Tyler Christensen’s work could mean life or death to dozens of his fellow OPPD employees.
Christensen, maintenance worker second class, works in the Rubber Goods Testing area at OPPD’s Elkhorn Center in west Omaha. The rubber goods, which include sleeves, gloves and blankets, are one of the last lines of defense for employees who work around high-voltage equipment every day. Performing the tests in-house rather than having it done by a third party is a point of pride for Christensen.
He also takes the responsibility personally. “I’ve got friends out there using them,” he said.
Shon Bourke, OPPD manager of Technical Training and Apprenticeship Programs, said testing the rubber goods in-house gives workers who use the goods confidence in their safety.
“There’s a relationship between the employee wearing the rubber goods and the employees testing them,” he said.
Jeff Richey, working line crew leader, summed up the importance of safe rubber goods with one sentence: “It’s the difference between going home at the end of the day or not.”
Among the rubber goods, there are two types of gloves and blankets and one type of sleeves. The two types, Class 0 and Class 2, are rated according to the amount of electric current they can withstand. Class 0 goods are rated to withstand up to 1 kilovolt of electricity while Class 2 goods can withstand up to 17 kilovolts.
The gloves and sleeves are part of a worker’s personal protection equipment and a last line of defense against serious injury when working around energized equipment. Rubber stops the circuit from being completed. The blankets are among the equipment stocked on OPPD trucks. They protect workers from energized equipment around them while they work.
Each year, Christensen tests more than 7,500 pieces. The goods are divided into four, monthlong cycles throughout the year. Each piece is tested every other cycle. For example, one pair of rubber gloves is tested once in January and again in July.
An average of 70 pieces fail per cycle, Christensen said.
An employee preparing to work around energized equipment first puts on the rubber sleeves, which are fastened around their shoulders, followed by the rubber gloves. Finally, workers add leather gloves.
In the frigid cold, Richey said wearing the rubber gloves can be “like working with your hands in a bucket of ice” because the gloves lack of thermal insulation.
Besides line technicians, employees at OPPD substations, in underground vaults and at power plants also must wear rubber goods for protection.
At the beginning of a testing month, large green bins filled with rubber goods are stacked along the hallway near the testing room, each labeled with one of the 31 OPPD locations and departments from which they came.
Each employee is issued two pairs of gloves and sleeves to allow them to alternate pairs while one is being tested. Even though four months of the year are dedicated to testing, employees can request their rubber goods be tested at any time and ask for a replacement if they feel a piece is unsafe.
The cost of outfitting an employee with rubber goods runs around $1,000. That includes blankets, which are assigned to the trucks, two pairs of gloves and a pair of sleeves.
A small price to pay for someone’s safety out in the field.
After Christensen’s testing is complete, each glove and sleeve is cataloged into a database. In the case of gloves, the numbers are matched after testing and returned to the employee to which they were originally assigned.
If employees take proper care of the rubber goods, including storing them in canvas bags in the cab of the truck, the goods will last a long time. In the field, employees use special bug sprays that don’t compromise the rubber and powders that don’t contain metal, which can conduct electricity.
Richey, the working line crew leader, demonstrated a field test employees do that starts by spinning the glove to capture air. The worker then pinches the glove closed and listens for air escaping, spreading the fingers of the glove to look for wear and holes. There is also equipment at OPPD centers that allows employees to pump a glove full of air to double-check for leaks. Richey said one upgrade to the Class 2 gloves, a red interior and black exterior, makes tears and holes easier to see.
The relationship between an employee and his or her rubber goods is an important one, Richey explained.
“It’s our last line of defense and the first at the same time,” he said. “You always want to do everything right so that the rubber goods are there as the final protection.”