Power and cable lines are not things that many New Jersey residents think about unless the services they deliver are down. Unless they are in your home, you probably do not think about the workers who install and repair those lines either, although there are several thousand in the state. But these essential workers have a dangerous job.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that those who install and repair telecommunications and electrical lines share similar risks. Electrical power-line workers are responsible for mounting and repairing cables and equipment that transmit up to hundreds of thousands of volts, both above- and below-ground. Telecommunications line workers install and repair cables of various types, including phone, coaxial and fiber-optic.
Hazards for each type of worker include falls from utility poles, bucket-trucks and line tower structures, as well as electrocution. The leading fatal event for these workers as a group is being exposed to electricity, while overexertion is the leading cause of injuries. Falls are also high on the list of both fatalities and injuries. For power-line workers, electrocution accounts for half of the yearly deaths, which accounts for this group having twice as many casualties (26 in 2015) as telecommunications line workers (14). Statistics show the opposite is true when it comes to injuries and illnesses, however: telecom workers have twice as many (4,010 in 2015) as electrical workers (2,240).
These occupations also have a much higher rate of occupational fatalities and injuries than many other civilian occupations. Electrical line workers had a fatality rate of 20.5 per 100,000 workers in 2015. In comparison, the fatality rate for telecom line workers was an even 10 in 2014. The rates for all workers in 2015 was 3.5. For non-fatal injuries and illnesses, telecom workers experienced 411.3 incidents per 10,000 workers total in 2015; power workers had 173.9; all occupations together had 93.9.
Only a handful of industries account for the vast majority of injuries and fatalities of line workers as a group. They include power generation and distribution; construction of power- and communication-line structures; electrical contractors and telecommunications.
As the use of underground utility lines continues to increase and use of landlines decreases, the number of falls is expected to decrease. However, workers will continue to repair and work around overhead lines, including power lines. That means working conditions will remain similar, and that should inform employers, health and safety managers in charge of lessening work hazards.
This article contains information that is of a general nature. It is not intended as legal advice.