When utility employees travel to remote backcountry job sites, things can turn bad quickly if they are not prepared to deal with hazards. And a bad situation can become exponentially worse during the winter months, when over-the-snow travel may be involved and additional factors – such as limited or failed communications, difficult terrain, winter storms, avalanche hazards and the potential for cold weather injuries – can potentially wreak havoc.
If employees are to understand how to safely handle these types of emergency situations, employers must diligently train and equip employees well before they travel to a backcountry site. For starters, all workers must be taught how to identify a survival situation. If a problem arises on a job site, lone employees or small crews with limited resources on hand should be trained to notify their operations centers to advise them of the problem, regardless of whether or not the employees believe they can overcome the issue on their own. This is a critical step that is often overlooked. Many times workers believe that walking back to the highway vehicle is the best option if they become stranded in the backcountry due to an equipment failure or operator error. This is almost always the worst thing to do, and many deaths have been attributed to such incidents. Traveling on foot in deep snow – which is incredibly difficult, if not impossible – should be the last choice, as crew trucks should have food, water and heat to last crew members several days of the worst-case conditions.
Beyond the basics of how to identify and address a survival situation, employers should also train employees about communication protocols, survival priorities, the appropriate survival tools to bring to the backcountry, and how to recognize and avoid cold weather injuries.