Sunflower Electric Power Corp. is a generation and transmission cooperative located in Western Kansas. We have approximately 2,600 miles of overhead transmission lines, which we patrol annually using vehicles. While you may have heard stories about Kansas being flat as a pancake, they are not true. Several areas of our service territory feature deep ravines, water crossings, washouts and rock outcroppings that make line patrols challenging and hazardous. In the past, patrol vehicles used by our line technicians were either pickup trucks or standard-equipped side-by-side all-terrain vehicles (ATVs). After enduring a few ATV-related accidents that caused damage to both workers and equipment, we knew it was time to evaluate our line patrol program to see what we could do to make it safer.
Our most recent injury, which occurred in 2016, resulted in facial injuries that required reconstructive surgery after an employee hit his face on the steering wheel of the side-by-side ATV he was operating. Following is a summary of the accident.
A line technician was patrolling by himself and came upon an area of grass that was close to 4 feet tall. He did not see the depression in the ground in front of him and dropped the front end of the ATV he was driving into a washed-out area that was approximately 4 feet deep and 6 feet wide. Upon entering the depression, the ATV came to an abrupt stop and the line technician’s face made contact with the steering wheel. This caused multiple fractures of his nose. The line technician was wearing the standard seat belt, which consisted of a lap belt and shoulder strap, but it didn’t lock up fast enough on impact to prevent injury. Fortunately, the technician was able to get himself out of the ATV and walk approximately one-eighth of a mile back to the main road, where his pickup was parked. He then called other crew members for assistance; they transported him to the local hospital, where he was treated for his injuries. Unfortunately, the technician had to have follow-up surgery to repair his broken nose.