Public Power Magazine

Safety During Mutual Aid Work


From the June 2013 issue (Vol. 71, No. 4) of Public Power

Originally published May 8, 2013

By William Atkinson
May 8, 2013

This is a sidebar to the June issue's main Safety article.

Crew safety is the most important consideration during emergency mutual aid operations, just as it is for everyday work at any utility, said Michael Hyland, senior vice president-engineering services, for the American Public Power Association.

Safety is enough of a challenge for crews when they are working on their own lines. But that challenge magnifies when crews are working on unfamiliar lines and equipment in another geographic location. Mutual aid assignments often entail 16-hour workdays for several consecutive days.

"In every storm we have, someone always gets hurt," Hyland said. "When you think of all of the challenges, it is amazing that more people aren't injured. However, the number is still too many."

After Hurricane Sandy hit the eastern seaboard in the fall of 2012, many crews heading to the mid-Atlantic region were not prepared to deal with a snowstorm.

"There were 30 inches of snow in western Maryland," Hyland said. "We had crews coming up from Florida, Georgia, and California, many of which weren't particularly well equipped for winter weather. They didn't have snowboots or overjackets."

Visiting crews must know in advance what kind of repairs they will be working on. They also must check weather forecasts, Hyland said. Visiting crews should also become familiar with the work procedures of the host utility. Hyland recommends having a conference call with the host utility prior to departing from home. For example, crews that went to Long Island after Supertorm Sandy learned that Long Island Power Authority and its operating contractor, National Grid, required line crews to wear sleeves. Some crews showed up without full sleeves and were told they couldn't work.

Other questions prior to departing on a mutual aid callout: Where will visiting crews stay? Where is the staging area? What safety and work procedures do we need to know about?

"Spending an hour or so on the phone before you visit is important, because you may be there for days, or even weeks," he said.

Steve Stanfill of Jackson Energy Authority in Tennessee said his crews appreciated the Long Island Power Authority’s briefing when they traveled to New York to help with repairs after Superstorm Sandy. The briefing “provided us with a lot of useful information and it made it clear that they really were concerned for our safety.”

Darrell Shaw, safety and technical training specialist for Memphis Light, Gas & Water in Tennessee, said he reviews a lot of safety topics when crews come from out of town to help with emergency repairs. He focuses especially on grounding, tagging and flagging the ground. He also emphasizes the importance of checking poles before workers climb them to make sure they're safe. "We mark our bad poles as we find them," he said. Shaw also briefs mutual aid crews on Memphis LG&W’s primary and secondary voltage levels, as well as transformers and banks. He also covers job site protection, including vests, signs and cones.

Visiting crews should adhere to their own safety rules when doing mutual aid work. But Memphis LG&W expects visiting crews to follow the utility's rules, as well as their own rules.

"One of our rules is that, if we are doing hot work on primary, we require two men in a bucket," said Shaw. The utility expects visiting crews to do the same thing. Memphis LG&W also requires visiting crews to wear sleeves and certain classes of gloves if they are doing hot work.

Shaw encourages visiting crews to use Memphis Light's material only. "We have storm pallets already made up with material on them," he said. "In addition, we usually like to have inspectors go to the job sites ahead of time to identify what kind of material will be needed for each job, so that we can make sure that the pallets have all of the material that they will need."

Host utilities should make sure visiting crews are okay, Hyland said. "Help them find where they should be working. Make sure they get enough food and sleep. If possible, set them up in hotels or motels, and arrange for meals, coffee and hydrating drinks." After Superstorm Sandy, some crews had to sleep six or seven days in their truck cabs.

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