Case Studies

Northline Utilities LLC: Safety is Our Way of Life

  • Written by: Northline Utilities LLC: Safety is Our Way of Life
  • Produced by: Northline Utilities LLC: Safety is Our Way of Life
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New York-based Northline Utilities LLC (Northline) is an electrical construction company on a mission to utilize project management’s best practices to define work requirements, deliver high-quality contracting services, as well as assure the pursuit of safety and performance excellence on every project. The team at Northline envisions reinventing the electrical contracting industry in terms of satisfying not only its customers, but also the quality of work life.

The highly capable Northline team provides wind farm electrical EPC, transmission construction and maintenance, as well as substation and utility civil construction services across the northeast. “We do a lot of hard work, and we are passionate about what we do,” says Colette Hebert, vice president of Northline.

Having taken on extremely challenging projects throughout the region, Northline prides itself on a proven safety record and EMR rating of 0.78. “As outlined in our safety system overview, working safely is a state of mind and personal commitment to achieving excellence in thought and action,” she says.

Northline maintains its safety culture through recognizing the good and the bad. “Every single person in our company is considered a safety supervisor,” says Hebert. “We reward our employees for recognizing safe conditions or situations because it initiates important discussions and allows us to avoid an incident. The concept is to identify a situation before it’s an accident.”

To further the level of safety awareness, Northline holds each team member responsible for thinking, communicating and acting in a preventative mindset. The company offers new hire orientations, as well as a safety committee program, a project safety steward program and job site assessment programs among others to ensure employees are immersed in the company’s ideology. “We want to make it personal,” says Hebert. “We treat each employee as an individual, which is why we offer specialized training and certification.”

Incorporating Innovation

Due to the industry’s high level of risk, Northline is one of the few companies tackling projects that require innovative technology. “With new technologies comes new risk,” acknowledges Hebert. “We are finally able to manage a core group of field supervision and personnel at Northline, which is challenging in a union-based industry. We know our employees well, and we get them involved, so we are able to attract quality workers, unlike some bigger companies.”

The company’s highly-capable linemen are appreciated, which is why Northline works closely with Northeast Live Line LLC (Live Line). Hebert is proud to note the company’s affiliation with Northeast Live Line LLC, as the association allows Northline to self-certify its Live Line personnel, because according to Hebert, this is not a typical certification offered by the IBEW.

“Offering Live Line certification to our core transmission crews is a pretty big deal,” Hebert says. “There are very few companies that perform bare-hand work on 345kV lines where the line men actually bond onto the energized lines like a bird on a wire. It is highly dangerous work and requires specialized safety, training, tools and equipment.”

The company wasted no time putting the specialized training to work. For the New York Power Authority (NYPA), Northline completed a transmission line clearance remediation project. The team replaced the structures on NYPA’s transmission lines with nominal voltages up to, and including, 345kV.

Northline completed mid-span conductor modifications under not only de-energized, but also energized work methods. This means while the conductor was completely energized, the linemen actually cut the line and spliced it back together to shorten the slack. The team’s de-energized work involved lockout and tag-out, while the energized work included hot stick and bare-hand methods. The team’s advanced ability allowed alternate energized work methods to provide schedule flexibility and mitigated risks from impacts due to outage cancellations.

“If we can go in and change out entire transmission systems while the lines are energized, we minimize the risk of schedule and outage impacts, which is very important to our customers,” Hebert notes. “Our specialized Live Line training program is lead by Jamie Atkins [owner of Northline] and fully supported by Chris McNally [general foreman of Northline]. Dave Walker [T&D business unit manager for Northline] promotes our unique Live Line services with several of his long-standing customers, and it has been well received by all, including National Grid and Iberdrola USA.”

As in many industries, staying on schedule is critical. Northline is currently working on two tight-scheduled transmission projects for an electric power company in Vermont. According to Hebert, the customer planned on having both projects performed under outages, however, Northline’s specialized transmission crews would not be able to complete both projects as scheduled.

“We offered an alternate schedule that required one of the projects to be performed energized using Live Line work methods,” she details. “We were somewhat surprised when the customer accepted our proposal and awarded us both projects. This will be one of the first of these projects for Northline in Vermont, so this is exciting for us because it shows trust from our newer customers.”

Ready and Able

The team’s cutting-edge capabilities are helping solidify relationships. Northline was recently involved in a high-risk static line repair project for ALCOA, where the transmission lines span between the US and Canada.

The team at Northline is ready for any challenge. “We worked with a helicopter subcontractor,” Hebert explains. The team successfully repaired the existing static wire by utilizing a conventional helicopter method, as the lines spanned over the St. Lawrence River. The Northline team was responsible for physically inspecting each transmission tower, as well as inspecting static line and conductor attachment points.

“Subcontractor line men worked off of the helicopter to perform the aerial repairs and inspections, while Northline’s line men climbed and inspected the 300-foot-high transmission towers,” she says. “We had taken extreme care setting up our safety procedures for this project and even setup special rescue crews on the ground to be completely prepared for any situation.”

Though the level of risk is acknowledged, the team at Northline does not refuse a job, especially when innovative technology is involved. “We are also involved in several phase raiser projects, which is a new technology that actually raises the height of existing poles and structures,” explains Hebert. “A steel section is placed in the structure, making it taller; therefore increasing the transmission lines’ clearance.

According to Hebert, phase raiser projects are critical in meeting local utility requirements in coordination with North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), an organization of United States electrical grid operators. NERC requires the utility company involved to inspect and find issues with clearance, which then have to be corrected under a stringent time restraint.

“You can look right through the pole, and it is raised up between four and 6 feet, allowing additional clearance for the power lines,” Hebert explains. “It has a metal brace, and it stays that way, which is what is so interesting. This requires a specialty tool trailer, which only a handful of contractors across the United States actually own.”

Northline seems to be capable of anything, and the company’s esteemed safety culture ensures the team can tackle any challenge with confidence. According to Hebert, Northline receives a great deal of appreciation from its customers and employees, alike. “We are not perfect, but our intentions are good,” she says proudly.

The company is comprised of experienced executives, highly-trained field personnel and professional project managers, ensuring Northline fully understands the risk of the industry and how to best prepare crews for the worst case scenario on every project. Due to a genuine dedication to safety and years of experience rebuilding in the aftermath of disasters, Northline Utilities LLC is ready and able.

Published on: May 15, 2013

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