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CO - OP LIVI NG


Grounded in Safety D


By Melanie Wilderman


riving down the dark roads of rural Oklahoma in the aftermath of a power-interrupting storm, Heath Martin and Chad Crompton, line- men at Northfork Electric Cooperative (NFEC) based in Sayre, Okla., were discussing their plans for the upcoming weekend. Having worked throughout the night, they were tired, but looked forward to a fi shing trip after work.


Just before dawn on a Saturday morning nearly 11 years ago, the duo re- sponded to—what they expected to be—a routine outage call. Martin ascended to work near the top of a 35-foot electric pole as Crompton looked on from the ground.


Moments later, Crompton watched as his co-worker was shocked and thrown through the air, more than three stories, landing on his neck and right shoulder on the red shale rock that is common near Sayre and Elk City. Crompton thought Martin was dead on the spot. “When he hit the ground, he wasn’t breathing,” Crompton recalled. Crompton raced to a nearby home to seek help and call 9-1-1. Fortunately, by the time he returned to his colleague’s side, Martin was breathing again. However, there was a considerable amount of blood coming from Martin’s mouth and his hands were burned so severely Crompton feared he would lose them. He was rushed via ambu- lance to


In observance of National Electrical Safety Month


Co-op employee learned the value of safety fi rsthand


the Elk City Hospital, before spending a week in the OU Medical Center in Oklahoma City.


As he worked, Martin had received a 7,200-volt shock, which had entered through the back of his right hand and exited his left forearm. Severe burns to his hands and face resulted in several skin grafts, multiple surgeries on his right hand, and physical therapy. The impact of the fall had caused Martin to bite his tongue—nearly in half—resulting in the oral bleeding. Martin admits either the shock or the fall could have easily killed him and credits Crompton with helping to save his life that day. “If it wasn’t for him . . .” Martin began, but his words trailed off. But he is alive, and remarkably well for a man who survived this caliber of accident. Doctors told him the fall may have saved his life, as the impact likely jumpstarted his heart. Surprisingly it did not break any of his bones. Martin, who at the time had three years of experience on the job, had bent a few safety rules while on the routine outage call. He explained that he and Crompton were tired after working a good portion of the night after the storm, and that the missteps he made included not grounding the line down, not testing to see if the line was dead, and not wearing rubber gloves. The line ap- peared to be dead, as the others they worked on that night had been, but Martin discovered through the violent shock that it was live. Linemen live by the motto, “If it’s not grounded, it’s not dead!” Copeland


added. “They are no different than any other person, however, in that when they feel they are in a hurry, they are tempted to take shortcuts. The difference is that for a lineman, a shortcut can cost him his life. We always work to restore power as quickly as possible, but there is no outage important enough to risk a line- man’s life. We always have the time to follow procedure and do the job safely.”


A second chance at safety


To the amazement of family and friends, Martin was able to return to work just a few weeks after the fall, but not without receiving the necessary disciplin- ary actions for breaking safety procedures. He continued his work at NFEC as a lineman and later as a construction supervisor.


But there were new paths on the horizon for Martin’s career. In 2008, NFEC’s Safety Coordinator Bob Carey retired. At the time, the position was a part-time appointment, added to an employee’s regular responsibilities. Martin took over the position following Carey’s retirement. However, according to Copeland, the cooperative’s management was reconsidering that part-time status for the safety coordinator position.


Copeland said the Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives—the state- wide organization that serves and supports Oklahoma’s rural electric coopera- tives—had made a push to improve overall safety. In August 2011 three par- ticipants from each co-op went through a Safety Strategy Lab, a seminar that Copeland described as a chance to give and get honest feedback and opinions about safety issues. Copeland and two other NFEC employees attended, and Copeland left that day with some heavy thoughts. “We all say that safety is number one and is our highest priority,” Copeland said, and he indicated that he thinks the majority of those in attendance truly believe that.


But saying and believing are not the same as doing.


Heath Martin survived a 7,200-volt shock while responding to a routine outage call 11 years ago. Photo by Melanie Wilderman


“I was thinking, we have three accountants, but only one part-time safety director, and only 10 or 20 percent of his time is dedicated to that position. Safety deserves at least one full-time position, or we are not doing what we say,” Copeland said.


At the beginning of 2012, the safety coordinator position transitioned into a full-time job, and Copeland said he could not think of anyone more conscious about safety details than Martin.


Photo couresty Karen Kaley/Cotton Electric Co-op 6 OKLAHOMA LIVING


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