During my safety consulting practice, I had the opportunity to work on some interesting human factors assessments. The science is fascinating, and ergonomists specialize in studying the effects on the body while working.
Linework has evolved a long way since the early beginnings as has the evolution of tools. While working my way up the pole and doing all the early technology applications I quickly realized how important positioning was. I was fortunate to have had wise or smooth journeymen who shared their easy tricks of the trade during my apprenticeship. The video libraries were always about back strains and lifting with your legs and keeping the weights close to your body.
Bucket designs were evolving, and bucket work was improving the trade with material handlers that used winches. Testing various products for stresses on the body while using them in typical line tasks, we learned many surprising things. One was that the stresses on forearms and wrists while skinning wire was outside the normal physical strengths of line workers.
The reactions of aerial man lifts when linemen twisted and turned to install cross arms or remove them caused eyebrows to raise on the ergonomists. While our focus was trying to determine if certain tools were causing injuries, it was clear that our trade required extra attention.
Most linemen are stronger than many people in other trades, but we are all human and we can wear out quickly. The key things to remember is to use the technology correctly and learn where your strength is comfortable. Warming up before you tackle a physical task, especially after driving and stiffening up. Drink plenty of water as it helps hydrate your body and mind. I found that if I drank a bottle of water after every event that I responded to, I lasted much longer and made better decisions.
Positioning equipment is just as important as positioning your body. With many women joining our trade, it has prompted a need to rethink rigging practices which has benefited all linemen. Robo presses and cutters and ergonomic connecting technologies have relieved stresses on our bodies. Auto sleeves and automatic terminations have also lowered injuries and improved productivity.
The many variables that come with handling tasks in linework create huge challenges. Working underground or overhead, our knees, necks, backs, shoulders, arms, and hands all need to be protected. Using human factors assessments and up to date and lighter modern workwear will improve our ergonomic safety.
The utility industry works extremely hard to develop safer tools and smarter ways of working. Line workers need to communicate and share our knowledge more effectively if we are going to improve.
Increasing our knowledge and applying it safely is smart money!
Bruce Masse - Trouble Technician