The Sidney Sun-Telegraph - Serving proudly since 1873 as the beautiful Nebraska Panhandle's first newspaper

By Forrest Hershberger
Sidney Sun-Telegraph 

'Workshop' Stresses Service and Safety


September 18, 2019

Forrest Hershberger

Linemen are taught many levels of personal and environmental safety in training for electric line maintenance. Insulation is placed on the wires and the cross beams in addition to the safety equipment used by the linemen.

On the rolling hills just north of Sidney, the sense of timeless rural life was broken by the numerous service trucks and even more linemen.

It is three days of making sure electricity customers continue to have the right response when turning a switch, needing a stove or relying on a refrigerator. They are the men and women who climb the poles in dedication of electric power delivered to its customers, and of each lineman returning home each night.

The program had all levels of experience from new employees fresh into the industry to seasoned linemen refreshing their skills.

Last Wednesday and Thursday, Nebraska Rural Electric Association (NREA) hosted a workshop on safety at the workplace. The workshops addressed "rubber gloving," the proper way to change an insulator on an energized power line. The key, according to Job Training & Safety Coordinator Larry Oetken, is first to be fully outfitted in Personal Protection Equipment (PPE).

Oetken said most people are not aware of the dangers linemen face to ensure customers can turn on the lights. He said most electric cables in Sidney are 7,200 volts; outside of Sidney can be as high as 34,500 volts. According to, high voltage can result in internal burns. The website says the minimum current a human can feel is believed to be 1 milliampere (mA). Additionally, as little as 80 mA can seize the heart muscle. That is why power companies train employees with personal safety as the focus, according to Oetken.

"Safety is always No. 1," he said.

The workshop was held at Wheat Belt Public Power District's Don Winkelman Training Field north of Sidney.

Oetken said the objective is teaching linemen how to restore power as quickly as possible, and safely. A total of 68 students - staff of various power companies - represented Nebraska and Wyoming in this workshop. There were also nine instructors.

"The instructors came from the power companies," Oetken said.

Instructors are recruited from highly-experienced staff with expertise in specific areas of power management.

The workshops in Sidney included underground maintenance, replacing vertical poles without disrupting service and rescues when a lineman becomes ill or incapacitated while in a bucket during a procedure. Every procedure involves insulating electrified wiring from the lineman and from surrounding structures.

Oetken said the first priority is safety of workers. Part of that safety is the role of one person on the team who is often the brunt of jokes. That person's job is to watch the linemen and each stage of the process.

"They don't do anything but observe," he said. "Their primary responsibility is to make sure things are done right."

That person is effectively a safety manager, according to Oetken.

The workshops are scheduled to training new linemen and to maintain the skill level of seasoned employees. The workshops are designed to encourage dialogue between instructors and students.

He said linemen are a kind of brotherhood. Regardless of the agency, each lineman watches for the safety of the other.


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