By Victoria A. Rocha | ECT Staff Writer
Until very recently in Pakistan, it wasn’t unusual for more than 100 experienced electric utility linemen to die on the job each year with equal numbers severely injured.
But with help from NRECA International and USAID contractor Engility those numbers have been inching downwards, thanks to a safety training program that’s improving skills, changing attitudes and saving lives.
That effort, part of the larger Pakistan Power Distribution Program, was recognized recently by U.S. Agency for International Development, which funded the program. In a March 19 ceremony in Islamabad, 21 outstanding program graduates—rank and file linemen and senior management alike-were honored for instilling a culture of safety at Pakistan’s nine electricity distribution companies (DISCOS).
Bob Dalton, an NRECA lineman trainer who’s worked on the program since 2011, described the honorees as “safety leaders who made a difference.”
“The reduction in deaths has been noticeable,” said Dalton. “The event in a way signifies that all staff, regardless of rank, can be a significant safety change agent and make a real difference in the program.”
Among the honorees were a retired and current CEO, human resource directors, linemen instructors, and an “exceptional” lineman who is now a safety leader in his workplace, Dalton said. All had trained hundreds of fellow line staff at their respective DISCOs.
“When we looked at the differences, we found that in companies where senior management took some interest in safety leadership roles, deaths and injuries dropped,” said Dalton.
While “lineman crews in Pakistan couldn’t be more different than U.S. crews,” they have found one thing to hold true among all of them: sustainable solutions need management buy-in, according to Dan Waddle, senior vice president of NRECA International Programs.
“We can give basic training, but without them, tools, equipment, supervision and required attendance to training can’t be assured,” Waddle said. “Without those critical components, we would realize a temporary reduction through training, but in a few months return to poor practices.”
USAID estimates that more than 2,000 linemen from the nine DISCOs have gone through the four-day program, which includes training in CPR, first aid and hazard identification. Another 120 completed “a train the trainer program,” and they have instructed another 9,000 linemen. And some of the honorees were among 150 senior DISCO managers completing a three-day seminar.
“Effective operations and maintenance of the distribution network depends heavily on linemen,” said Michael Curtis, director of USAID’s energy office, at the recent ceremony. “The U.S. government will continue to support Pakistan to bring improvements in the electricity distribution network to improve availability and reliability for consumers.”