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Learning Safety At The Lineman’s Rodeo

This is a story about a competition, but I’m not going to tell you who won.

The winners in the different categories of the electric co-ops’ Kentucky Lineman’s Rodeo deserve recognition, and you can go to the Kentucky Lineman’s Rodeo
web page at to get the list of top finishers.

But what I want to write about on this page today is the culture of safety that describes this event.

First, the culture part of culture and safety.

This rodeo does not involve horses, but the participants are definitely cowboys.

The rodeo involves a day and a half of different pole-climbing activities. The events relate to the work these folks do every day, and sometimes at night, in all kinds of weather—outdoor, physical labor, requiring a unique set of knowledge and skills.

This summer marked the 8th Annual Kentucky Lineman’s Rodeo. It’s held in a different part of the state each year. This summer’s rodeo took place in Burlington in northern Kentucky, hosted by the electric co-op in that part of the state, Owen Electric Cooperative. In this year’s rodeo, 87 line workers from 14 co-ops participated along with 54 judges, plus family and friends as spectators.

It was hot. The temperature and humidity drenched my shirt just walking around taking photos. The linemen wore full safety work gear, with plenty of physical exertion.

And they clearly love it. The tools. The climbing. The importance of their skills keeping the lights on day and night for all of us. While I wilted in the heat with my camera, they swaggered. As well they should. The Lineman’s Rodeo is all about the hard, physical part that makes our high-tech society possible.

And then there’s the safety part. That’s the real reason I’m not writing about who won the competition.
The rodeo events involve timed line skills relevant to the work: rescuing a mannequin hanging from the top of a pole, changing out a cross-arm, scampering up a pole holding an egg in a bucket then back down with the egg in the mouth.

But even the fastest time gets thrown out if there’s a safety violation. In this profession, the simplest shortcut, even a pinhole in a rubber glove, can send thousands of deadly volts through your body. The Lineman’s Rodeo aims to keep spirits high, and to keep those spirits safe.

And it seems to be working. Since the first Kentucky Lineman’s Rodeo in 2005, recordable incident rates have dropped 32 percent.

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