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How Do I Climb a Wood Utility Pole?

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Wood utility poles are a common sight in modern society. Used to hold electrical and communication lines well above the street level, wood utility poles are made from the trunks of tall trees, which have been treated for durability. In order to reach the power lines at the tops of these poles, workers must climb the wood utility pole.

If you are not supposed to climb a utility pole, don’t. Even with safety measures in place, utility pole climbing is dangerous and should not be attempted by amateurs.

Tools to Climb a Wood Utility Pole

American utility poles typically do not have the old hook-like steps for climbing directly. Instead, pole climbers use sharp, specially-made hooks called gaffs that attach to the boot. These gaffs have a specific shape, necessary to keep the climber safely attached to the pole. For this reason, they should never be altered or filed. Gaffs are sometimes covered by gaff protectors, which shield the legs from injury. These gaff protectors must be removed before climbing a pole.

The next essential piece of equipment is the safety belt. The belt attaches at the waist and goes around the pole. There are two safety hooks on a safety belt. Typically, the right hook stays closed when in use, and the left hook is used for adjustments.

Climbing Safety

Before you begin your pole climb, make sure that your gaffs are tight. They should be attached firmly, to the point of discomfort, as gaffs have a tendency to loosen slightly during the climb. Make sure that your safety belt is securely fastened and in the correct position. Double-check every fastening and your safety hooks before you climb. The hooks need to stay firm, so they should never be lubricated.

While climbing, you need to keep at least three points touching the pole at any time: if you are moving one leg, you need to keep the other leg and both arms holding the pole. Your knees should remain locked throughout the climb. This will prevent your toes from pointing downward, which causes the gaffs to come loose.

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Climbing Instructions

You begin a utility pole climb by placing your hand on the pole at the same height as your forehead. Bring your heels together before lifting your foot. Be sure to lift the foot on the same side as the hand already on the pole. The step up should not be too large, about six to eight inches in the air. Force the gaff hook on that foot into the pole. Repeat these motions with the opposite side of the body to lift yourself onto the pole. Throughout all of this, you should try to keep your knees locked and your arms straight: do not hug the pole. For optimal safety, you should try to keep a 30 degree angle between your body and the pole.

As you move up the pole, repeat these motions. With each movement, you need to keep your safety strap with you and therefore must shift the strap upward. Make sure you are secure before moving the strap.

To climb down, you essentially repeat your upward motions in reverse. Make sure the safety strap is in a horizontal position before you move. Then you drop your locked knee down and strike the pole with the gaff to secure your step. Don’t move the upper leg until you are secure.

About the Author

Laurel Brown has several years experience as an educator and a writer. She won the 2008 Reingold Prize for writing in the history of science. Brown has a Ph.D. and Master of Arts in the history of science and Middle Eastern studies from Columbia University, as well as a Bachelor of Arts in astrophysics from Colgate University.

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