The Biggest Reason Not To Be Complacent

The Lineman Life Podcast

If I were to ask you would this be the year you get injured by being complacent, you would probably answer no. If you had asked me this question in early 2005 I would have answered exactly like you just did. In the next 20 minutes you will learn what happened to me in 2005 when I got complacent. You will also learn the biggest reason why you should never be complacent.

If you are a Lineman you will have to deal with being complacent sometime in your career. You have been working for a while you know your job. Everybody looks up to you because you know what you’re doing. People count on you to know what to do while working trouble, building lines, talking to customers. You are really confident in what you do, nothing makes you backup.” Have you noticed yourself taking a few shortcuts lately? You talk to yourself, “I have done this every day for years, I know what I’m doing.” Maybe you don’t follow work procedures exactly like they are written. You tell yourself, “That step is really not needed.” “ I have been doing this for 20 years and never had a problem, I know what I’m doing.” You don’t follow the safety rules exactly like they are written, you make yourself believe it’s OK, “That rule needs to be changed, it doesn’t work today.” Does this sound like you? It might be time to re-think what you are doing.

I thought the same way and I made some poor choices. One of them got me some minor injuries and the other almost cost me my life. Both of these screw-us were due to being complacent, not following procedures, thinking I knew better. If you stay in this business long enough, sooner or later if you’re complacent it is going to catch up to you. When you least expect it somethings going to jump up and bite you right in the ass.

Back in early 2005, I was on a one man service truck, I had been a journeyman for 20 years, so I was pretty comfortable in my skills. My main functions were to catch all trouble, run temporary and permanent services and work on St. Lights. The district I worked in was very large, if you needed to drive from one end to the other it would take you about one and a half hours. I had an order to “tap-up” a service and set 10 meters on a condominium complex at a resort area on Edisto Beach, SC. Edisto Beach was at the far end of our service territory. The UG service was a parallel 300MCM single phase service. The line-crew out of my baseyard had been there the day before and ran the service, made up the gang can; put the lugs on the transformer side of the service. Since there was no city approval when they ran the service they did not heat it up. My job was to tap it up and set the meters, the approval had come in late in the afternoon the day before.

As soon as I pulled up to the job I got a call from Dispatch, “1611, we have a trouble call on Chaplin’s Landing Rd.” “What?” Chaplin’s Landing Rd, that is on the other end of our service area. There was no one else available so I replied, “Dispatch, I will take it as soon as I get this order done on Edisto Beach.”

I opened up the UG transformer. The parallel service looked to be properly marked with colored tape, I checked the meter can and it looked OK also. Since I was in a hurry and my friends from the crew did the marking, I decided not to ohm it out to check if all of the service conductors matched up in polarity.

The area was full of activity with about 20 people around finishing up construction on the condo buildings. I connected the service to the neutral spades. I then connected one of each side of the parallel service to the secondary spades making sure the other end was isolated since as soon as its matching conductor was heated up it would also come hot. I then went to connect the other sides to the hot spades. As soon as the lug hit the spade there was a huge flash. I fell straight backwards, as soon as I landed I felt something burning my arm, I ripped off my rubber gloves, there was a red hot piece of metal down in my glove burning my arm. People were running over to me, “are you OK, are you OK?” I could smell hair burning, I reached up to my mustache, it was almost gone. I couldn’t see out of my safety glasses, I took them off. They were completely pitted up. I looked at my hardhat; it had been white but was now the front was black. I then came to the realization that the markings on that service had been wrong.

Somebody had called the ambulance and they soon arrived. I had made it through with some minor burns on my face and a 2nd degree burn on my arm where the hot ember had fallen down into my rubber gloves. The biggest thing hurt was my pride. Everybody on that jobsite had seen or heard what happened. I called my supervisor and told him what happened; he pulled somebody off another job to send them to catch the other case of trouble. I told him I would finish the job I was doing before heading back to the base-yard.

I disconnected all of the conductors; ohm’d them out, properly re-marked them, made up the service and set all of the meters. I then headed back to the barn to confront the line-crew.

