Power Line Safety Training Gains Momentum in Oil & Gas Industry

Power line safety is an increasingly important consideration in Alberta’s deadline-driven, highly-competitive oil and gas industry.

“We’ve always done a lot of safety training, but we’re starting to see a lot more electrical and power line safety training,” said Tom Morin, Staff Electrical Safety Technologist at Cenovus –one of the industry’s first safety managers dedicated solely to electrical safety.

The basic principles of workplace safety include awareness, identification, assessment and control of hazards. Awareness of power lines leads to their identification as a hazard, which triggers workers to assess potential dangers and set up safety controls.

“We’re trying to build a few triggers, so workers who drive onto one of our leases are more conscious that they’re driving under a power line, and might start noticing our Caution High Voltage signs a little more because we’ve talked about it,” Morin said. “If you don’t realize your life is in danger, you aren’t going to care. A lot of people are not aware of the consequences of getting too close. You don’t have to touch a power line to be injured or killed,” Morin added.

With contractors comprising approximately 20% of Alberta’s oil and gas workers, the demand for consistent and informative power line safety education is increasing. “One of the challenges we face is the changing demographics of the workforce. There’s an influx of new workers and we’ve got to do our best to make sure those workers are aware of the power lines in the workplace,” Morin said. “An employee can get injured the same way a contractor can. As an ethical operator, we want to ensure the safety of all people on our worksites, whether they’re visiting, working, or people in the community,” Morin said.

Penn West Exploration has also elevated the importance of this issue, partnering with electric utilities to coordinate full-day power line safety training sessions. According to Thane Jensen, Senior Vice President of Operations Engineering, the goal is to “drive home the importance of never becoming complacent in the workplace.”

Penn West is invested in their contract workers’ safety, regularly attending external safety meetings and sharing the company’s safety expectations. The company’s senior management team frequently visits worksites to host “Stand Down” activities, where all work is stopped and everyone onsite observes that safety is everyone’s top responsibility.

Jensen notes that a positive trend can be attributed to increased emphasis on power line safety. “Through our increased awareness of critical issues in our industry, we are seeing a decline in incidents and we now have processes in place to reduce negative trends and consequences,” he said.

Power line safety programs thrive in a corporate culture of safety. “The reason we are able to work so hard on power line safety in the workplace is because we have support from the highest levels of management at Cenovus,” Morin said.

Complacency is the enemy of power line safety, and ongoing education is necessary. Morin suggests maintaining awareness of changes, improvements, technology and best practices to sustain a high-calibre safety program. “Talk to your peers, get to know who in other organizations is doing a similar job, see if you can exchange some ideas. Because you definitely don’t want to try to manage this hazard on your own,” he said.

Power line safety resources for oil and gas:

  • Enform’s Power Line Safety certification course
  • Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP)
  • Your local electric utility
  • Alberta Human Services