Posted on March 18, 2013

New Cutting Tools to Make Job Safer for Electric Workers

By David Kligman

OAKLAND — In the utility industry, a parrot beak is a useful thing. When the two blades of this wire cutter are squeezed together, it makes perfect sense how the tool got its name.

Hollister line worker Robert Dainowski demonstrates a new cutting tool that’s expected to reduce injuries among PG&E electric employees. (Photos by David Kligman.)

But the parrot beak used by most PG&E electric crews requires two hands and takes great strength and dexterity, which is limited when you’re in a bucket truck wearing rubber gloves. It’s also not rated to cut steel, which can ruin the tool.

Beginning this spring, PG&E line workers are getting needed relief. The utility is swapping old cutting tools with new ones that it expects will improve employee safety and reduce the time it takes to make repairs. In most cases, the new tools are battery operated so it only takes the press of a button to instantly cut a thick copper conductor wire the size of a roll of quarters.

“It’s a quick fix and something we can implement now,” said Robert Dainowski, an electric line worker from Hollister who recently demonstrated the new tools at a meeting of PG&E leaders.

The tools, which cut, crimp and strip overhead and underground connections, also are lighter. The old cutters weigh as much as 13 pounds compared with 4 pounds for the new tools.

“That makes a huge difference when you’re in a small, tight space or you’re in a hole or you’re in a bucket,” Dainowski said.

Out with the old …

Dainowski will soon travel throughout the PG&E territory to introduce the new tools to electric crews at the utility’s yearly kickoff safety meetings. The plan is to replace the old cutters by the end of April — about eight to 10 cutting tools per truck with about seven or eight new tools. The new ergonomic tools will help line workers:

  • Fasten or tighten bolts
  • Cut compact copper conductor wire
  • Crimp or make overhead splices for primary and secondary connections

The new tools will make repairs easier but the main reason for the upgraded cutters is to address something even more important — reducing injuries.

While the total number of injuries at PG&E has dramatically reduced over the past five years, ergonomic injuries due to sprains and strains have remained steady. Shoulders, knees and back injuries are most common, often from bending and overexertion from pulling, pushing and lifting.

… And in with the new.

And all that twisting and contorting not only can be painful but also can have impacts years from now. Jason Regan, an electric superintendent based in San Francisco, said he compares new line workers to a full glass of water.

“A little bit of water spills every time you choose to use a tool that may not be ergonomically friendly,” Regan said. “Over time, there’s no more water in the glass. We want them to be able to enjoy their time off from work when they retire — whether that’s water skiing or picking up their grandchild.”

Regan said the new tools also will help change the mindset of line workers who often think they can do it all.

“Our employees sometimes think they’re superheroes,” Regan said. “We need to remind them that sometimes even superheroes have limitations.”

E-mail David Kligman at David.Kligman@pge.com.

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"PG&E" refers to Pacific Gas and Electric Company, a subsidiary of PG&E Corporation.
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