a hot stove, and, as they get older, we caution them not to drink too many happy hour specials. We have been there, done that, and we know the results were not always ideal. But, as with most things, there are exceptions to the rule. For example, I am currently teaching my youngest child to drive. This is my second time around this particular block; I taught my oldest child to drive about six years ago. Now, I went into this exercise with my youngest child wit…

Powered Industrial Truck Safety

In the utility industry, we use various types of powered industrial trucks – also referred to as PITs and forklifts – to perform various applications. This equipment is used in material handling in warehouse operations as well as in field construction and maintenance operations. Safe operation of a PIT is critical to avoid injury, death, and material and equipment damage. For the year 2020, OSHA reported that forklifts were the source of 78 work-related deaths and 7,290 nonfatal injuries involving days away from work. From 2011 to 2020, OSHA statistics reveal that an average of 7,243 forklift incidents occur annually. Regardless of the industry, the unwanted experiences are excessive. Also for the year 2020, OSHA reported issuing 1,932 v…

4 Questions for Continuous Improvement

As Jim, the owner of the company, walked the job site with the head of safety and quality, he said, “You know, we’ve made big gains in safety, quality and production, even as we’ve grown over 200% the past couple of years, but things have plateaued, and I don’t know what to do.”  This may sound familiar, or maybe you’re on the other end of the spectrum – it seems that you are headed down the wrong path or perhaps have even hit rock bottom. The solution to both problems is the same: ask these four questions.  Question 1: What’s Good?   We want to double down on the good. We want to figure out what it is and communicate it to increase operational consistency and efficiency throughout the company. These are called best practices, and you’re…

Chainsaw Safety Practices for Rights-of-Way

We all enjoy watching television or listening to music at home, perhaps while eating a hot meal or drinking a shake we made in the blender – all activities made possible through the wonderful power of electricity. But our enjoyment is dampened when the power goes out, which is sometimes due to a fallen tree or fallen branches breaking electrical supply lines. To help remove the debris and restore electrical services, line crews often use chainsaws. They have become essential tools, but it’s no secret that operating a chainsaw can be hazardous if the user doesn’t follow safe operating procedures. In this month’s Tailgate, I want to share the following tips for using a chainsaw on the ground to clear trees and branches in the right-of-way….

If I Could Do It All Over Again

| Terry Ehli |
Being retired from a 32-year career as an electrical lineman, I sometimes catch myself asking the question, “If I could do it all over again, what would I have done differently?” Then I start to think about how my shoulders ache on these cold Minnesota nights because of the arthritis in them. That pain is probably due to jacking up wire with a hoist thousands of times, or cutting steel guy wire with a big bolt cutter, or not using proper body mechanics when dragging heavy tree limbs while clearing rights-of-way for our power lines. I also think about the two artificial hips I have because I wore out my original ones, most likely from climbing poles, jumping in and out of large trucks, and jumping down into trenches for splicing undergrou…