The job of an electric lineman, whether working on an energized power line or replacing a transformer or fuse, is inherently risky and dangerous. Because of the dangers inherent to the job, these brave men and women should take every precaution to complete their work safely and effectively. Traditionally, linemen have relied on personal protective equipment such as rubber gloves and sleeves, bucket liners and protective blankets to ensure his or her safety. These days, state-of-the-art mobile technologies such as laptops and tablets are also helping to create a safe working environment for electric linemen in the field.
Replacing the clipboard, the map and the camera, mobile technology has become a valuable asset for linemen that can be used to collect pertinent information, provide turn-by-turn directions and record and retrieve data electronically from virtually anywhere in the service territory. Whether with a laptop or tablet, the primary ways mobile technology drives the safest conditions for linemen are in the areas of location and communication.
GPS location capabilities are critical, especially in the event of disasters or hazardous conditions, when knowing the physical location of workers is essential to safe operation. Utilities can rely on mobile computing devices with GPS capabilities to streamline their routes and navigate hazardous conditions for workers. For example, some utilities have used mobile computers to utilize a geographic information system (GIS) that replaces hard copy map books with virtualized geographic data. This new functionality is updated wirelessly and provides the most current versions of a lineman's service territory- a vast improvement from hard-copy manuals that were only as up-to-date as the last version published.
Equally important to safe navigation in the field is the ability to maintain constant communication. If a lineman can't connect to the network, he or she loses the advantage of real-time updates or the knowledge of their Network Operations staff. Linemen today rely on mobile devices for viewing computer-aided design (CAD) software to perform diagnostics or verify information. A lack of access to information can result in significant risk and put a lineman in danger--such as unknowingly cutting a gas line because a CAD wasn't accessible due to unreliable connectivity.
Mobile technology can go even further to ensure safety. One utility company worked with Panasonic to add an emergency override switch to its mobile devices that, when activated, would alert headquarters instantaneously and shut everything down in the event of an emergency.
Beyond advanced functionality, the failure of mobile technology can also affect a lineman's safety. As more utilities move to a greater reliance on mobile technology, devices that are built to work reliably become paramount. A non-working device may require an individual or crew to drive back to headquarters or interrupt their workflow. Enterprise-grade mobile solutions such as the Toughbook and Toughpad family of products offer failure rates as low as 2.4 percent – providing maximum uptime for linemen to do their jobs safely and efficiently. These devices can survive drops, spills, extreme vibration and all types of weather conditions including freezing temperatures, water and dust.
Another important factor when determining a mobile solution is the battery life. A device with short battery life can impact worker productivity and require carrying power adapters or force workers to stop usage to recharge. Device failure may cause a worker to lower from a bucket truck or return to HQ for additional parts, adding unnecessary travel and a further level of risk. Some ruggedized mobile solutions such as the Toughbook H2 offer hot swappable battery capabilities that enable near-endless computing.
Utilities that harness the advantages of mobile technology not only foster a safer environment for their workers, but also improve productivity and efficiency needed to drive better outcomes. Mobile technology keeps linemen connected, and they come to rely on this connection in order to make the wisest decisions while on the job so they may return home from work each day safely and soundly.