Public Power Magazine

Training for Rescues

From the July-August 2013 issue (Vol. 71, No. 5) of Public Power

Originally published June 18, 2013

By William Atkinson
June 18, 2013

A good utility worker safety program focuses on prevention. Countless hours can be spent training workers in how to make sure they and their coworkers stay safe on the job. The utilities with the best safety records have a strong commitment to providing professional safety equipment and making sure workers wear and use this equipment in all of the right situations.

Although staying safe is priority one, utility crews also must be trained to respond whenever accidents occur. When an accident causes injury, time is of the essence. Knowing exactly what to do, how to do it and when to do it can mean the difference between life and death.

For these reasons, it is critical that utilities spend the appropriate time, money and other resources training workers in, at a minimum, five areas, which can include pole-top rescue, bucket-truck rescue, the proper use of automated external defibrillators, cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and first aid.

First and foremost, all employees should be trained frequently to focus on the three Cs—check, call and care, said Mary Ann Kinkade, job training and safety coordinator for the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities. "When an incident happens, first check the scene to see what has happened and how many victims there are," she said. “Second, call 911 to get professional help on the way. And third, care for the victims in the meantime, getting them clear of electric lines, making sure they are breathing, etc."

Pole-top and Bucket-truck Rescues

Recommended approaches to pole-top rescues are changing, said Jim Wolfe, electric services coordinator for the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities. 

"More fall protection is being used by workers these days," he said. "A lot of the long-term employees aren't used to using it. However, more utilities have shifted gears on this, because they have seen people getting hurt without fall protection."

As a result, pole top and bucket truck rescue training programs need to take into account that a worker may be wearing fall protection equipment, which will affect rescue procedures.


One trend that is taking place with AEDs is that more utilities are purchasing automated external defibrillators for each crew, rather than just one or two for the whole utility, said Jon Beasley, Electric Cities of Georgia superintendent of training and safety. "Certainly, there are financial issues, but I believe each crew should have one," he said. "If a heart is in fibrillation, the only way to get it out of fibrillation is with an AED. If you don't have an AED, all you can do is CPR and wait for the EMTs to arrive." It is especially important that every crew doing live-line work have an AED, Beasley said.

AEDs are becoming more affordable, and as a result, more utilities are getting equipped, Kinkade said. They are also becoming a lot more user-friendly, she said.

Still, there are some important concerns with AEDs. If the temperature is colder than minus 5 degrees, the AEDs won't work, so it is important to keep them inside a vehicle, rather than in an outside compartment. "It is also important to check your AEDs once a month, just like fire extinguishers," Kinkade said. "For example, pads expire every two to three years, because the glue has the propensity to dry, so you need to check to see when they need new pads. You also need to check the battery expiration dates, and replace those as required."

First Aid and CPR Training

AEDs can be lifesavers, said Michael Hyland, senior vice president of engineering services for the American Public Power Association, but they can’t replace CPR and first aid. “It is important to train in all three. For example, you may have a situation where an AED won't deliver a charge, such as in a really cold environment, and you need to use CPR."

In addition, hurtman rescue activities, including CPR and first aid, have changed in recent years, Hyland said. Lineworkers no longer employ rescue breaths before bringing another injured worker down from a pole. The American Heart Association and other organizations are starting to agree that the breath doesn't do as much as they once thought. "The first step is to call [an emergency dispatcher]. Then, you climb the pole, and your whole job is to get [the injured lineworker] down."

American Red Cross, Medic First Aid and American Heart Association have actually made CPR easier to learn, Beasley said. "They used to be strict about checking the pulse for five to 10 seconds," he said. "They now say you don't need to check the pulse on the carotid artery, as long as you see some obvious signs of circulation." The organizations are also less stringent on the timing of the compressions in CPR, but recommend a rate of 100 per minute. "They used to say that, if you didn't do the timing of compressions exactly correct, you would not be effective," he said. "Now, they say you just need to get as close as possible in terms of timing."

Making it second nature

Safety training needs to be repetitive and frequent, Hyland said. Training sessions should be conducted at least every year. "You also need to do a good job of recordkeeping to make sure all employees, not just some of them, are receiving the training," he said. "If someone misses a class, it is important to arrange for that person to get to another class somewhere nearby, or to schedule a make-up class if a few employees miss."

If workers are trained often enough that the activity becomes second nature, Beasley said, their preparedness will be ideal. "Our certifications are good for two years," he said. "However, we still like to schedule refresher reviews and recertify everyone once a year, especially so everyone knows the first few steps. In this way, in the case of an event, there is no time wasted." While workers who have had the training for years will find it easier, Beasley said, it is especially important to make sure new workers become comfortable with it.

People react to crisis situations differently, said IAMU's Wolfe. While some may remain calm, others may not even if they have had a lot of training. "When I train, I emphasize to them that if a situation occurs, they need to focus on the situation at hand, so that they can stay calm and view it as a job," he said. "The job is to get the person off the pole or out of the bucket, focus on their own safety and so on. You don't want them to create new hazards by getting too excited and not focusing on the job at hand."


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