Lineman Crew Chief Jeffrey Berry Is A Facilitator For His Team [Energy Central's Weeklong National Lineman Appreciation Day Celebration in Partnership with Quanta Services]
- Apr 12, 2022 2:03 am GMT
A chance encounter started Jeffrey Berry’s career in the utility industry. He was splicing fiber optic cables for communication companies one day, when he ran into a couple of linemen near his worksite. Curious about their job, he peppered them with questions. That was in December 2000.
Since then, Berry has progressed from pre-apprentice to Journeyman Lineman and completed an Electrician Apprenticeship and worked with the Underground Residential Distribution (URD) team. Now, he works as crew chief for the Seattle City Light electric utility supervising work crews and handling customer communication.
While his current position requires administrative and management skills, Berry has a more nuanced take on his duties. According to him, he is a ‘facilitator’ and his task is to make the lineman’s job easier and safer. The latter aspect of his job is especially important. A typical day begins with a safety briefing and is followed by a discussion of potential hazards of jobs scheduled for that day.
On a given day, the numbers and frequency of such jobs is fairly predictable. Extreme weather conditions, such as hurricanes, throw a spanner in the works, however. Berry takes a sequential approach, based on severity impact of the site outage, to manage the chaos on such days. “[During storms] We address outages and events where we can get most work done,” he explains. Those days are also when people appreciate utility workers more. “They love to see you at work [restoring power],” says Berry.
A Focus on Safety
“When I started, you just had a hook that you used to climb,” says Berry. Not surprisingly, he injured his foot during his early days on the job. He was not the only one risking physical trauma. Injuries, such as the one suffered by Berry, were common and were considered a professional hazard.
Things have changed in recent times. Berry says the biggest transformations at work have occurred in safety and ergonomics. Free climbing to great heights is no longer allowed. Linemen are required to equip themselves with belt and gear systems and harnesses. The gear may be bulky and slow a lineman’s ascent but Berry is firmly in favor of the new paraphernalia. “It will take longer to get where you are going but I think any employer would sacrifice speed over safety,” he says.
Other safety measures are also designed to reduce injuries on the job, Berry says. For example, the prevalence of battery-operated and hydraulic tools has reduced the risk of repetitive motion injury. The new tools create a steep learning curve for an industry in which the average worker demographic skews older. But a new generation of linemen will find it easier to work with them. “New apprentices don’t know anything different,” says the 50-year-old.
Advice for Aspiring Linemen
For those considering a career as a lineman, Berry has some advice. They should be willing to work hard and take constructive criticism from their peers and seniors. The unpredictable and erratic work hours of a lineman’s job also means that they should be willing to “drop whatever you are doing to respond to outages.” In some instances, this also means that they should be willing to travel away from home for extended periods of time on assignments. Berry has done his share of such assignments. When he is back home, however, he unwinds by playing golf and attending his kids’ sporting events.
And a special thanks to our Partner Quanta Services for supporting this initiative!
Quanta Services is the leading specialty contractor with the largest skilled labor force in North America – providing fully integrated infrastructure solutions for the utility, pipeline, energy and communications industries.
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