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Cold weather protection

How can utility workers best prepare for cold-weather conditions?


Photo: Honeywell

Responding is Russ Owen, CUSP, senior technical lead, Honeywell, Antwerp, OH.

Nobody enjoys losing power during a winter storm. To restore that power, however, scores of line workers must venture out into the cold, facing numerous serious hazards as they work to get communities up and running. Repairing damaged power lines in any weather is high risk, but adding cold temperatures, wind chill and icy conditions makes the job even more perilous.

In cold weather, outdoor workers are at risk of cold stress, including frostbite, hypothermia, chillblains and trench foot. During winter storms and their aftermath, it’s critical for workers to retain body heat. However, given the hard physical work of restoring power, line workers will sweat, which can cause the loss of body heat and decrease internal body temperature. The key is to find a balance between wearing enough layers to stay warm while still being able to maintain an efficient range of mobility to perform work.

Key considerations

Clothing: Inner layers of clothing should be moisture-wicking thermals, such as polyesters and polypropylene (avoid cotton, as it dries slowly). Outer clothing should be waterproof or water resistant, and wind protective based on air velocities. Other cold-weather gear includes appropriate flame-resistant hats, gloves, boots, balaclavas, traction aids for walking on ice, hand warmers and foot warmers.

On the road: Driving conditions in the winter, especially for large utility trucks, are hazardous. Plus, many winter hazards – such as ice – can be hidden by snow, causing slips and falls that can lead to injury.

Wind: Another hazard during winter storms is high winds, which not only make it feel colder for line workers but can also make it unsafe to use a bucket truck. When buckets can’t be used, line workers must climb utility poles to perform their work.

Hazard analyses: When working on downed or damaged power lines, electrical utility workers should use safe work practices and appropriate tools and equipment, including personal protective equipment. Qualified workers or supervisors must first perform a hazard analysis at the site. That includes evaluating the weather conditions and identifying how to safely do the job. Extra caution should always be exercised when working in adverse weather conditions.

PPE for line workers

In addition to protection from the cold weather, utility workers need proper PPE to help safeguard them from slips, falls from height, falling objects and electrical hazards. Examples include safety harnesses for fall protection, hard hats, anti-fog safety glasses (clear, shaded and extra pairs) and a high-visibility traffic vest (plus a spare).

All necessary tools should be in proper working condition. Rubber gloves with liners and glove protectors are critical for electrical workers, as well as rubber sleeves.

Safety is fundamental

With all the hazards cold-winter weather presents to restoring power, worker safety is the top priority. Being aware of cold-weather dangers, having a strong safety program, selecting appropriate protective gear and having safety professionals accompany line workers while they’re focused on getting the power back on are all important elements for the utilities industry to keep workers safe.

Editor's note: This article represents the independent views of the author and should not be considered a National Safety Council endorsement.

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