"Everything you are going to do is going to affect others for the rest of your life. So if you get injured, it's an impact that's going to affect everybody," says Gary Norland, a former lineman and electrical accident survivor.
Twenty years ago, he and his co-workers were discussing weekend plans while working near overhead power lines. He suffered life-changing burns and injuries when he leaned back and came in contact with 12,500 volts of electricity. He spent four months in the hospital, and has gone through more than 50 surgeries. May is National Electrical Safety Month, and with the weather warming up, Gary wants others to take the time to learn from his story and make safety a priority when working outside near overhead power lines.
Before and after
Before his accident, Gary was known for his incredible strength. More than 6 feet tall, Gary excelled at a variety of sports and outdoor activities. However, after his accident, he had to start all over by learning to walk again. He still has difficulty walking and sometimes needs to use a wheelchair. Despite all he has been through, Gary sees his accident as being more difficult on his loved ones.
"It impacts them more than it impacts you," he says. "If you get injured, you are going to deal with it, but what are they going to do? They didn't have any choice in the matter, but your choices impacted them."
Gary and his family are working with Safe Electricity's "Teach Learn Care TLC" campaign to help prevent others from having accidents with overhead power lines and to keep other families from having to go through such a tragic experience.
Gary urges everyone to take the time to be safe on the job and at home. "Those small shortcuts will add up to that big one, and then everything is going to change," he explains. "Take the time, and do it right the first time. Make sure you do everything safe."
Things to remember
Safe Electricity reminds everyone to take note of overhead power lines when working outside:
- Look up and around you. Always be aware of the location of power lines, particularly when using long tools like ladders, pool skimmers, and pruning poles. Be especially careful when working near power lines attached to your house. Keep in mind that wind can blow large objects out of your control.
- Keep equipment and yourself at least ten feet from power lines. Even if you do not come in contact with a power line, the electricity can arc to close objects and people.
- Be careful when working on or around your roof—installing or cleaning gutters, installing rooftop antennas and satellite dishes, or doing repair work. Never use water or blower extensions to clean gutters near electric lines. Contact a professional maintenance contractor.
- Never climb trees near power lines.
- Never trim trees near power lines. Leave that to the professionals.
- Always follow safety procedures, no matter how boring and mundane they seem.
"We are grateful that Gary and his family are willing to share their difficult experience to help prevent other tragic accidents," says Molly Hall, executive director of the Safe Electricity program. "We encourage everyone to visit SafeElectricity.org to see the video of Gary's story and learn more about staying safe around overhead power lines."
"Think about what it would be like so that it will never impact you," Gary advises. "If you can't take the time to think what it would be like to have to go through something like that, you're not going to make a change in your own life that will keep you from being that person."
For more information on electrical safety and to see videos of others who have shared their stories, visit SafeElectricity.org.