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Electrification begins

In the early years, linemen learn basic principles and hazards in real time. Safety standards are non-existent, and most line equipment is handmade.

  •   Early headgear. It’s not uncommon for linemen to wear hats made of felt or leather for protection.
  •   Bare hands. Linemen rarely wear gloves for protection, opting instead to work bare-handed.
  •   Digging spoon. Workers dig holes by hand with digging bars, spoons, and shovels.
  •   Climbing spikes. Homemade climbers lack pads and have only upper and lower straps.
  •   Homemade belts. Linemen fashion belts to wrap around waist and pole – or they climb freestyle.



Safety beginnings

Safety rules and formalized training become available, but they’re limited. During this period, linemen de-energize lines to restore power, but as demand grows, live-line work becomes more common.

  •   Homemade hot sticks.  Linemen make their own hot sticks and slather them with varnish to keep moisture out.
  •   Leather tool bags. Leather bags store and carry climbing and work tools.
  •   Rubber gloves. Safer rubber gloves are introduced around 1915 along with other rubberized equipment, such as line hoses and blankets.
  •   Standardization. Linemen belts and safety straps are more standardized, adjustable, and attach to D-rings.



Safety training improves

The electric industry develops more formalized safety rules and procedures to protect lineworkers. In the late 1930s, apprentice programs with stricter standards also begin.

  •   Hats. The transition to hard hats comes later in this period. Until then, most linemen elect to wear soft, Stetson-style hats.
  •   Shotgun sticks. The first shotgun sticks come into use and allow linemen to perform more tasks without climbing.
  •   Hydraulics. A-frame digger trucks evolve into hydraulic digger derrick trucks with auger, resulting in safer, more efficient work.



New heights and faster communication

Fiberglass sticks evolve to “rubber gloving,” with more formalized rules and training. The advent of the bucket truck, utility undergrounding and improved communications are major steps.

  •   Rubber glove protectors. Linemen wear two pairs of gloves – leather on top of rubber – for more protection. 
  •   Bucket trucks. Insulated buckets on trucks with fall protection come into use.
  •   Two-way radios. New applications of radio technologies improve communications during emergencies and storm restoration.



New law of the land

President Nixon signs the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) law. Underground line installation gains widespread use. Material-handling bucket trucks and hydraulic and mechanical compression tools also improve work conditions.

  •   Hard hats. Head protection made from thermoplastics gains widespread use. 
  •   Rubber sleeve improvements. New sleeves extend to the shoulders for extra protection. 
  •   Telescoping or extendo stick. Made of fiberglass, the extendo stick lets workers perform tasks like opening and closing switches or removing tree limbs while staying on or near the ground.



Watching out for workers

OSHA begins requiring utilities to provide lineworker clothing to protect from arc flashes and “fall protection” devices like body harnesses and fall-arrest lanyards.

  •   Insulated hard hats. Linemen now wear hard hats insulated with a special polyethylene that protects against blows to the head.
  •   Harnesses. Linemen aren’t climbing as much, so body harnesses and lanyards are valuable backup support.
  •   Tablets. Mobile devices help lineworkers troubleshoot problems using SCADA and meter data instead of climbing a pole or going up in a bucket.
  •   Battery-operated crimper. Lightweight mechanical crimpers mean no more squeezing connectors by hand.
  •   Clothing. Arc-rated clothing is written into OSHA-required Personal Protective Equipment.


Thanks to Alan Drew, author of The American Lineman, and Bud Branham and Robert Harris from NRECA for their assistance in the completion of this article.

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