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Bonus Feature Working Around High Voltage


Fourteen-thousand-four-hundred volts (14,400V)—enough electricity to do really bad things to the human body. It is a silent and deadly force always waiting in the background to strike. Yet electrical distribution linemen must work around this deadly voltage every day. How do they do this?


With technology and training. By James Pratt T


he fi rst line of defense for linemen is to do all the work they can on “dead” lines—ones with no voltage. For example, when installing a new util- ity pole, workers install as much equipment as possible on the ground before erecting the pole and con- necting it to the power grid. This includes mounting the crossarm, installing insulators, and mounting the meter. The second line of defense is their equipment. Linemen use “extendo sticks” or “hot sticks”—long, insulated poles with a hook on the end—to turn on and off high voltage electrical circuits. For example, a “cutout” or high voltage disconnect can be turned on and off using a hot stick from a safe distance. This keeps the linemen far away from live voltage and allows them to turn off the power to the device on which they are working. A special boom truck with a non-conducting boom is used when working around live electricity. The boom on the truck is electrically isolated from the truck body, allow- ing the linemen to touch the high voltage line like a bird landing on a power line, isolated from ground. This boom truck is tested annually at the rated voltage, and is more convenient than climbing poles. While working high in a boom truck, rubber gloves and


sleeves are used to further isolate the linemen from the high voltage electricity. The gloves and sleeves are stored in special bags to protect them from puncture. “A tiny pinhole can kill you,” Crompton says. The gloves are tested prior to each use by rolling them up with air inside and checking for leaks. In addition, every 90 days gloves are sent off to a lab for formal testing and certifi cation. In addition to rubber gloves and sleeves, rubber pads are draped over the live power lines to further protect the linemen from contact with high voltage power lines. The fi nal and most important line of defense for the linemen is training. At NFEC, each lineman must go through a four-year apprenticeship before becoming fully qualifi ed to work with live power. They must attend regu- lar classes at OAEC headquarters in OKC and monthly safety meetings. Linemen undergo constant training throughout their career, always striving to be safe in the


NFEC linemen crew at work. Photos by James Pratt.


Even a small pinhole in a lineman’s glove could prove to be fatal.


face of potentially lethal danger. “We offer a four-year program for electric co-op line- men,” says Kenny Guffey, safety and loss control director at Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives. “Most of the co-ops, including NFEC, send their linemen to us for training. A couple of the co-ops have their own pro- grams. Oklahoma State University (OSU)-OKC and OSU-Okmulgee also offer linemen training classes. People who graduate from those programs often can get an ap- prenticeship through one of our co-ops.”


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