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Live-Line Tool Use and Care

After attending a Monday morning safety meeting, a lineman is assigned the task of driving to a remote county road to measure the conductor height of an energized 115-kV transmission line. A rural farmhouse in the vicinity is scheduled to be moved and subsequently would pass directly underneath the transmission conductors. The lineman’s foreman wants to know if the top of the house will encroach on the minimum approach distance to live parts as it passes underneath the conductors. 

The lineman arrives at the site. He parks his utility truck on the side of the road and turns on his vehicle warning flashers and signal lights. While exiting the truck the lineman puts on his safety glasses and hard hat. He walks to the rear of the truck and grabs several orange traffic cones. He then strategically places each cone behind and alongside his work truck as required by the U.S. Department of Transportation. 

A Shocking Story
Next, he walks to the passenger side of his truck. Mounted on top of the passenger-side bin is a polyvinyl chloride (PVC) tube. The lineman twists off the end cap of the PVC tube and pulls out a new telescoping fiberglass measuring stick. The stick is stored inside a yellow protective bag. As he removes the stick from the bag, the lineman observes dust from inside the bag falling onto his work boots. The lineman places the empty bag on top of the bin. Gently but firmly he taps the butt of the stick on the ground several times to remove any remaining dust. He walks over to where the conductor crosses the road and positions himself directly underneath an energized conductor. While standing in the road he checks both directions to verify no oncoming traffic is approaching. With the large end of the stick setting on the ground, he extends the stick by rotating each individual section until a plastic button engages into its mating section. He fully extends the telescoping measuring stick until the tip of the stick touches the conductor. Instantly, the lineman feels a tingling sensation followed by an unexpected electrical shock. The lineman falls backward and lands on his back. Luckily – and with minimal injury – he learns a valuable lesson and returns to work, hopefully much wiser.

The events described in this story actually happened. For whatever personal reason, the lineman violated a cardinal rule. He did not take the time to properly inspect, clean and take care of a live-line tool prior to use. 

Hot sticks shall be visually inspected before each use. The purpose of the inspection is to look for visible damage or wear. The inspection should include looking for the following types of defects:

Bent, worn or cracked components, or other damage
Evidence of tracking
Deterioration on the surface of the fiberglass-reinforced plastic rod, such as cuts, gouges, dents, delamination or a lack of glossy appearance
Dirt, paint, creosote, grease or other foreign materials
A tingling or fuzzy sensation when the tool comes in contact with an energized conductor or piece of equipment

If any of the above conditions are found during an inspection, immediately remove the tool from service. Alterations or modifications shall not be made to hot sticks that may adversely affect the electrical or mechanical capability of the tool. 

Cleaning and Care
Live-line tools – including fiberglass telescoping measuring sticks and fiberglass grip-all clamp sticks – must be maintained in clean condition prior to use. Workers should use clean hands or gloves while handling the tools to avoid contamination of the dielectric surface. The surface of each tool must be inspected for contamination such as dirt, creosote or grease. Contaminants should be removed with a clean, absorbent cloth or paper towel. Wipe the clean tool with a silicone-treated cloth. Do not use soap or liquid detergents such as Formula 409®, fantastik® or Ajax® to clean hot sticks as they can leave a conductive coating. If wiping does not remove the contaminant, follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for cleaning and resurfacing. During the performance of live-line work, live-line tools shall be placed on tarps or special tool holders. Live-line tools shall not be placed on the ground or against sharp objects such as barbed wire fences, steel towers or steel truck bins.

Live-line tools, when not in use, shall be kept in weatherproof enclosures and stored in a dry and warm location when possible. 

Take care of your hot sticks and they will take care of you.

About the Author: Will Schnyer is a foreman III lineman for the Rocky Mountain Region of Western Area Power Administration, a power marketing agency within the Department of Energy. He is a Certified Utility Safety Professional (CUSP) and has more than 26 years of experience working in the electric distribution and transmission field.

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