Electricity is the lifeblood of modern society, and it takes a dedicated army of professionals to keep the power grid functional. Through wind and rain, ice and snow, professional utility workers perform the dangerous job of maintaining Chicago’s electrical utility networks.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates there are 565,000 individuals employed in the utilities sector. While the industry has a low unemployment rate, it has one of the highest rates of injuries. BLS estimates that every year 2.4 out of every 100 employees will suffer a serious injury or illness as a result of their work. This places electrical line utility workers at 7th most dangerous job in America.
According to BLS, lineman fatality rates are declining. In 1992, 150 electrical line utility workers suffered fatal falls or were electrocuted. In 2011, 60 utility workers suffered fatal injuries. And, in 2014, 33 linemen died while maintaining utility networks. These decreasing fatality rates show the effectiveness of personal protective equipment, better safety training, and stricter adherence to safety protocols.
Electrical line utility workers face electrocution, electrical shock injuries, falls from elevation, and injuries from falling equipment. Furthermore, linemen are at high risk for sprains, strains, overexertion, contusions, concussions, cuts, and deep lacerations.
It is a dangerous reality that hits close to home. This summer, veteran lineman Gerry Kinney was severely burned when he made contact with a 7,000-volt primary transmission line. Mr. Kinney lost his hands, and his livelihood as a result of his injuries. He is also facing many operations and a long road to recovery. Mr. Kinney and his workmans compensation lawyer are seeking damages from his employer for the injuries he suffered in the incident.
To mitigate the dangers linemen face, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, National Electrical Contractors Association, and the Occupational Health & Safety Administration are working to improve safety standards and training. They are working to streamline standards and safety protocols that often vary between companies. These discrepancies put linemen at risk and increase the risk of accident and injury.
Their efforts also include enhanced training courses, the provision of improved personal protective equipment, and more rigorous OSHA oversight. These efforts are credited with flattening the fatality/injury curve. While the work will remain dangerous, lineman, unions, and the federal government are confident the trend will continue into the coming year.