Safety for Line Workers in Severe Winter Weather
January 25, 2023
We all know the feeling – when suddenly a severe weather warning comes across for a winter storm. For the average person, your first thought might be, am I prepared? Does my home have a reliable heat source? Do I have winter kits in my vehicles? Is my family prepared for the power going out?
Line workers receiving the same alert might think, is my family ready since I may be gone for a while? Do I have everything prepared for them to be without me? What am I going to miss while I am gone? Do I have my bag packed and ready to go?
As part of our critical infrastructure for restoring power after a winter storm, line workers put themselves in potentially dangerous environments to help keep homes and businesses—and the people inside them—safe. They perform one of the most dangerous and most needed jobs to help keep society up-and-running in all weather conditions – and their safety while doing their job is paramount.
U.S. electrical disruptions increasing in recent years
Power disruptions are becoming more common across the U.S. Electricity customers experienced, on average, more than eight hours of power interruptions in 2020, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. This represents nearly 20 more minutes of power interruptions in 2020 than in 2017. The average duration of power interruptions each year from 2013 to 2020 is around two hours, though this can be much longer when severe weather events happen.1
So what do line workers need when heading out into a winter storm or its aftermath to restore power? First and foremost, those coming to work on the electrical system are looking at safety. This includes selecting proper personal protective equipment (PPE). It can start with a hard hat, safety glasses (clear, shaded, and extra pairs), a high-visibility (hi-vis) traffic vest (plus a spare) and all the tools you need in proper working condition. Rubber gloves with liner gloves and glove protectors are critical for some workers, as well as rubber sleeves.
With the tools of the trade ready to go, line workers must also prepare for the impacts of cold temperatures and winter precipitation. They need extra layers of clothing and appropriate flame-resistant (FR)-rated cold weather gear—such as hats, gloves and boots. Outer clothing should be wind-protective based on air velocities, and moisture-resistant material is recommended. Other items could include a balaclava, traction aids for walking on ice and hand and foot warmers.
The impact of cold temperatures, wind, ice and snow
While out in these conditions, line workers must still follow applicable policies and procedures for electrical work and be cautious of the environment they are working in. Driving conditions in winter, especially for large utility trucks, are hazardous. Furthermore, many worksite hazards in winter, like ice, can be hidden by snow or hard to see, causing falls and other injuries.
With the hard physical work of restoring power, line workers will sweat under all the layers of clothing, which can cause loss of body heat and decrease internal body temperature. They must be aware of the risk of frostbite, hypothermia and trench foot, even when they are dressed in layers. With this in mind, it is important for line workers to take time to warm up in their trucks. While this can result in power restoration taking longer, it is critical to maintaining safe working conditions.
High winds are also common during winter storms, which not only make it feel colder for line workers but also can make it unsafe to use a bucket truck. When buckets cannot be used, line workers must climb utility poles to perform their work.
The bottom line
Through all of the hazards from winter weather and restoring power, safety is the top priority. Having a strong safety program in place, selecting appropriate protective gear and having safety professionals accompany line workers while they are focused on getting the power back on are all important pieces for utilities to keep workers safe. Honeywell Salisbury is committed to line worker safety in these winter weather conditions. To learn more about us and our cold weather gear, visit our website.
About the Author: Russ Owen, CUSP, served in the U.S. Military for 21 years, 13 of which were spent in the U.S. Army doing power generation and distribution, and 6 years in power distribution safety. Now he is a senior technical lead at Honeywell Salisbury and serves on ASTM International committees (formerly known as the American Society for Testing and Materials). His experience as a lineman gives him first-hand insight into how to make our products both high-quality and user friendly.
This article is part of a series. For more electrical safety information and helpful tips, read Russ’s previous blogs.