Workplace safety challenges are a day-to-day reality for workers in the power and electrical industry, and in the wake of Hurricane Irene, these safety risks were dramatically magnified. Downed power lines, exposed energized wires, unstable utility poles, electrical back-feed from ungrounded wires and falling tree limbs were only some of the dangerous conditions encountered by power-line workers tasked with hurricane relief efforts.
Ensuring worker safety is the combined responsibility of workers themselves, their union (if they’re lucky enough to be in one), employers, utility companies, private contractors and the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Post-hurricane, it is clear that the safe and efficient recovery efforts in Queens are a testament to the success of a combined dedication to safety and health. Many of the electrical and power-line workers who took great care to stay safe while working to restore power to homes and businesses in New York state are members of Local 3 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), which maintains an active safety program. The Local 3 safety program teaches workers to carefully mark off the job-site, treat every wire as if it is live, ground wires on both ends, wear personal protective equipment and ensure all equipment is in proper condition.
This past Labor Day, I was proud to stand with elected officials and representatives from OSHA and Con Edison in recognizing workers from Local 3 IBEW for their commendable efforts. When Hurricane Irene wrecked havoc with the city's electrical lines, cutting power to thousands of New Yorkers and threatening public safety, it was our local electrical workers, backed by years of union safety training, who stepped up to the challenge.