Photos and story by Jen Neville
Entering Midway Substation, there is energy in the air as infrastructure transports thousands of kilovolts of electricity just 20 feet overhead, while nearby Western’s Rocky Mountain electricians prepare for a week of safety and fall protection training.
“The training was great. Any time you can get personnel together from the same craft or industry to share ideas and processes creates great training,” said Eric Callahan a Cheyenne, Wyoming, electrician who recently joined Western’s team. “The company where I came from has no set in-house training program.
On June 4, electricians practiced procedures and reviewed processes to prepare them for responding during an emergency. Throughout the training, the craftsmen covered three main topics:
rescue from a transformer
self-rescue from an aerial lift
the new Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s fall protection standard
Electrician fall protection trainers Mike Wright, Jason Mengwasser and Carl Roland scheduled the mandatory annual training the first two weeks in June to certify RM’s 36 electricians for fall protection, particularly before the hot days of summer hit.
“The past few years, we’ve tried to incorporate our training into the safety week training and have the trainers go to each office,” explained Wright, an electrician foreman II in Cheyenne. “This year we focused on holding the mandatory training at one location so crews could plan coverage. This was much better than previous years because we had all the equipment there and demonstrated and practiced the same techniques. Plus, we had a lot of material to cover.”
Training creates calm confidence
Transformers, circuit breakers and switches are built to transfer electricity to and from transmission and distribution lines, not necessarily for humans to climb and stand. Add to that the intricate interconnected system within a yard, and suddenly the complexity of an emergency rescue situation in a substation becomes clearer.
“Nobody [at Western] so far has had to be rescued from a transformer. We have had some close calls, but we have not had to do it on a live person,” said Wright. “However, the more we practice these things and have the repetition, the more we reduce the risk of panic setting in if an emergency happens.”
Each participant took a turn climbing up a de-energized transformer and practicing a rescue from the top of the transformer, properly securing the dummy and safely conveying the dummy down a rescue line to the ground.
“Hopefully, they don’t ever have to do it, but if the situation ever arises, then they are prepared and comfortable with what they would need to do.”
Self-rescue translates self-reliance
In addition to practicing how to operate aerial–lifts, electricians answered the question, “What would you do if you are stuck in a lift and the controls are not working?”
The answer? Rescue yourself.
Transported about 30 feet in the air, participants climbed out of the bucket and used a belay device to lower themselves on a rescue line.
Reaffirming strong fall protection habits
Is it more than 4 feet high? This is the question electricians now consider when working on equipment at substations, taps, communication sites and any other location where their services are needed.
During the week-long courses, electricians reviewed OSHA’s revisions to standards in the Code of Federal Regulations that require craft workers (electricians, electronic equipment craftsmen and linemen) be protected from falls at all times when working 4 feet or higher than the next lower level. Utility industry workers have coined the phrase “100-percent attachment fall protection” to describe these revisions.
For Western’s electricians and electronic equipment craftsman these revisions took effect a year ago. Employees were equipped with the gear and the knowledge to ensure they were protected from falls higher than 4 feet on non-transmission structures and substation structures like transformers, circuit breakers and communication towers.
“We held classroom sessions to look at the new devices for attaching to, and preventing falls from, breakers and switches,” said Wright.
Consistency strengthens collaboration
The annual training saved time and money by bringing everyone together at a central location, but it offered added benefits, such as sharing experiences, strengthening communication and ensuring consistent training, regardless of experience.
“In the past, we would do annual refresher training for those that have already been through it, and new electricians would get a more intensive initial training,” said Roland, an electrician foreman II in Montrose, Colorado. “Now, we are doing the full-blown training procedures for all electricians. We’ve been going this direction for a while, but with the new OSHA requirements, it is a good time to have designated training for all electricians. It also makes sure we have consistent practices for all our electricians throughout Western.”
The trainers also sought input from the participants to evaluate this year’s annual training and plan next year’s training. They asked participants what kind of training and scenarios should be reviewed and included, as well as what experiences they have had that they can share with the group.
“The electricians I talked to said they appreciated this training setup opposed to the trainers visiting each of the sites,” said Roland. “They all got the same material, had the opportunity to share their thoughts and ask questions and were able to discuss it among themselves.”