Governor Wolf signs law giving utility workers more protection during emergencies

The power of common sense

In a perfect world, no electric lines would ever be downed by ice, wind or errant vehicle. But that’s not the reality we know, especially in the forested areas of rural Pennsylvania. Occasionally, the power does go out – despite our best efforts.

When it does, our focus turns to getting that power back on quickly and safely for you, our members. To do that means not only getting our line personnel to the areas where service has been interrupted, but also ensuring their safety while they repair or replace the lines, poles and transformers. Protecting our cooperative line workers while they are on the job just makes common sense.

And now, that just got somewhat easier, thanks to cooperative-supported legislation recently passed by the Pennsylvania General Assembly and signed by Gov. Tom Wolf on Nov. 4, 2015.

Known as Act 61 of 2015, this “Move Over PA” law provides greater protections to cooperative and utility line workers engaged in restoring service during emergencies. Specifically, the law includes line personnel as emergency service providers within the first 72 hours after an emergency is declared or until the expiration of a declared emergency, whichever is later.

The measure was introduced last spring by state Sen. Michele Brooks (R-Mercer), who represents counties where many electric cooperative members live and work.

“Risking their safety, these men and women are out at all hours of the day and night in the worst of weather to ensure we receive services,” stated Brooks. “This legislation is one way we can help protect them.”

The law requires vehicles to yield to line personnel actively engaged in emergency situations. Line crews are now legally considered emergency service responders, joining police officers, firefighters, ambulance personnel, highway maintenance and construction personnel, emergency medical services personnel, and towing and recovery personnel.

Drivers who are approaching or passing an emergency response area (unless otherwise directed by an emergency service responder) must move to a lane that is not adjacent to the emergency response area, if possible. If moving to a nonadjacent lane is impossible, illegal or unsafe, drivers are directed to carefully pass the emergency response area at a reduced speed.

Persons who do not move over or slow down can be found guilty of a summary offense and fined up to $250. Additional penalties are in place if the violation leads to the injury of a worker.

In essence, the legislation simply takes what should be common sense and makes it a requirement. This is especially important in our rural areas, where line crews often have limited space to perform their already dangerous work.

Your cooperative and its directors, along with our sister co-ops across the state, have worked long and hard to get this legislation approved. In a big push last spring, cooperative leaders met with more than 150 legislators and key legislative staff to discuss the importance of this initiative. That effort was rewarded this fall when the Move Over PA legislation was unanimously supported by both chambers of the Pennsylvania General Assembly. It becomes effective in January 2016.

Our line crews work hard to deliver safe and reliable electricity to you, often in challenging conditions. This law will improve the safety conditions as they work along Pennsylvania roads and highways to restore your power during emergencies. In an era of partisan politics, we are grateful that the cooperative approach of doing the right thing by our members, our employees, and our communities still resonates with lawmakers. That’s co-op power. That’s the power of common sense.