The linemen navigating communities across the country often face dangerous conditions. From exposed wiring to dizzying heights, these professionals must contend with numerous occupational hazards. Unfortunately, significant numbers of utility workers sustain serious injuries or perish on the job, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Back in 2015, the latest year for which the BLS has viable data, approximately 26 linemen lost their lives while many others sustained nonfatal injuries requiring varying degrees of medical attention. In fact, the BLS considers electrical worker the ninth most dangerous occupation in the U.S. While towering heights and charged electrical fixtures pose serious safety hazards for utility crew members, these individuals face an equally lethal threat that receives much less attention: the open road.
More than 63,000 American workers were injured in employment-related traffic accidents in 2015, analysts for the BLS found. Over 2,000 were killed in such events. These fatalities alone accounted for 25 percent of all occupational deaths recorded that year. Of course, these tragedies take a toll on the organization. Morale drops significantly and margins tighten as expenses mount. Employers pay $60 billion in worker medical expenses, property replacement costs and unrealized productivity, according to research from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The average business pays $16,500 per crash. Wrecks the result in injuries cost employers around $74,000, while those involving fatalities lead to expenses surpassing $500,000.
With these factors in mind, utility companies must re-evaluate their workplace safety programs and ensure they include transportation policies. Those lacking in this area should work quickly to draft and deploy the proper protocols and protections. Simply encouraging crew members to drive safely is not enough – more definitive strategies are required. Here are some methods power providers can use to keep linemen safe as they move throughout their communities serving their family, friends and neighbors:
Offer formalized employee training and support
Most utility workers possess driver's licenses and have passed formalized road safety tests. For many electrical companies, this enough to let them loose on the road. However, utilities with these policies should reconsider and offer their own specialized training courses that build off of previous knowledge. These programs should touch on the basics, as well as more advanced on-road strategies that normally are not addressed at the department of motor vehicles.
The National Safety Council advises employers to offer defensive driving instruction, which helps drivers understand the risks of the road and gain the skills needed to avoid problematic roadway situations. Defensive driving training also addresses topics such as operating a vehicle under the influence and cell phone use. This may seem unnecessary but covering the basics can further improve safety. Plus, utilities planning to institute driver agreements – which OSHA suggests – need to make linemen aware of all agreed-upon bylaws in these documents, including those pertaining to banal driving practices.
"More than 63,000 American workers were injured in employment-related traffic accidents in 2015."
In addition to training employees, electrical companies should design and implement robust maintenance plans for field vehicles. These programs should include routine inspections and safety checks, as well as specialized components. For example, power providers should stock trucks with blankets, water and other supplies in the winter so crews can remain warm and safe in the event that they break down.
Create a culture of safety
While training and maintenance efforts can go a long way toward keeping linemen safe as they navigate highways and byways, regulations and protocols simply are not enough. Utilities must cultivate cultures of roadway safety, according to OSHA. How? Incentive programs are effective in this area. Positive reinforcement encourages crew members to not only comply with the driver safety protocols listed out in manuals but also go above and beyond, and take to the road with safety at the front of their minds. This self-generated focus can permeate an organization and lead to the natural rise of a culture of safety. Utilities can offer anything from extra sick days to financial incentives to keep linemen focused on practicing safe driving habits.
Of course, power providers should also address those on the other end of the spectrum. Historically unsafe drivers cannot be permitted to run amok without consequences. This necessitates the development of a disciplinary system.
Implement advanced software
The digitization of the field services industry has given rise to cutting-edge technology that can bolster organizational safety policies – namely, automatic vehicle tracking software. These solutions allow utility managers to monitor their crews as they respond to calls and collect real-time vehicle data such as location, speed and distance traveled. With this information in hand, these leaders can hold linemen accountable on the road and ensure none are acting irresponsibly. AVL solutions are also useful in inclement weather-caused outage situations that might make navigating roadways more dangerous. Supervisors with access to the technology can easily monitor crews and reroute them around dangerous spots – flooded roadway, for instance – they cannot see but that may put them at risk.
Electric companies should do all they can to protect linemen out on the road, and the methods covered here can facilitate such action.
Is your utility interested in adopting backend systems that help keep crew members safe? Connect with dataVoice International. We design and deploy cutting-edge, weather-tested software made for utilities, including AVL, outage management and mobile crew solutions. Contact us today to learn why electric companies across the country trust our products to get the job done.