Stop Ignoring Safety!

Posted to Esri in the Digital Utility Group
image credit: Image used with permission.
Pat  Hohl's picture
Director - Electric Industry Solutions, Esri

Pat Hohl, PE, is Esri's director of electric industry solutions. He was a pioneer in the use of GIS for electric utilities. He has over 35 years of experience in utility engineering, technology...

  • Member since 2018
  • 145 items added with 207,296 views
  • Apr 9, 2019

One of the most serious accidents I have ever investigated was a deliberate contact with an overhead 34.5kV power line. The line was supposed to be dead before applying the safety grounds. High above the ground, the line worker confidently approached the wires unaware they were still hot! The high voltage electricity jumped out to meet the copper ground he held, instantly engulfing the man in a ball of fire! He should have checked more carefully.

The resultant power surge quickly caused the circuit breaker feeding the line to open, interrupting the flow of electricity. Fortunately, the man walked away, and his injuries were limited by layers of safety.

The question that will always haunt utility work—how to build better layers of safety?

The day before the incident, I wrote the switching order detailing the exact steps needed to take the line out of service while keeping customers’ power on. I was keenly aware of the dangers. Double-checking those switching steps to verify they would kill the line was the first layer of safety. Many more layers of protection were built into the process. You can probably think of many—equipment marking, blockout/tagout, radio protocol, and personal protective equipment (PPE).

The workers were to open a pole switch numbered PS221. This would cut the feed and de-energize the line. We were working on two parallel lines on a rural right-of-way. The workers drove to a line, assuming this was the right one, and hastily opened the wrong switch. The switch they opened was numbered PS121, which was, unfortunately, similar to the number of the pole switch they were to open. One layer of safety stripped away—that's why we need many layers.

I worked with a safety officer who believes that driving is the most dangerous common work activity. We have layers of safety in vehicles too. We limit our speed and wear seatbelts. Signage and traffic laws orchestrate the flow. Paying attention, looking around, and following at safe distances are more layers of safety.

A single layer can often be violated without injury. If you don't buckle your seatbelt, you will likely make it to the store without injury. The other layers help protect you. I see drivers thoughtlessly run red lights all the time. Fortunately, most drivers look both ways before entering an intersection. If someone runs a stop light, other layers will act to protect and limit injury if there is a collision.

Every safety layer is precious. Cutting layers elevates risk; adding layers improves safety performance. Disregard more than one layer and the chances of injury skyrocket! The goal is always zero accidents. However, distractions occur, and mistakes are made. Layers that are part of the normal workflow are the best—no extra things to remember.

Today the device in a worker's pocket can add layers of safety with improved information and communication. Start with complete and detailed information about your electric system. Add real-time information about your infrastructure and its operation. Layer on outside sources of environmental information about weather, flooding, lightning, traffic, and road closures for a safer well-prepared job site. That same device can even make job safety briefings easy and help monitor the employee working alone. That device is a smartphone or tablet.

Consider how Uber routes a driver directly to where you stand, or how Dark Sky predicts when it will start raining at your exact location. Unprecedented location-aware safety layers are within easy reach. And what powers location intelligence? ArcGIS.

ArcGIS reveals unsafe conditions by helping utility workers visualize real-time hazards that threaten people, property, and the environment. ArcGIS connects mixed data sources, analyzes them, and presents insights via web maps or mobile apps. ArcGIS allows you to add precious layers of safety with reliable information and innovative communication for employees and customers.

To learn how ArcGIS helps utilities add layers of safety, visit Safety First for Utilities.

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Francesco Ortolani's picture
Francesco Ortolani on Apr 17, 2019

I would rather reverse the process: a mobile contactles device, with GPS, shall signal back the presence and position of the electrical field, at a safe distance from the worker.

The worker must ALWAYS approach the conductor as a live voltage. Just after grounding the line he can dare touching.

I saw people dead due to a capacitive voltage coupling (line was disconnected, but voltage was induced by a near line).

Moreover I would also suggest a Partial discharge detector in addition to electrical field detector: I saw insulated cable exploded for a loss of insulation during works in proximity. The worker, and the system should be alerted by this PD activity

Pat  Hohl's picture
Thank Pat for the Post!
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