As an experienced lineman, Gary Norland was typical of many workers: big and strong, physically tough, unafraid of any challenge. That was before he came into contact with a 12,500-volt line. That’s when everything changed. He is not alone, as many others also have experienced serious electrical contacts on the job.
The well-known fact is electrical line work can be hazardous and potentially deadly. Based on high fatal work injury rates, the U.S. Department of Labor puts it in the top 10 high-risk occupations.
In the industry, there is continuous lineworker safety training, a heavy focus on OSHA regulations and requirements, and a variety of procedural checklists. With all this emphasis on ensuring safety knowledge, one might think the serious electrical contact and flash rate among lineworkers would be declining. Yet it appears to be moving in the other direction.
One utility insurer reported a 40 percent overall drop in OSHA reportable incidents from 2006 to 2016; however, lineworker electrical contacts, particularly serious injuries and fatal contacts, are increasing. In 2016, the number of lineworker contacts grew 23 percent compared to the previous year. The number of those that were serious incidents, characterized by a fatality or an injury costing more than $100,000 in medical expenses, went up by 50 percent.