Line Contractor

Working With Live Line Tools: Proper PPE use and tool care

Published On
Sep 15, 2022

When conducting live line tool work, or “hot sticking,” lineworkers are at extreme risk of electrical contact. Hot sticking is a highly specialized technique that involves using insulated tools designed specifically for work on energized equipment and conductors. Anyone required to engage in this type of work must be properly trained.

Before any hot sticking operations can occur, conduct a thorough inspection, including tools and structures on either side of the equipment. It is imperative to ensure that all ties and hardware are secure so they will not impede work. If any defect is discovered when inspecting live line tools, they must be tagged and removed from service.

Choose proper PPE

When using the live line tool method, workers must never make direct contact with energized equipment or conductors from any body part. Additionally, lineworkers should never be positioned so they can reach into or extend any conductive object or part of the body into the minimum approach distance (MAD).

Lineworkers are required to have the proper approved safety equipment to insulate and isolate the energized conductors and devices. During this process, cradle-to-cradle rubber glove safety practices do not apply. However, workers are required to use rubber insulating protective equipment if encroaching the MAD.

It is not necessary to wear rubber insulating gloves and sleeves when working from a position where a lineworker is unable to reach or extend any conductive object or other part of the body into the MAD when using fiberglass insulating live line tools.

However, rubber protective sleeves should be worn if there is risk for arm exposure. When working with live lines or energized circuits between 50–600V, Class 0 rubber gloves with leather protectors are necessary. When working with less than 600V, sleeves are not required, unless arms are exposed to the live device, or if the 5-foot rule will be breached. This rule requires lineworkers to wear Class 2 rubber gloves and sleeves when working within 5 feet of equipment that may become energized at a level greater than 600V.

If workers are dealing with higher voltages ranging from 600–15,000V, Class 2 rubber gloves with leather protectors and Class 2 rubber sleeves must be worn. As a rule, rubber protective sleeves should meet or exceed the class rating of the rubber gloves used.

Tool care

According to the Center for Construction Training and Research, “Live-line tools can be categorized into several different forms: hot sticks, sectionalizer kits, insulated links, rescue hooks, discharge hooks, insulating hand tools, cutter sticks, and clamp stick/shotgun sticks.”

Each tool is designated for a specialized task. Before using any live line tools, it is critical to ensure they are clean and dry. Additionally, use only clean and dry synthetic ropes when working on or near energized lines or conductors. Lineworkers should also use link sticks between energized lines or conductors for all voltages.

Live line tools should be tested, at minimum, every two years. If the tool’s integrity is found to be compromised, it must be tagged and removed from service. Whenever tools are repaired or refinished, they must be deemed safe with a retest before use. Additionally, only tools approved by the employer can be used.

Lineworkers should avoid laying live line tools on the ground or leaning them up against sharp objects, such as barbed wire fences. When storing live line tools between jobs, keep them in a canvas bag or a specifically designed, weatherproof container in a warm, dry location.

Live line tools should never be used on lines of No. 6 copper, No. 6 ACSR, No. 8A copperweld or smaller, unless continuity of service is absolutely necessary. In the event live line work is deemed necessary under these circumstances, the appropriate authorization is required before beginning any activity.

Finally, work should never be conducted with the live line tool method in adverse weather conditions. These conditions make energized conductors and equipment more volatile and too hazardous to work on.

About the Author

Tom O'Connor

Safety Columnist

Tom O'Connor is safety and regulatory affairs manager for Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and software for contractors. Reach him at


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