I had a 40 minute drive back to think about what happened. In my mind it was their fault, they had set me up, they had marked the cables wrong. When I saw the crew they knew I was pissed, they told me it was Carlos, an apprentice that had screwed up the markings. I made a beeline straight to him. I was stopped by the foreman on the crew, “what are you doing?” he asked. “Carlos screwed up and look what happened to me.” I replied. The foreman said, “Spooner, did you ohm the wire out before you tapped it up to make sure everything was OK?” “No, but it was Carlo’s fault.” The foreman looked me right in the eye and said, “Hold on a minute, you are at fault just as much as him. You didn’t double check for yourself. He is just learning, you know better.” The foreman’s words rang true, it was partially my fault, if I had followed procedure I would have caught it. I was in a hurry to get to the trouble call, so I got lazy. I walked away to calm down because I knew he was right.

Do you sometimes think like I did? I don’t really believe in that safety rule so I don’t follow it. Maybe you have done the same job for years, like hooking up a parallel service and never had a problem. “I don’t need to double check behind somebody.” Maybe you have been doing something that you know is wrong for years. Maybe you take a few shortcuts, “I have done it before and nothing happened.”

I was the same way, I only had a few major incidents happen to me in 34 years. But it only takes one to change your life forever. I only got some minor burns that day but the next time I was complacent and screwed up it almost killed me.

Later that same year 2005 I got called out about 2am to a trouble call, back then we had a one-man call out. There had been a thunderstorm earlier, so I figured this call had something to do with it. The call was a lights out to about 50 customers. The customers were on the end of a long radial V-phase line. The line was protected by 2 Oil reclosers one span in from main 3 phase line where it pulled off. When I arrived on the scene I looked at the 2 reclosers and noticed that one of them was open and the other closed. I wanted to ride out the line before I took the reclosers off-line thinking maybe the fault that opened the recloser cleared itself. As I was patrolling the line I came to where the 2 phases stopped and only one phase continued further down the road. There was an open delta bank feeding a church on the pole where it went from 2 phases to one. The single phase part did not have any kind of line fuse, it was being protected by the recloser at the head of the road.

I continued patrolling the single phase line, I saw there were no lights in this section so I knew that this single phase part was on the recloser that opened. 2 spans down from where the two phases ended the wire was on the ground and out in the road, a large pine branch had fallen on it and burned it down.

I got on the radio and called Dispatch to start looking for some help to get the wire put back up. While I was waiting for my help I was going to do as much as I could to get started. The wire was laying in the road and I knew it was dead because the houses around didn’t have lights. I waked over to the wire to move it out of the road. I reached down and grabbed the wire with my bare hand. Once I touched it I knew I had made a terrible mistake, it still had voltage on it! I tried to drop the wire but my muscles were contracted and I couldn’t open my hand. A thought went through my mind, this might be it for me. My knees buckle and I fell to the ground, luckily the wire came out of my hand. It was at this point that I realized, the open delta bank 2 spans down was back feeding this single phase line. The other phase for that bank was still hot. It didn’t help that the road was wet too. Before I got up I told myself, you know better. The line was not grounded, the reclosers should have been taken off before I touched anything. I had been complacent.

You know I never told the guys that came to help me what happened. I was embarrassed at what I did. I was so lucky they didn’t find me dead lying on the road holding that wire.

This last incident was a life changer for me; it changed my whole way of thinking. I never told my wife about that night, the reason is she would worry. She will be thankful I didn’t end up dead lying on that road, but she wouldn’t understand why I took a shortcut. Besides my wife I have 2 great kids that depend on me. I changed for them, what would they do without me? Just like me, your family depends on you. What would it be like for your wife and kids if you got hurt or killed? What would it be like for your Mom and Dad if you weren’t here? Think about you family when you want to take that shortcut, think about your family when you don’t follow that safety rule. If your family knew you were being complacent, they wouldn’t appreciate it. This is the biggest reason I quit being complacent and this should be your biggest reason also. You also don’t want someone else’s family losing a loved one because you were complacent on the job and it lead to one of your co-workers getting injured.

2005 was a bad year for me, but I did learn from what happened to me. I challenge you to get out of the complacency pitfall, follow these safety rules in the spirit in which the rule was written. Follow procedures to the book, most safety procedures were “written in blood.” They are there for a reason. There are really no reasons to take shortcuts, your company pays by the hour. I am sure they want it done correctly. Today is a new day; you have a chance to change. So if you won’t do it for yourself, do it for your family.

So I am going to ask you again, is this the year you are going to get injured from being complacent?

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  • Just listened to your podcast on complancey, so true. We all do it and don’t think twice about. Glad only your pride was hurt.