Jeff Sando of Barron Electric Co-op, on the pole, discusses fall safety equipment use with Kraig Gay of Jump River Electric Co-op, center, with Jeff Secraw of Barron Electric Co-op looking on, at CVTCâ€™s Lineworker U Feb. 4. Jeff Sando of Barron Electric Co-op, on the pole, discusses fall safety equipment use with Kraig Gay of Jump River Electric Co-op, center, with Jeff Secraw of Barron Electric Co-op looking on, at CVTC’s Line worker U on Feb. 4. More than 80 line workers from five states attended the two-day event.
Bandi Henke understands the difficulty in convincing electric power distribution line workers to use fall prevention equipment. He had plenty of training and experience in the field before becoming an instructor at Chippewa Valley Technical College and knows how fast and seemingly easy it is to for workers to “free climb” a wooden power pole.
But falls and injuries are still too common in a trade in which there is an increasing emphasis on use of safety equipment. That’s why Henke had excellent attendance at sessions called Fall-Arrest Fundamentals during CVTC’s Line worker U Feb. 4-5 at the Plaza Hotel and Conference Center in Eau Claire.
"It’s to update your skills and learn new things you don’t see every day," said Beau Blade, a line worker with Eau Claire Energy Cooperative for the past 14 years. "The technology is new because everything’s computerized."
While sessions on new technology and equipment were well-attended, sessions dealing directly with the health and safety of line workers were particularly popular among the workers from electric power cooperatives, municipal utilities and power companies.
Henke said line workers not currently using fall prevention equipment will do so soon.
"The power line industry is not letting people free climb as much as they used to. They are going to some form of fall protection," Henke said.
In the session, Henke held up an early device commonly called a “Buck Squeeze” and found a few line workers are still using them. “It’s not user-friendly,” Henke remarked. “But it’s better than dying.”
He then showed the updated version of the device, calling it “180 percent better.” He also showed a number of similar devices from various manufacturers and demonstrated their use on an eight-foot wooden practice pole.
Attendees then donned their own climbing gear and tried out the devices for themselves.
"I’ve never used one before, but they say it’s going to be coming to the industry," said Scott Devoe of Barron Electric Cooperative. "They will take a lot of getting used to. There are so many different adjustments."
CVTC Electrician apprenticeship instructor Randy Larson, who led the team organizing Line worker U, said another popular session was conducted by Dr. Kevin Schultz of Hallie Chiropractic on reducing risk of musculoskeletal injuries.
"Fifteen years ago, he never would’ve had anyone attend his session," Larson said. "But people are much more concerned about their health than before. The guys are interested in how to stay healthy and live longer.
"Dr. Schultz must have had 30 guys in there. When he got done, people didn’t want to leave. He was in there for two hours answering questions," Larson continued.
It’s not just their own health and safety that concern line workers.
"We did an emergency response training on what to do on the job if someone is injured and what procedures to use," said Steve White, a line worker with Rock Energy headquartered in Janesville. "Sometimes we’re out in the middle of nowhere and it could take a while to get response."
Larson said Line worker U had been a dream of his for 15 years, and now that it’s off the ground, he’s considering how to make it better and expand the offerings.
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