Did you know? According to the Energy Information Administration, the power grid in the United States is comprised of nearly 160,000 miles of high-voltage power lines alone, with low-voltage power lines and distribution transformers taking up millions more miles. Many Americans take the power grid for granted, but behind every functioning power socket is a team of powerline workers keeping the lights on in homes and businesses across the country.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), approximately 2,400 of every 100,000 powerline workers suffer serious, non-fatal injuries every year. That’s no surprise – the work that these skilled tradespeople do can be incredibly dangerous, and is, in fact, considered one of the most dangerous jobs in the United States.
What Does an Outside Lineman Do?
Put simply, powerline workers, also called lineworkers, maintain and repair power lines. But this job, like all other skilled trades, is far from simple. Between working outside while exposed to varied inclement weather to working at great heights, outside linemen have a very physically demanding job. Because of these dangers, not to mention the risks associated with working with electricity, lineworkers must be licensed and certified according to state and local regulations.
Training to become a lineworker involves requirements such as:
- A high school diploma or GED
- Having passed high school algebra
- Being at least 18 years old
- A driver’s license, often a commercial driver’s license
- Having passed a substance abuse screening
- A lineworker apprenticeship, including classroom learning and hands-on training, lasting up to 3 years
What Is the Difference Between a Lineworker & an Electrician?
Both lineworkers and electricians work with electricity, but in the end, they are very different jobs. It’s true that these two professions share very similar starting points – both must receive OSHA certifications and often pursue a commercial driver’s license (CDL). Both also tend to start with apprenticeships, and workers are commonly members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), the major union for electrical workers. However, that’s where the similarities end.
Lineworkers install and maintain power transmission lines outdoors; electricians focus on indoor wiring and distribution systems. The knowledge base for each of these professions is vastly different from one another.
How Dangerous Is It to Be a Lineworker?
There are many different aspects to a powerline worker’s job. The power grid is an important part of keeping homes and businesses running, and it’s often susceptible to weather damage. Lineworkers are considered first responders due to this, and some journeyman powerline workers chase storms to put their skills to use in the aftermath of weather damage. Without lineworkers, the disastrous storm and cold snap that struck Texas in February 2020 could have been even more deadly.
Risks that lineworkers are exposed to in their everyday work include:
- Falling from a height
- Electric shock
- Weather incidents
- Exhaustion from long shifts
Not all the risks are associated with the work itself. Lineworkers are often expected to work up to 10-15 hour days, up to 5 days in a row followed by 2 days of rest. It’s equally dangerous to travel to work sites in the middle of the night in between long shifts, and even more so in inclement weather.
What Protective Equipment (PPE) Is a Lineworker Required to Wear?
The type of PPE required for a powerline worker varies based on the work that they must do; more specifically, whether they are working on a wood pole or a steel structure. Recent OSHA mandates now require the use of fall restricting devices no matter if the worker is climbing a pole or using a bucket truck to reach the power line.
Regardless of the structure they’re working on, lineworkers must wear the following PPE:
- Hard hat, protecting the head from falling objects, equipped with a headlamp for early morning and late evening work
- Harness, providing fall protection and the ability to repel down from a height
- Fire resistant (FR) clothing, including a long-sleeve FR shirt no matter the season
- Equipment belt, featuring clips and D-rings to hold necessary tools
- Handline, a 250-foot-long rope featuring a pulley block and steel clips used to hoist materials from the ground
- Leather gloves, protecting the hands from possible voltage exposure
In addition to the PPE listed above, those doing work on a wood pole must wear:
- Bucksqueeze, designed to grip the pole if a lineworker starts to fall
- Boots designed specifically for climbing wood structures
- Gaffs, sharp steel spikes used to climb wood poles safely
- Climbers, padded leg shanks secured just below the knee to hold gaffs in place
Lineworkers maintaining or repairing a steel structure must also wear:
- Double lanyard, designed to hook to the structure and prevent falls
- Positioning strap, used to secure the worker to the steel structure to allow them to use both hands while working
- Conductive boots, worn to prevent shocks when climbing closer to a power line
Giving Lineworkers a Safe Workplace
The work that powerline workers perform each and every day keeps our lights on and our homes comfortable, no matter the weather. Their work is dangerous even in the most ideal of situations, often requiring long hours and emergency shifts. Having a “dangerous job” doesn’t mean that they deserve to work in unnecessarily hazardous conditions, though. The companies that employ powerline workers must commit to keeping their employees safe by providing the PPE, training, and equipment necessary to perform their work safely.
At Arnold & Itkin, we remain committed to holding companies accountable when they fail to protect lineworkers. There’s no excuse for cutting corners, especially when it puts lives at risk. Our work injury attorneys are ready to fight for what’s right when the worst happens. No matter what.