Some people think that linemen are especially brave people with no sense of fear or caution. The reality is quite the opposite. In fact, the guys and girls doing this line of work are the most cautious group of individuals you will ever meet, not only because they deal with live electricity but also because their job is to make sure that there is no power interruption to homes or businesses via their mistakes!
I thought it would be interesting for this article to look at the question, is being a lineman dangerous? and to discover the reality of the risks that come with this line of work and how to avoid them!
Is Being A Lineman Dangerous?
There’s no denying that being a lineman is a dangerous job. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) listed electrical power line installation and repair as the most dangerous job in the United States with a yearly death rate double that of police and fire officers.
According to statistics, 42 for every 100,000 die on the job each year. The main reasons for such a high rate of fatalities are electrocution and falling from heights while working on the power lines. Even with all the safety measures in place and employers going all out in attempts to reduce risks for their employees and ensure safety accidents are still occurring at an unacceptable level.
All is not hopeless though, it seems that the industry made great strides in safety and continues to be committed to reducing the number of line workers who are injured or killed on the job. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) is constantly working to improve safety on the job site. They even have created a program called “Zero Accidents Vision 2020,” which is a campaign within the industry aimed at reducing workplace injuries and fatalities by half by 2020.
This campaign has resulted in many safety initiatives within individual companies, including increased training for all employees, more frequent inspections of equipment, and stricter enforcement of safety rules on job sites. In my experience working with high voltage electricians, the safety rules and their enforcement are strict, to say the least.
In addition to these industry-wide safety improvements, there has been a shift in the way linemen are trained. Since 2008, the number of apprentice hours required before earning their journeyman card has increased drastically (from 3,000 to 5,000 hours).
This means that new linemen are getting more real-world experience than ever before and are better prepared for the job. Moreover, the influx of new technologies and tools also plays a part in making the job safer for linemen. Since there have always been hazards associated with working on power lines, now it is hoped that we have the tools and knowledge to mitigate those risks and bring the fatality numbers way down.
5 Biggest Risks of Being a Lineman
As mentioned, as a lineman, you’ll be working with high-voltage electricity and faulty equipment, so there’s always some level of danger. But if you’re properly trained and take the right precautions, you can keep yourself safe.
Here are the 5 greatest risks associated with being a power lineman:
- Falls from height
- Working in inclement weather
- Manual handling heavy equipment
- Vehicle accidents
Electrocution. This is probably the most obvious one. There’s no shortage of stories about linemen getting electrocuted by a disastrous error. You can minimize your risk by staying aware of your surroundings and never touching an energized surface. If you’re working on an energized line (a “hot line”), ensure you have safety equipment, including insulating gloves, sleeves, and blankets that protect against electrocution.
Falls. Working at great heights can be dangerous even when it doesn’t involve electricity – one slip, and you could fall from a pole or out of a tree. Linesman are provided with specialist footwear with good traction
Working in inclement weather. Some projects can’t wait until the rain stops or the sun comes out, so sometimes linemen have to work in bad weather conditions. But wind, rain, and snow can create slippery conditions that make it easier for linemen to fall from heights and adds extra layers of difficulty to an already hazardous job.
Working with heavy equipment. Many linemen use buckets and lifts to get them closer to their work areas at greater heights. If the proper safety protocols aren’t followed, these tools can be dangerous and heavy resulting in muscoskeletal issues.
Vehicle accidents are another major risk for linemen, especially when they respond quickly. Linesman cover thousands of miles a year often to remote locations and the terrain and lack of support make driving a serious risk.
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What are the Chances of Dying as a Lineman?
According to the Electrical Safety Foundation International, in 2020, 126 U.S. workers died while on the job after being hit by electrical current, and nonfatal injuries involving days away from work increased 17% over the previous year.
The data analysis also revealed that 44% of the electrical fatalities involved workers in construction and extraction, while 20% involved those in installation, maintenance, and repair.
Among the 2,220 nonfatal electrical injuries – DAFW reported a 10% decrease in working compared to the previous year – 31% of installation, maintenance, and repair jobs were all affected; service came in second at 25%, followed by construction and extraction at 21%.
For comparison purposes, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 3,600 fatal work injuries in 2014, translating into a fatality rate of 3 per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers (the number of full-time workers needed to match the hours worked by part-time employees).
Below is a table with data taken from the bureau of labour statistics. They do not have a category specifically for linemen so I have taken the data from the utility category as most linemen can be classed as utility workers in my opinion. We can see from the data that the general trend of deaths each year is going downwards which is a positive sign.
|Number of utility worker deaths
The good news is there was a decrease in the fatality rate for linemen as safety has improved over the years. However, the risk of injury from contact with electricity has remained constant due to more exposure to electrical hazards. Therefore, it is essential to continue training linemen in safe work practices and new technology developments to prevent electrical accidents.
Is Lineman a Stressful Job?
You may not be surprised to learn that being an electrical lineman is a stressful job. Not only can it be dangerous, but it can also be mentally challenging. There’s no room for error when you’re working with electricity so this can be very stressful.
The work of a lineman requires critical thinking skills and problem-solving abilities to get the job done safely and accurately all of which can cause stress under pressure. In addition, linemen often have to deal with upset customers about losing power or other issues they have no control over. They also may have bosses watching them closely while they work on job sites, making sure that they are adhering to the incredibly strict safety rules.
Adding to the stress levels is the fact that linemen also tend to work long hours in remote areas without cell phone reception or internet access. For example, it will be difficult for linemen to stay in touch with their family members back home if something happens while they’re out on the job site – which can be a source of stress for loved ones who are worried about what would happen while they are away.
How Do Lineman Stay Safe?
Aside from the precautions mentioned above, here are some other ways lineman can stay safe while they keep the lights turned on for us:
Working together as a team
Sure, linemen work independently sometimes when they climb poles or service transformers, but when it comes to making repairs or connecting new lines, linemen work together as a team for their safety and others. It is standard practice to follow established procedures when working with electrical equipment and have someone nearby who can help in case of an emergency.
Training and re-certifying regularly
Linemen must receive specialised training before they are allowed to work with electricity, but it doesn’t stop there. Linemen continually train throughout their careers to remain current with new technology and techniques that improve safety and help them perform their jobs better. In addition, linemen often re-certify annually to maintain a high level of skill and knowledge.
Although your power lines may look dormant, they can carry dangerous amounts of electricity at any time – even if the power is off. Therefore, Linemen who work on power lines are trained to spot potential hazards, such as ground cover that might be hiding a downed wire or a ladder that’s not resting on stable ground.
Maintaining focus is a crucial tool for a lineman. No matter how skilled or experienced a lineman is, he cannot afford to be complacent when on the job. Whether he’s repairing a downed line or performing routine maintenance on existing infrastructure, being alert and focused at all times is critical for avoiding mistakes that could lead to life-changing injuries.
So, is being a lineman a dangerous job? All jobs have some occupational hazards that come with them but being a lineman has more than its fair share of risks in my opinion. If you’re careful, take precautions, and always follow safety procedures while on the job, being a lineman is a safe career. However, there’s no getting away from the fact that the margin for error is such that any slight mistake can result in disastrous consequences. For this reason, I think most people would agree that being a lineman is a dangerous occupation to have.