Lineworker jobs are inherently dangerous and require our crews to be hands on with high voltage electrical equipment, often in less than ideal conditions. Because the safety of our employees is our highest priority, PEC goes above and beyond in testing the protective equipment our crews rely on in order to minimize the dangers of working with electricity.
A lot of field work is done in and around PEC trucks, and it’s important they’re properly insulated to protect lineworkers from dangerous currents. These trucks are specially designed and outfitted for this purpose, and regular testing ensures everything is functioning properly.
We test our electrically insulated trucks, derricks, and backyard machines on a semi-annual basis to stay in compliance with American National Standards Institute (ANSI) regulations and ensure the safety of our lineworkers. “Dielectrics” are the insulating materials used to protect our lineworkers from electrical charges, and utilities are required to perform a dielectric test once a year. But we go the extra mile, performing the test twice a year, in addition to a more stringent structural test and visual inspection once a year.
In the dielectric test, a tool applies a voltage to the truck, similar to what the linemen experience in the real world. Next, we test the units to ensure they would function as built and remain insulated if they were to make contact with an energized line. At the same time, there is a protective liner in the operator platform “bucket” that is removed, submerged in water, and then subjected to high voltage. This test makes sure no electrical arc can pass through the liner and cause harm to a lineworker.
Typically, trucks will pass this test unless part of the equipment is too dirty or there is an obstruction such as a bird nest in the boom. Structural issues are rare, but the safety of our lineworkers calls for an abundance of caution. Dielectric testing can identify potential maintenance issues even in trucks that pass, so we can address them before the truck is put back into use.
The structural test is done once a year in addition to dielectric tests, and includes a thorough visual inspection of the truck and unit. Trucks are placed under a calculated extreme load, and main structural points are checked with an acoustic emissions test — similar to ultrasound — to identify hidden structural defects that may otherwise go undetected.
Rubber insulating gloves are the last line of defense between a lineworker and an electric shock. Other protective equipment, such as line hoses and rubber blankets, provide another layer of protection when working on live wires, but ultimately lineworkers do their job with their hands. These long rubber gloves add a critical layer of safety, and PEC maintains the highest standards for keeping them in good condition.
Supply Chain Supervisor Jesse Mize is responsible for organizing glove testing at our Marble Falls warehouse and ensures crews complete their glove change-out on schedule.
“The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires gloves be tested every six months.” Mize explained, “PEC demonstrates its commitment to the safety of our lineworkers by going above and beyond that requirement and testing gloves every three months.”
Like our trucks, gloves undergo stringent dielectric testing where they are filled with water and subjected to extreme amounts of electricity. Even the smallest failure, such as a hole the size of a pin point, can be detected. In addition, ozone testing ensures that exposure to the sun has not caused degradation and cracking that may compromise the integrity of the gloves. While most gloves pass testing, all gloves will succumb to ozone eventually and need to be replaced.
Strength through safety
In addition to gloves and trucks, PEC checks other protective equipment such as line hoses, blankets, hoods, and hot sticks on an annual basis. A hot stick is an insulated pole used on live-lines with various tool attachments on the end that can test voltage, tighten nuts and bolts, and open and close switches.
Every piece of equipment lineworkers use has a specific purpose and a role to play in keeping them safe. While the wellbeing of our employees is the most important aspect of safety, maintaining these standards reduces incidents, which improves reliability and helps keep costs down for our members.