How to Reduce Risks at Distribution Pole Storage Sites

Working with and around electrical distribution system poles is dangerous. Georgia Power has taken a proactive approach to reducing the risk, keeping safety first in its operations.

In the electric utility world, pole storage is a must for day-to-day work where line crew personnel construct and maintain the grid. At Georgia Power, we call our pole storage “pole piles.” Many pole piles are constructed onsite at operating facilities or crew headquarters along with other materials and equipment, with most of these facilities constructed more than 30 years ago (Figure 1). Georgia Power’s distribution crews load and return poles seven days a week as we serve our 2.7 million customers.

1. The pole pile shown here is an older style layout that was maintained at Georgia Power’s Madison location. Courtesy: Georgia Power

In 2018, Georgia Power began an effort to renovate existing crew headquarters or construct new locations as we consolidated and sold older facilities. Around that same time, the company began focusing on prevention of serious injuries and was in the process of shifting its focus to managing “Critical Risks”—those areas most likely or probable to have a serious injury outcome in the event of a failure.

As part of the renovations or new construction of operations centers, our Facilities team asked the Power Delivery safety team the following question: What is the current pole storage standard? Knowing that employees and contractors utilize pole storage multiple times a day, seven days a week, this question provided an opportunity for us to look at those Critical Risks inherent to pole storage and drive a solution that would mitigate those risks for our employees.

In 2020, a new design was fully developed and implemented at several crew headquarters in partnership with an architect and engineering firm. Steven Scarboro, then Power Delivery safety manager; Darrell Snyder, Facilities project manager; and Ryan O’Barr, Corporate safety supervisor, led this effort for the company with support from many contributors, including Facilities, Power Delivery, Safety, Supply Chain, and other organizations. The new design mitigated several risks for our employees. Among the changes were:

    ■ Reducing reach distances to eliminate climbing on top of the pole piles, which lessened the hazard associated with poles rolling and potentially causing serious injury.
    ■ Reducing the vertical stanchion heights in each rack to keep poles no higher than head height during loading, which eliminated the hazard associated with employees being underneath the pole ends during loading and unloading.
    ■ Reducing reach distances on both sides of each pole rack in addition to eliminating raised walkways between racks through same-grade-level walkways, which mitigated strains, sprains, slip, and trip hazards for our employees.

The design reduced storage capacity, but it is a testament to placing “Safety First,” our most critical company value, as we can manage supply needs more routinely.

Fast-forward to 2022 and Georgia Power has installed the new pole storage design at eight locations (Figure 2) with four additional locations in either design or construction stages. Unfortunately, in early second quarter, a serious injury happened at one of our scrap pole storage locations. Our teammate left work differently than when they came, leading Safety and Health Director Mike Middleton to ask the question, “Are we doing enough or can we do more?”

2. The pole pile in Macon, shown here, is the new design Georgia Power has implemented in several locations. Courtesy: Georgia Power

An effort led by Clarence Spencer, Distribution safety supervisor, and Steven Scarboro, Distribution manager, established short-term and long-term recommendations to address the remaining pole storage locations and all scrap pole storage locations statewide. A refresher training was provided as a short-term measure regarding pole storage risks and proper barriers to utilize in mitigating those risks.

For the long term, Power Delivery safety has prioritized each crew headquarters that need pole storage renovations and a design for scrap pole storage. Georgia Power will utilize this prioritized approach to invest capital in future years that reduces overall risks for its employees and contractors.

“We are committed to Safety First at Georgia Power and focused on proactively preventing injuries through higher level controls utilizing engineering design. With the leadership of our Senior Vice President of Power Delivery, Fran Forehand, our team has been empowered to find unique solutions to mitigate risk. We were intentional in not only listening to the voices of our employees, but responding to their feedback, which drove total commitment, creativity, and ownership,” said Middleton.

Safety First is indeed our number one value! As the industry continues to modernize the grid and storm restoration becomes more frequent, being proactive with pole storage can help ensure our teammates in the industry return home safely.

Steven Scarboro is Georgia Power’s Athens Distribution Manager, responsible for providing leadership for the engineering, maintenance, operation, and construction of all distribution facilities. Mike Middleton is Safety and Health Director for Georgia Power, providing overall vision and leadership for the company’s safety, health, and industrial hygiene programs and initiatives.

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