Line technician training in North Carolina has a new degree of realism for apprentices with the addition of equipment designed to allow them to safely work in an energized operational environment.

The North Carolina Association of Electric Cooperatives is the first co-op organization in the country to provide hot-line training with the Timpson Training Panel.

“We've gone from simulated training in a de-energized environment to real-world energized training,” said Farris Leonard, the statewide association’s director of job training and safety field services.

The unit features a series of redundant relays housed in a control panel configured to safely energize overhead lines in a portion of the statewide association’s bucket school. Trainees work under monitored conditions and hazard protection provided by equipment set to trip at 1.5 milliamps within 20 milliseconds.

“The typical ground fault circuit interrupter in household wiring is designed to trip between 4 to 6 milliamps within 100 milliseconds,” said Leonard. “Those are acceptable standards for life safety in a consumer environment. Our new safety equipment is designed to protect trainees in an energized environment under current conditions they’ll encounter in the field.”

“We’ve seen it change how students approach the training, said Leonard. “They are thinking ahead and they are actually slowing down. It has created a better training environment because, as they are working in an energized environment, they are seeing the risks much differently now.”

Trainees are also showing greater awareness of cover-up procedures and inspections of personal protection equipment, he said.

“Ninety percent of the training lineworkers get is in the field exposed to hazards that are unforgiving,” said Leonard. “This equipment allows for early exposures to the same voltages they’ll encounter in the field. If mistakes are made, alarm feedback is immediate, but the risks are well-controlled and reduced.”

Two of the bucket school classes have already used the new equipment, and a third class is scheduled later this year. Officials hope to incorporate the equipment into their transformer training and provide sessions for journeymen and supervisors who oversee apprentices in the field.

“We see a lot of potential here for continuing education and training of veteran journeymen,” said Leonard. “Time spent here provides opportunities for them to sharpen their skills and reinforce their focus on safety under routine operation conditions. That will help eliminate the risks of electrical contacts, which is a constant concern for all of us in the industry.”