Lineworkers Face Life-or-Death Decisions

Lineworkers Face Life-or-Death Decisions


A few years ago, in a tragic accident, I lost a brother. I had never met him, but he was my brother nonetheless. My brother was a lineworker for a local power company. To get to the location where he needed to make repairs, he “free climbed” up a utility pole, which means that nothing secured him to the pole except his own hands and feet. But he lost his footing and fell to his death. One small miscalculation cost him his life.

At Alameda Municipal Power (AMP), I have the role of “troubleman,” which means that I identify the issues behind electrical problems.  I’m part of a community of electrical workers and a community of neighbors and families. I’m raising my family in Alameda, and going home safely each night after work means everything to me. I’m proud that AMP, which has brought electricity to Alameda homes and businesses since 1887, insists on the highest safety standards in the business. AMP earned a first-place award from the American Public Power Association for safe operating practices in 2015. 

When I think about the statistics, I’m grateful for AMP’s culture of safety. It wasn’t until 2014 that the federal government finally set rules for the use of special safety gear to avoid falls.  Even with more safety rules in place, electrical power-line installation and repair jobs continue to rank near the top of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ list of jobs with the highest fatality rates. For every 100,000 electric line workers, the rate for fatalities is around 19. 

If you think the present-day statistics are grim, consider the history of line work. Back in the 1890s, electric line workers in some parts of the country had a 50 percent chance of dying on the job, according to a history of our profession by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). On top of that, the IBEW has documented that electrical workers had the most life-threatening job of all industries in the U.S. at that time. Union electrical workers even dedicated funds for funerals as a benefit for members.

Electric lineworkers in Alameda, and all across America, understand and accept that our jobs are dangerous. It takes four years of training and testing to become a journeyman lineworker. It doesn’t stop there: My AMP brothers and I focus on our safety training each day at work. This culture of safety is a key reason why AMP has won national recognition for reliable electric service, too.

Public Power Week, which runs from Oct. 2-8 this year, is a celebration of the rich tradition of service that our nation’s 2,200 community-owned utilities bring to their communities. With its attention to worker safety, it’s easy to understand why I’m proud of my homegrown, locally controlled electric utility, Alameda Municipal Power. Join us during Public Power Week to honor the commitment that lineworkers and public utilities make to their communities in Alameda and throughout the nation.



Joe Wiley in a troubleman for Alameda Municipal Power.