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Work it hot or ground it dead

The job of an electric cooperative lineworker is to help build, maintain and repair the electric distribution system without disrupting the flow of power to its member-owners, when possible. During the week of July 25 to 29, nearly 100 lineworkers from North Dakota’s 16 electric distribution cooperatives including Capital Electric Cooperative went back to school to get a refresher course in the application of rubber goods and gloves to work on energized high-voltage power lines. They also practiced using personal protective grounds as part of the process of de-energizing a power line to allow repairs to be completed safely. While on the job, linemen have the option to work a power line hot or ground it dead.

Hotline School is hosted annually by the North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives in Mandan, with support from vendors and manufacturers. The objectives are to network best practices amongst North Dakota lineworkers from apprentices to skilled leaders in the field; to learn practical skills and safe work procedures with hands-on instruction and demonstrations from experienced lineworkers; and to apply skills learned throughout six work stations under the guidance of skilled mentors. Education starts in the classroom and ends in the field with hands-on training and practice.

Four of the six stations required participants to develop an equipotential zone (EPZ) to protect the worker. EPZ has been proven to be the most effective means to ground for the personal protection of the lineworker. The other two stations included traditional hotline work situations that require the use of rubber gloves and cover-up to insulate energized lines and apparatuses.

Christina Roemmich, director of safety services for NDAREC, says linemen partake in safety and technical training throughout the year. Field training, in a controlled environment like hotline school, is the best time for linemen to apply the skills they have learned.

“When an outage occurs or storm restoration is required, the linemen have practiced the skills needed to complete the job safely,” she says.

All of Capital Electric’s linemen participated in this year’s training including Lead Linemen John Frey and Charles Atkinson, and Journeyman Linemen Corey Bruner, Lance Diebold, Jeremy Ensign, Jesse Goehring Matt Hagen, Steve Harrington, Steve Kuball, Seth Lothspeich and Braden Martin. Lothspeich and Ensign served as guest instructors.

The station Lothspeich taught was an underground splice repair mid-span, in which the linemen discussed insulation and isolation, and grounding methods for that particular work. He says he offered to teach that particular station because he felt his experience could be shared with participants and taken back to their respective cooperatives, where ideas could be exchanged and ultimately help the linemen work more efficiently.

“When it comes to underground work, the young guys coming into this trade need to know the proper ways to keep themselves and other workers safe,” he says. “I’m experienced in it, and that’s why I chose to teach it. I feel like I’m comfortable teaching it in a safe and practical way.”

As a participant, Lineman Hagen said this year’s training offered a preview as to how safety techniques are evolving.

“Safety is the biggest concern with this job,” he says. As more information becomes available and safety procedures continue to evolve, Hagen says he is open to learning new ways of doing things because ultimately, standards are in place to keep him and his co-workers safe.

Capital Electric Journeyman Lineman Seth Lothspeich (second from right) taught one of the six stations at hotline school, explaining an underground splice repair mid-span. Participants discussed insulation and isolation, and grounding methods for that particular work.

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