By Kent Singer, CREA Executive Director
The Memorial Day weekend is considered by many to be the unofficial start of the summer season. After the last couple of years of COVID confinement, it seems to me that this summer will be especially celebrated.
For Colorado’s electric co-ops, the beginning of summer also means the start of construction and maintenance season. While co-op line crews work to keep the lights on year-round, with the longer days and generally better weather, they will be completing even more projects this summer to continue powering communities across Colorado.
There’s no sugar-coating it: Electric co-op lineworkers do physically exhausting work in potentially dangerous conditions. You probably don’t think much about the power lines that run down the road, but those lines carry extremely high-voltage electricity. They are potentially deadly.
You may have read about what can happen if a person or the vehicle they’re driving contacts power lines: It can be catastrophic. Electric co-op lineworkers are in your community every day working in proximity to those power lines, either building, fixing, monitoring or planning ways to keep the system working to provide you with the power you depend on.
CREA does all it can to support our member electric co-ops when it comes to safe workplace practices. We have a team of safety professionals who help your local co-op line crews stay safe in their daily work. Our team conducts training sessions, makes crew visits, helps with safety meetings, and provides updates on the most recent regulations on safety and other matters.
CREA also works with our national trade association, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, to develop programs to keep co-op lineworkers safe. One of those programs is called the Commitment to Zero Contacts initiative. This program was initiated in 2018 by NRECA and Federated Rural Electric Insurance Exchange, a company that insures electric co-ops. The purpose of the program is to provide co-op CEOs and other leaders with tools to help them eliminate serious injuries and fatalities due to electrical contacts.
One of the key elements of the Commitment to Zero Contacts program is a renewed emphasis on the “life-saving rules” that lineworkers always follow: Use gloves and sleeves; apply proper insulating material; use proper clearance procedures; test lines; and apply personal grounds. In addition to these rules, the program encourages lineworkers to speak up whenever they have a question or concern. It also encourages crews to slow down and do appropriate planning for each job.
The first phase of the Commitment to Zero Contacts program has been successful in reducing the overall number of electric contacts, but there are still too many contacts that result in serious injuries or fatalities to electric co-op lineworkers. Recognizing this problem, NRECA and Federated have developed Phase II of the program to help co-ops reassess and adjust their existing safety practices to further reduce the potential for future electrical contacts. Phase II of the program, which is currently being tested around the country, will help co-ops better understand their exposure to contacts and encourage them to adopt additional leading safety practices.
This safety awareness job is never done. On the day I finished writing this column, CREA’s safety director notified me that a contract lineworker for one of Colorado’s electric co-ops was being flown to the burn center in Greeley after suffering a serious injury during an electrical contact. Our prayers are with this man and his family; at this writing, the extent of his injuries is not clear.
What is clear is that hundreds of lineworkers employed by Colorado’s electric co-ops (and other utilities) go to work every day on your behalf, literally risking life and limb to power your lives. Next time you see one, please give them your thanks.
Kent Singer is the executive director of CREA and offers a statewide perspective on issues affecting electric cooperatives. CREA is the trade association for all of Colorado’s 22 electric distribution co-ops and one power supply co-op.