Between the lines: Hazard Recognition

Dawson PPD General Manager

Gwen Kautz, Dawson Public Power District General Manager

By Gwen Kautz, Dawson PPD General Manager
gkautz (at)

Did you ever notice how we don’t “see things” we pass by every single day, like power poles? It’s that way with a lot of other things, too – bushes, trees, fences, signs, grain bins and even parked cars.

Each year, our employees are schooled about hazard recognition. Hazards in the electric industry can be deadly. That’s why we train EVERYONE at Dawson PPD about them.

One day, I drove past a farmer pulling an auger with his pickup. He was pulled over on the side of the road, but I could see he was about to turn into his field. Now I’m not a great judge of distances or sizes, but it crossed my mind that the auger was going to be really close to our power line once he drove under it. My job was to stop him and ask him to be careful. Did I? Nope. The reasons I didn’t: (1) I figured he’d done it a hundred times before and knew what he was doing and (2) I didn’t want him to look at me and think “who the heck does she think she is?” (3) followed by “what if I’m wrong about the distance and I’ll look stupid?”

Let’s look at this differently – what if I was right? WHAT IF I saw this, said nothing, and his auger hooked our line and pulled it down or worse, injured or killed him? I would have never forgiven myself. We need to err on the side of sounding stupid and being embarrassed rather than on the side of “I sure wish I would have said something.”

The farmer thinks “I’ve pulled this auger under this line a hundred times.” Things change. The slightest change in terrain – maybe tillage built up and driving up and over a little berm was necessary – or maybe something happened to the power line months ago and it was sagging a little. Any change in terrain or line sag can create a hazard.

Hazards can also come from customer-owned items that have been attached to Dawson PPD poles. Signs, satellite dishes, and landscaping decorations are hazards for linemen who may need to climb the pole. Customer-owned lights installed on our transformer poles are a hazard to those who install or maintain them. No one should work in close proximity to an energized power line without the proper training and personal protective equipment – in other words, only Dawson PPD linemen should work close to a power line.

Another example of a hazard is using the area under a power line as a storage area for hay bales, or irrigation pipe. Both of these increase the likelihood that someone will come in contact with the energized line, causing injury or death. They could lift the pipe into the line while trying to clear debris or drive a loader tractor into the line.

If someone who doesn’t understand electrical current and its dangers comes near this bare wire, they could be electrocuted. The customer may claim that we saw this hazard and never warned them.

That’s why sometimes, if the hazard is really obvious, we may write a letter to the property owner and tell them they must get it fixed or we’ll need to disconnect the service until it’s made safe.

We aren’t doing any of this to cause the customer a problem. We are trying to prevent a bigger problem. Safety is our priority – and not just our safety, but public safety.


August 2017

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