Training Saves Lives in PakistanBy Victoria A. Rocha | ECT Staff Writer Published: July 23rd, 2013
Bob Dalton found a grim situation when he arrived in Pakistan to help train linemen and create safe work environments.
Linemen were dying on the job by the dozens. In 2010-2011, 118 linemen were killed while performing routine maintenance and repairs at Pakistan’s nine electric utilities. One utility, the Hyderabad Electric Supply Co., lost 24 workers during that one-year period.
“More linemen were killed in Pakistan in one week due to electrocution than in one year in the United States,” said Dalton, who’s also taught line crews in South Sudan, El Salvador, and Columbia on how to work safer and smarter in the field in his role with NRECA International Programs.
Poor training, tools and equipment, and a culture that has placed a low priority on safety were just some of the difficulties Dalton faced when he transferred to Pakistan from South Sudan in late 2011 to begin his tour of duty at the Power Distribution Program, a project financed by the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Dalton talked about his experiences training line crews in Pakistan during an informal presentation July 12 at NRECA headquarters in Arlington, Va.
To hear Dalton describe it, he and his safety team faced a hopeless situation in Pakistan, where the government owns the nine distribution companies, or DISCOs, which serve about 20 million consumers. Line losses are typically 12-15 percent, but the untrained linemen have been too scared to fix the problem.
“If your linemen aren’t safe, you’re going to have high [power] losses. If they’re afraid to do their job right, they’re not going to do it right,” Dalton said. “They will go up there and do the least possible thing and get back on the ground and say, ‘See, I lived.’”
In Pakistan, “linemen didn’t know how to save themselves or rescue one another,” Dalton said. “Public distrust of electric utilities had come to the point where linemen refused to wear hard hats on the job because they did not want the public to know they work for the power company.”
But attitudes are starting to change and lives are being saved, thanks to Dalton and his team who have launched two programs that are making inroads at Pakistani utilities: a “quick impact” basic safety program and employee safety committees.
More than 400 linemen at the Hyderabad utility learned pole-top rescue, grounding and CPR under the safety program last year. Only one worker was killed in the five months following the program. The utility is now offering the same training to all of its 2,000 linemen.
“While there have still been deaths, none of the linemen who have participated in the program have died or been injured. We hope that the DISCO line staff getting training will also be safer workers,” Dalton told ECT.coop.
Four other utilities in Pakistan are setting up employee safety committees “based on the U.S. model of monthly safety meetings—only more in depth,” he said.
Dalton hopes the other utilities will sign on, but he’s also realistic. “This is a real commitment, which will require allocating over 300 people per company to the safety process. We hope others will join in as results show progress,” he said.
That won’t happen overnight, but Dalton, who returns to Pakistan in August, is prepared to wait.
“This is the beginning. We have a long ways to go,” Dalton said. “It took a long time for it to get this bad, and it will take a long time to fix the safety of the workers and the power systems they support.”