Wiremen and linemen face more than twice the mortality rate of police officers or firefighters. Due to being in a confined position, many deaths and injuries occur while workers are on top of utility poles and in elevated bucket trucks. Therefore, in case a fellow wireman or lineman is injured, it is critical to be well-versed in appropriate rescue techniques.
Without question, rescue techniques should be considered a mandatory part of wireman and lineman basic safety training. In case common sense isn’t enough of a reason, it is required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) regulations for electric power transmission and distribution. Both the general industry (1910.269) and construction (1926.950) standards offer the following: “Each employee shall also be trained in and familiar with any other safety practices, including applicable emergency procedures (such as pole-top and manhole rescue), that are not specifically addressed by this subpart but that are related to his or her work and are necessary for his or her safety.”
Prior to commencing a rescue operation, workers should assess the situation, radio for help, and contact emergency personnel or have a colleague do so. The operation will be far more effective if everyone involved is aware of the surroundings and circumstances. In preparation, everyone must have the proper personal protective equipment (PPE), which may include rubber gloves and sleeves, climbing equipment, fall protection and live line tools. Once everyone is equipped with the appropriate PPE, the rescue attempt may begin.
Rescuers should first call out to the victim to determine if he or she is responsive. If the victim is conscious, rescuers should reassure him or her that everything will be OK and then help the victim to the ground. Then, rescuers should administer first aid if necessary and monitor for shock symptoms.
If the victim is unconscious and still breathing, rescuers should lower him or her to the ground while monitoring the victim’s breathing. Then, rescuers should provide first aid.
If the victim is unconscious but not breathing, rescuers may have to attempt resuscitation prior to descent. However, it is imperative to ensure that the scene is safe. Rescuers must ensure the victim is clear of the electrical source.
To free a victim from an energized source, rescuers must turn off the power supply or may use special insulated live line tools. Electrocution rescue should never create another victim. Therefore, if this cannot be done safely, rescuers should not make an attempt.
Once the victim is free of the source, rescuers can provide two full breaths and lower the victim to the ground. Then, rescuers may administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
When lowering someone from a pole, workers should place their hand line on the cross-arm, 2–3 feet from the pole or bucket, then make one wrap of the line while trying not to cross the load line over the fall line. Upon reaching the victim, the rescuers should pass the hand line under the armpits, tie three half-hitches, cinch the line tightly around victim, remove slack from the line, cut the victim’s safety belt, and lower him or her to the ground. Some manufacturers offer some specific rescue equipment.
When working with trucks, employees must be familiar with emergency equipment operation on the aerial lift. Nearly all aerial lifts have a mechanism to safely bring a bucket to the ground in the event of an emergency. This equipment should be inspected prior to each use, as well.
On a final note, workers should never attempt a rescue on a utility pole or equipment that is damaged, on fire or unsafe to climb. Workers should have an idea of the pole’s condition before the work commences. A rescue attempt should only be conducted if it can be executed safely. Putting more people in a hazardous situation with a potentially critical outcome benefits no one.
Regardless of the circumstances, immediately following a rescue, victims must go to a doctor or healthcare facility for a thorough medical evaluation.
If you would like more information regarding this topic, OSHA has some valuable training tools and resources at www.osha.gov.