Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Hazards of Power Restoration

Some power company trucks restringing line.

        The next time we feel compelled to complain about how long it takes to restore our power following tornadoes, wind shear or other disasters, we need to remember how dangerous the job really can be.  Yesterday in the car, I heard that a man who is a power worker from another area who was under contract to our local power company, had died.  He apparently was working without complaint with a crew here, and started not to finish his sentences. The men working with him, told him to sit for awhile in the air conditioned truck and get some cool water.  When they next checked on him he wasn't there. He was found a short distance away under a bush. Emergency services was called but the man died, presumably of heat exhaustion.   Apparently, the crew with him did not know that when a person with heat exhaustion appears disoriented, or exhibits neurological symptoms, that it's time to call an ambulance in order to give him the best chance of survival. My heart goes out to this man's family, and also to those on the crew who worked with the man.
                  A friend of mine has a relative who has worked as an electrical lineman for years. Recently, he restored the power to a woman running a methamphetamine lab in a rural area, and her paranoia went haywire.  She attacked him while he was still in the cherry picker, by causing the truck to come out of gear and roll down and crash.  The man may not survive his unjuries, although he has thus far.
                 In doing research for this post I found a number of articles this week in which a number of power workers were killed in the mammoth effort to restore power to the East Coast following the bevy of tornadoes and storms in the past week or so.  In Virginia's Loudoun County,  Jacqueline Green, a 22 year veteran of a Florida power company was killed when her brakes failed.
                 In Kern County, California, a lift worker doing power restoration died while falling from an elevated lift. Luis Roberto Minjarez lived in Los Angeles.

                As hard as utility companies work to promote safety and best practices in the field, and as hard as OSHA works to protect workers, there are unforeseen circumstances, mechanical failures, and human failures which may result from severe conditions. Most of the time a work environment can be kept safe, but circumstances may arise which make a given circumstance or particular restoration hazardous.  The next time you see a power worker, please thank them for the work that they do, and for their willingness to help to restore our power infrastructure in all weathers and in all situations. Both of the workers who died this week, that I mentioned, were from other areas of the country and were not required to come to Virginia.  They had volunteered to come and help.


Matt said...

You have to consider the idea that who ever is "in charge" has failed these workers in most of these cases.

For consideration of the bottom line only ($$), many areas that could have and should have had buried lines and buried equipment have been installed above ground.

My neighborhood has the lines buried and while failures have occurred at stations and substations it's not been anywhere near the rate of above ground areas. For instance, this big event that many have suffered through going on two weeks now, my neighborhood only suffered "flickers" as the storm rolled through the first night. I've had power, phone, and cable the whole time. Other older parts of my city didn't fare as well.

Sure it can happen here, as I said a station or substation could go down or even major power transmission lines could be downed as was the case in West Virginia, but all these fatalities out on the streets and roads could have been prevented or vastly reduced as well as the human suffering on the part of the customer who never really had a say in this to begin with.

Then there's the cost to consider every time a major event rolls through and all these folks have to come in from other states, fuel costs, labor costs, material costs, and as the point of your blog refers to, the Human cost.

All this on account of corporate greed.

We keep hearing about our failing infrastructure in terms of bridges and roads. They ought to consider our power grid instead.

JaneofVirginia said...

Matt, On our Virginia farm we paid extra to have the powerlines buried as soon as the lines hit the property. This has been of great benefit to us, although transformers and lines come up to us on poles through the mountainous and rocky roads and trails which lead to us. For us, buried lines have been great. I asked why our house in Nova Scotia does not have buried lines, and why it is not done there, and Nova Scotia Power explained that the high water table would make this impossible. This has amused us because the power goes out here in Virginia when anyone "whispers" the word storm, and it has been out only once since we have owned the house in NS (and the company phoned us to tell us about it, why, and when it would be restored. There is no doubt that the power grid infrastructure in much of the US and the UK is old and that the companies involved have not felt financially comfortable in terms of maintaining them. That's part of the problem.
Perhaps the underground lines are not utilized as much for the same reason as in Nova Scotia.

Matt said...

Obviously it can't be done everywhere, but hey we have it, and my type of land scape is found in much of this state.

Thanks, Jane.

JaneofVirginia said...

Matt, I agree with you. We should shoot for underground cables whenever we can. I know that some places in Williamsburg, the Eastern Shore, and Norfolk may have too high a water table for underground electrical cables, but it makes sense. The extra cost of burying cable is made up by saving the costs of overtime and emergency repairs of above ground cable following tornadoes, hurricanes and other emergencies.