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CVTC’s ‘Lineworker U’ Emphasizes Safety, Industry Updates

CVTC Electrical Power Distribution Instructor Bandi Henke demonstrates fall safety equipment for professional lineworkers at CVTC’s Lineworker U Feb. 4. Henke’s posture here was shown as an example of what is not safe, as the straps needed to be cinched up closer to the pole. Over 80 lineworkers from five states attended the two-day event.

Bandi Henke understands the difficulty in convincing electric power distribution lineworkers to use fall prevention equipment. He had plenty of training and experience in the field before becoming an instructor at Chippewa Valley Technical College (CVTC) and knows how fast and seemingly easy it is to “free climb” a wooden power pole.

But falls and injuries are still too common in a trade in which there is an increasing emphasis on use of safety equipment.  That’s why Henke had excellent attendance at sessions called Fall-Arrest Fundamentals during CVTC’s Lineworker U Feb. 3-5 at the Plaza Hotel and Conference Center in Eau Claire.

Over 80 lineworkers from Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois and Michigan attended the event, which featured 18 breakout sessions on topics ranging from updates on the latest in industry equipment to a review of code changes.

“It’s to update your skills and learn new things you don’t see every day,” said Beau Blade, a lineworker with Eau Claire Energy Cooperative for the past 14 years. “The technology is new because everything’s computerized.”

While sessions on new technology and equipment were well-attended, sessions dealing directly with the health and safety of lineworkers were particularly popular among the workers from electric power cooperatives, municipal utilities and power companies.

Henke said lineworkers not currently using fall prevention equipment will be using it soon. “The power line industry is not letting people free climb as much as they used to. They are going to some form of fall protection,” Henke said.

In the session, Henke held up an early device commonly called a “Buck Squeeze” and found a few lineworkers are still using them. “It’s not user-friendly,” Henke remarked. “But it’s better than dying.”

He then showed the updated version of the device, calling it “180 percent better.” He also showed a number of similar devices from various manufacturers, and demonstrated their use on an eight-foot wooden practice pole held in an upright position in a frame constructed in CVTC’s Welding program

Attendees then donned their own climbing gear and tried out the devices for themselves.

“I’ve never used one before, but they say it’s going to be coming to the industry,” said Scott Devoe of Barron Electric Cooperative. “They will take a lot of getting used to. There are so many different adjustments.”

CVTC Lineworker Apprenticeship Instructor Randy Larson, who led the team organizing Lineworker U, said another popular session was conducted by Dr. Kevin Schultz of Hallie Chiropractic on reducing risk of musculoskeletal injuries.

“Fifteen years ago, he never would’ve had anyone attend his session,” Larson said. “But people are much more concerned about their health than before. The guys are interested in how to stay healthy and live longer.

“Dr. Schultz must have had 30 guys in there. When he got done, people didn’t want to leave. He was in there for two hours answering questions,” Larson continued.

It’s not just their own health and safety that concern the lineworkers. “We did an emergency response training on what to do on the job if someone is injured and what procedures to use,” said Steve White, a lineworker with Rock Energy headquartered in Janesville.  “Sometimes we’re out in the middle of nowhere and it could take a while to get response.”

Larson said Lineworker U had been a dream of his for three years, and now that it’s off the ground, he’s already considering how to make it better and expand the offerings.

Chippewa Valley Technical College delivers superior, progressive technical education which improves the lives of students, meets the workforce needs of the region, and strengthens the larger community. Campuses are located in Chippewa Falls, Eau Claire, Menomonie, Neillsville and River Falls. CVTC serves an 11-county area in west central Wisconsin. CVTC is part of the Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS) and is one of 16 WTCS colleges located throughout the state.