Pole Pile Hazards
- Sep 22, 2022 12:37 pm GMT
Having worked dozens of major storms in various regions throughout the world, one of the most dangerous things I remember about working in the field as a lineman were the pole piles. Often times these poles would be brought in by barges and offloaded using equipment that wasn’t designed for the task. Whether it was on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean or on the shores of the Gulf, these piles of poles would at times be extremely high and compact. Leaving very little room for error and even less room to fish straps around to pick them, they were always a powder keg waiting to blow. Many times, the concrete poles that were shipped into the Mariana Islands would be steel-bound in pairs, stacked 3 rows deep with little to no supports. Unbinding these massive monsters was not a job for the timid and came with its fair share of near misses and close calls.
With the recent outages in Puerto Rico and the potential near-future hurricanes/typhoons that could impact other islands and parts of the mainland, I decided to write this mini article to create greater awareness of this issue. While I was working in St Thomas after Hurricane Irma in 2018, we had to fight through massive piles of poles that at times were too compressed to lift out. We would sometimes have to drag them out from the ends in order to pick them at balance, which in these cases applied compressive and torsive forces that our equipment wasn’t designed to handle. I have heard stories of workers getting crushed by poles rolling, legs and hands destroyed by shifting loads, and several other incidents where injuries could have been, should have been prevented.
The awareness is the first step, the conversation is the second step, and acting on it in the field is the final step. Keep in mind that sometimes it's not about changing the situations we have to deal with but changing how we deal with the situation. There is always a safer way and shortcuts will get you nowhere when dealing with an extreme hazard like this. I want nothing more than to have my fellow brothers and sisters in the line industry to return home safely to their families, without injury or the stress of an incident.
The supervisors of these emergency projects should be extensively involved with the process of staging all materials including poles. Work closely with the utility to establish safer work environments for employees to prevent incidents and accidents. How these poles are loaded and stored matters tremendously and helping the utility help you is important. In the event you have to mitigate your way through a pole pile that has been improperly stacked, take extreme caution and plan every move you make before you make it. Be sure to chock off poles that are on the verge of rolling and secure yourself an exit strategy in the event things go bad.
Finally, know when to say no and when to get others involved to help fix a dangerous situation. We can only help better the processes utilized during emergency events by having honest conversations about things like this and shedding light on the not so obvious hazards lineman face every day.
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