If I Could Do It All Over Again

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 underground power lines. Then I look at my fingers and see damage due to frostbite and the scars from numerous bumps, bruises and stitches. And I can’t forget the hernia surgery I needed after lifting a heavy trailer to hook up to a digger truck rather than using the jack to lift it.

Yes, one thought nags at me when I think about my chronic pain: I could have avoided all of it. So, to answer my own question, if I could do it all over again, I would absolutely do it differently.

The good news for you today is that it is not too late. It is so important for lineworkers to act now to save wear and tear on their bodies. However, it will require some changes in the way you are used to doing things. Change can be difficult, I know, but I have found that making changes in life can be very beneficial even though you might not agree with the change when it is proposed. Take the game of golf, for example. If someone tells you to try using a 7-iron rather than a 9-iron because you can’t hit the golf ball as far anymore, you may not like it at first. But then you find out they were right – and you are reaching the green again and enjoying your golf game.

So, if we want to change and avoid future pain, what can we do to achieve those goals? Let’s look at four actions we can take to “do it all over again” – now – so that we can do the job more safely and with less wear and tear on our bodies.

1. Convince Yourself

We need to convince ourselves that what we do now, even though it might not hurt, has a big impact on our future. Most likely, you have some big plans when you retire. But what will your retirement look like? Consider these questions:

  • What will life be like if your hearing is bad because you didn’t wear hearing protection on the job?
  • Will you be able to take that hike in the mountains to see some glaciers with your kids if your knees are shot from jumping in and out of trucks?
  • Will you be able to throw a ball to your grandchild, or will your shoulder hurt too much because you didn’t use battery-powered tools at work?

Take note of what you are doing physically and what impact it could have on your future. It’s hard to predict our future health, but we certainly can influence it and make sure we add to it rather than subtract.

2. Wear Your PPE

Although personal protective equipment is the last line of defense against a recognized hazard, it often is the one thing we are banking on to avoid getting hurt. “Personal” is the key word in that phrase. PPE protects you. And with all the technical advancements today, our PPE is better than ever for protecting our bodies. Yet PPE only protects you when you wear it. Your employer can give you the best PPE ever and it won’t make a difference if you never put it on. Be diligent every day in using the proper PPE that is provided for you.

3. Utilize the Right Tools

More and more employers are providing powerful battery-operated tools as manufacturers keep improving their quality and the types available. These tools are light, easy to use, and reduce wear and tear on our bodies. We now have battery-powered tools that cut heavy wire with the squeeze of a trigger, and we can start a chainsaw with the push of a button. We also have battery-operated tools for crimping, chiseling frost and pounding in ground rods.

However, I do know of a lineman who hurt himself when he used an old tool rather than the battery-powered tool provided by his cooperative. When questioned, he said the battery was dead, so he just grabbed the old tool so he could get the job done. If your company has purchased tools to reduce injuries, use them all the time – and be sure keep your batteries charged!

4. Use Proper Body Mechanics

Bending and lifting properly are so important, as is thinking about our movement throughout the day. There are many programs designed to help us with proper body mechanics so that we don’t hurt ourselves. For instance, Worklete and similar injury prevention programs show us proper stretching, lifting and bending techniques that will save unneeded wear and tear on our bodies.

Conclusion

As I stated earlier, if I could do it all over again, I would absolutely do things differently. I realize now that all the actions I took that hurt my body involved choices I made, and I am reminded of that every day when I feel my body ache. Keep your future in mind and make the necessary changes today. Don’t catch yourself saying, “If I could do it all over again …” Today is the day to start changing your ways so you can enjoy the years ahead with your family and friends – with as few aches and pains as possible.

About the Author: Terry Ehli is a retired lineworker who was employed by the Traverse Electric Association in Minnesota for 32 years. He now shares his experience, knowledge and skills with other lineworkers in Minnesota as a safety specialist for the Minnesota Rural Electric Association, which serves 50 rural electric cooperatives in the state.

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