Lineworker Safety Has Improved

A historic photo shows how linemen used to climb poles to install new equipment.

As we look at the past 85 years, much has changed at Northern Lights Inc. to improve the safety and efficiency of tools, vehicles, personal protection equipment, and processes.

Linemen performing work on energized lines wear special flame-resistant clothing. FR clothing is made from fabrics that do not ignite. FR clothing helps reduce the amount and severity of burn injuries and increases survival if there is an incident involving flames.

Although different iterations of FR clothing have been around for decades, it has only been since 2000 that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration required linemen to wear FR clothing when performing energized work.

Bucket trucks have become a standard vehicle in the NLI fleet. In the earlier days, bucket trucks were not something all utilities had. Linemen climbed poles and performed work from the pole. NLI linemen typically use a bucket truck if a pole is accessible. However, linemen do still climb poles as needed in certain situations.

Additional pole-climbing safety measures have been put in place through the years, including the requirement of wearing a climbing harness. In the early days of electric utilities, it was not uncommon for linemen to wear their climbing hooks and no or limited fall protection.

Now, bucket trucks and additional safety equipment keep crews safer while keeping the power flowing.

One of the major things that has changed is the training required and provided to linemen. In the past, little—if any training was required to be a lineman. Today, those wanting to be a lineman need to attend an apprenticeship program. NLI’s three-year program requires apprentices to attend school on many weekends and work alongside journeyman linemen doing progressive work. Linemen attend monthly safety meetings and receive regular training on everything from grounding electrical equipment and operating a forklift to first aid.

With October being National Cooperative Month, it is worth mentioning the ongoing training NLI participates in with other utilities in the region. One of the Seven Cooperative Principles is Cooperation Among Cooperatives. This principle brings together cooperatives to share resources for training and share ideas with each other. NLI participates in the Idaho and Montana statewide cooperative organizations and uses their training and networking.

Linework safety has improved through the years, but linemen still have a dangerous, difficult job to perform around the clock in all weather conditions.

NLI continues to ensure our linemen can work safely to provide our members reliable and affordable electric service.

Kristin MettkeNorthern Lights Engineering & Operations Manager Kristin Mettke is an electrical engineer and has worked in the electric utility industry most of her career.