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Pole Pile Hazards

image credit: Pole pile on Tinian Island after Typhoon Yutu
Willie Shutter's picture
President/CEO Primary Source Electric

I am a dedicated professional who has had the privilege to be a part of so many great things over the last several years. I have helped grow Primary Source Electric from a small Utility...

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  • Sep 22, 2022
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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 beenshould 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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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Sep 22, 2022

I imagine not only is the awareness a problem, as you mention, but so often in these recovery efforts you're bringing together multiple different recovery crews sent from various corners of the country who haven't worked together before so it's about coordinating and collaborating on this type of necessity as well. 

I'd love to see emphasis on this after Hurricane season to prepare for the next one, safety is too important to ignore. 

Willie Shutter's picture
Willie Shutter on Sep 22, 2022

I completely agree, I believe that more emphasis should be put on preparation before the emergency happens versus immediately before it does or during. I appreciate your feedback.

Jim Stack's picture
Jim Stack on Sep 23, 2022

So we just need point to point wirekess power. Just as the solar in space article promises a wireless power shot like microwave for communication wireless power transmission is needed now. 

Willie Shutter's picture
Willie Shutter on Sep 23, 2022

If that ever comes to fruition which it may, we would still have years and years of transitioning from the one system to the other. The same concept as the transition from overhead lines to underground, time and money would be the barrier. The current model demands a higher level of safety awareness as would the build-out of wireless electricity, new and old infrastructure requires this awareness. But yes, in the end, pole piles would be a thing of the past...

Michael Keller's picture
Michael Keller on Sep 26, 2022

Wireless power transmission, shades of Nikola Tesla’s theories of a hundred years ago. Did not work then and remains wildly impractical.

Common sense tends to take a backseat during emergencies. Seems to me the best approach is make sure that the proper equipment is available and if it’s not, go get it. Do not get goaded into work if the crews are not ready, properly equipped, and confident, especially when the task is inherently dangerous.

 

 

Willie Shutter's picture
Willie Shutter on Sep 26, 2022

Agreed, these extreme cases of not having the proper equipment usually occurs on an island in the middle of nowhere and not on the mainland. 

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