As a third-generation lineman in the high-voltage utility industry, I can say based on experience that the industry has changed slowly at certain times and radically at others. And yet one thing that has not changed much over the years is the process of performing live-line work on extra-high-voltage (EHV) transmission lines. It still requires the use of live-line tools; it still requires linemen to maintain minimum approach distances; it still requires that linemen possess the knowledge and ability to use tools properly depending on the application, whether it be steel or wood construction; and it still requires access to the energized end of the insulator string or conductor. For many years the method of accessing the “hot end,” as we call it, required the use of live-line-rated aerial lifts, horizontal or vertical live-line insulated ladders or, in some instances, helicopters. Each access method has its own set of intricacies that can be time consuming, labor intensive and costly, but all of the methods have the same end result when the procedure involves the bare-hand method for conducting the maintenance work. Live-line maintenance using the hot-stick method is another topic entirely, so for the purposes of this article, I am only going to address live-line bare-hand work.
Creating a New Tool
Well before OSHA’s final rule regarding 29 CFR 1910.269 and 1926 Subpart V was published in 2014, ushering in new fall protection standards, the live-line bare-hand committee within the company I work for – Tri-State Generation and Transmission, headquartered in Westminster, Colo. – began to think a great deal about providing our linemen with a new tool for performing traditional live-line work. Ongoing environmental and related job site concerns also impacted our thought process at the time. Those concerns included a lack of rights-of-way; earth disturbances caused by the need to access structures and set up aerial lift equipment; the possible need to re-vegetate earth that we disturbed during a job; lack of ability to de-energize transmission lines requiring live-line work; and the costs associated with the use of helicopters for routine live-line EHV maintenance.
The time the committee spent thinking about creating this new tool for live-line work was the beginning of developing Tri-State’s rope access and rescue program for live-line bare-hand work. Basic work methods did exist at the time, but we wanted a rope access program that provided greater training and direction and could include rescue at a level that hadn’t existed before but that we as linemen had always wanted. As time went on, we began to develop a comprehensive process for performing live-line transmission maintenance just as we had always done with ladders, trucks and helicopters, and it was – and continues to be – every bit as efficient, cost effective, rescue enabled and, most importantly, safe.