Bill Phillips
Vice President / Sr. Asst. Business Manager

IBEW Local 15 Safety

   It’s that time of the year to prepare for work in the extreme Midwest weather conditions; such as a chill in the morning, blazing hot in the afternoon, and back to the chill in the evening.

   That’s just the temperature swings, now throw the humidity changes. With a simple change in wind direction, you can go from a hot working condition to an extremely dangerous working condition.    

   If you’re working in a mostly agricultural area, different crops can influence humidity levels. Humidity will be higher in a corn field than a bean field. So, the heat index working near farms will be higher than in the suburb or town you left that day to head into work.

   By using the chart you can see how much your working conditions can be affected. 90°Fahrenheit with 95% humidity will be equivalent to a heat index of 127°F. You just went from extreme caution into extreme danger. Stay aware of the conditions by any means you have, it may save you from some severe problems later.

    And remember the higher the index, the more you’ll need to take in water and electrolytes and schedule more breaks or rest in a cool space. 

 

Infrared Thermography - It’s Not Just for Hunting Aliens and Predators Anymore

 

   Since its inception in 1887 as Chicago Edison, ComEd has supplied electricity to the City and surrounding communities by utilizing high voltage cables  installed underground in conduits and manholes. Using cable in the manhole system has many advantages including greater system reliability by protecting ComEd facilities from vehicular and storm damage; improving community safety by placing high voltage cables out of the reach of the general public, as well as reducing congestion on city streets and alleyways. 

 

  On the other hand, these advantages have presented our members with an ever increasing issue of worker safety. Multiple major outages in the manhole system and in substation basements in the 1990s and early 2000s brought focus to the dangers faced by those who work in these environments on a daily basis. When a member is required to enter these spaces they are required to do visually inspect  all cables and equipment for signs of damage or degradation.  The problem is magnified by the fact that historically there was no effective way to tell if cables or splices that showed no outward signs of damage were about to fail due to electrical stress or internal mechanical damage.

 

  Fast forward to 2017. Members now have modern infrared (IR) thermography technology and integrated digital cameras to aid in keeping them safe.  Infrared thermography allows a member to evaluate the condition of cables using a camera capable of seeing wavelengths of light that are longer than the human eye is capable of seeing. If a cable being inspected emits a light signature which shows temperatures that vary from surrounding cable components, that cable may be near a point where it could fail. The severity of that temperature change is an indicator of how soon it may fail. The integrated camera allows members to capture that image, exit the area for obvious safety reasons, and inform the company of the defects, and also allows the company to schedule the outages necessary for repairs.

 

  After a large amount of benchmarking and discussions between the Union and the Company, policies to protect our members were established. In all areas of the company, a temperature difference of 1-5°Fahrenheit mandate suspension of reclosing and also require re-thermography every two hours. A temperature difference of 6-25°F compels all personnel to exit the space immediately and requires the line to be de-energized before anyone returns into the space. A temperature difference of 26°F or more requires immediate exit of all personnel from the space and de-energizing the line prior to re-entry and placing an ‘Abnormal Condition Exists’ tag at the entry point to the space to prevent unintentional entry of the space by others who may be unaware of the condition.

 

  Safety is one of the founding purposes of the IBEW and we all must strive every day to maintain that purpose and obtain that objective. Whether it is testing equipment, remote cutting equipment, or Infrared Thermography, technology continues to play a big part in our journey.

 

Ongoing Safety/PPE Discussions

   Management has asked Local 15 to participate in discussions concerning the current use of 12KV Gloving Methods. As we all are painfully aware, our Safety performance in 2016 has been less than stellar. Local 15 members have suffered 2 serious electrical contacts and one fall from a steel structure, any one of these events could have been a fatality. Most recently, an IBEW Local 196 member was fatally injured after contacting an energized conductor while performing energized work on the ComEd system. In reaction to these events the company has taken a serious look at our current 12KV gloving practices. Local 15 has reached out to several of our members to participate in the discussions on how to better our performance going forward. This committee is tasked with looking at our current 12 KV gloving procedures and rules with the possibility of making improvements that would better protect the worker from electrical contacts. The committee is made up of management and Local 15 members. The Management Lead is Mark Primm (Safety Manager) and Local 15 assigned Sam Studer and Chris Riser (Business Representatives) as leads.

 

   Local 15 has taken the position based on our 2014 and 2015 Safety Performance that when we follow the existing rules, we can work safe. As most of our members already know, the previous 2 years have been our best on record safety performances. ComEd was recognized as one of the top safest companies to work for in 2015. The unanswered question is, what happened in 2016? Vice President Terry McGoldrick stated that “I would like to have the silver bullet and be able to fire it to solve the issue, unfortunately we do not possess this remedy”. President Dean Apple stated, “we really need to find a way to get back to working safe and protecting our members from harm through being our fellow member’s keepers”.  Local 15 is asking its members to take action and get back to the basics. When the decision is made to perform work energized, use all required PPE, including rubber goods as required. It is better to have more rubber installed than not enough. When the decision is made to perform work de-energized due to complications or any other reason, as in improper crew make-up, clearance issues, improper truck for the job, lack of rubber goods or condition of the conductors and or equipment including poles and cross arms, stick with your decision and get a proper ”Zone of Protection”.  

 

      Managements initial position due to recent events is that there is a need for changes in our current safety rules. Throughout discussion’s, the committee has compared our existing rules with other Utilities and Contractor rules. Managements original thought was to convert to what was referred to as “Cradle to Cradle” rules or “Ground to Ground” rules.  There has even been a “Lock to Lock” policy investigated. Basically, these rules would have had members in gloves and sleeves virtually whenever they were performing work aloft and in some cases while performing underground work. Managements thoughts are that these types of changes would help keep members from electrical contacts and severe injuries.

 

   The committee has discussed documents provided from a coalition of contractors and also Information provided by the IBEW International was helpful in determining work practices from around the industry. The findings seem to lead to many different practices around live line work. Cradle to Cradle is used in many locations in some form. The committee continues to meet and discuss options. It is likely that there will be some changes to our work practices. Local 15 wants to ensure that any changes are well thought out and not a knee jerk reaction to recent events.  We will continue to meet with management in an effort to reach sensible work practices that will protect our members. Local 15 is committed to working safe and supporting work practices that keep our members safe. Following our current practices very well could be the key to achieving the Safety performance that will get us all home Safe at the end of the day. As we continue to discuss the issues, Local 15 Leadership strongly urges our members to follow all current Safety Rules. Let’s all go home safe at the end of the day.

 

 Leadership also thanks the committee members from Local 15; Dennis Kays (OHT), Don Ballard (OH), Jim Collins (OES), Pat Leever (UG) and Bob Pickworth (SSC) for their help working through these issues with the management team.

 

IBEW LOCAL 15 | 6330 Belmont Road,  Suite 1 | Downers Grove,  IL 60516

Union Office - (630) 515-0381 | Union Fax - (630) 515-0835

 

© 2015 by IBEW Local 15 - All Rights Reserved

IBEW Local 15 - United We Stand
IBEW Local 15 - United We Stand