The Electrical Worker online
August 2014

Seattle Lineman Champions
Improved Training in Suriname
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Seattle Local 77 member Brady Hansen was still grieving the loss of a fellow lineman who died on the job, when a tour came through Avista's Spokane Lineman School where he was working as a lead instructor.

Electrical engineers from the state-run utility company in Suriname, South America's smallest nation, had been studying at nearby Gonzaga University and were looking to learn from Avista and the IBEW.

During the course of the tour, Hansen traded notes with the visitors and found that training, safety protocols and equipment taken for granted in North America were mostly absent in Suriname.

"I've seen social media photos of linemen in other countries being passed around on the job, where disparaging, disrespectful remarks are heard about their safety practices," says Hansen. "But [like the linemen in Suriname] they are fellow members of our trade. And I believe they deserve the same kinds of protections our predecessors fought for over a century ago."

Call it a step toward closure over the loss of a friend, a career-long mission to promote safety on the job, an extraordinary empathy for others — wherever they are — or just being a good guy, Brady Hansen was propelled into action. His mission: lifting up the conditions of linemen in Suriname.

In October, Hansen and a group of Avista linemen will fly to Suriname where they will present train-the-trainer classes with their peers who work for EBS, the public utility now undergoing modernization in the nation of half a million. Their trip is sponsored by a non-profit organization, the Suriname American Brotherhood Initiative, which Hansen founded.

"This is awesome, incredible," says Fornelio Forster, manager of EBS's distribution system, who met Hansen on the Spokane tour. "What Brady and these guys are doing and are planning to do is invaluable. I don't have enough words to describe their devotion."

Hansen offered to tour EBS's system after the Spokane visit. EBS helped him with the costs of airfare and lodging for a trip last fall.

"I researched the history of the country and its culture before leaving," says Hansen, who has since secured funds from both Avista and Local 77 to help underwrite the autumn visit to one of the world's most ethnically and racially diverse nations. A former Dutch possession located north of Brazil, Suriname gained independence in 1975. Today mining and oil dominate its economy, with tourism closely behind.

Practical measures to improve safety, says Hansen, depend upon cultural awareness. As an example, American linemen do not climb steel and concrete poles without steps. But in Suriname, they are often absent. He found that in many Latin American countries, linemen, or linieros, take pride in fabricating their own slings. So he is trying to share their methods with Surinamese colleagues.

"I never expected to be doing all this," says Hansen, who has been receiving Facebook messages from linemen in other developing nations who heard about the Suriname effort. He spent more than an hour recently helping a lineman in Cambodia solve a problem with understanding induction and personal protective grounding techniques.

Hansen hasn't had trouble lining up four volunteers to travel to Suriname. "I stopped counting at 27 guys," he says. "When they are standing in front of you asking to join the effort, you can see their intensity," says Hansen. "That means we're real — more than just a sticker on a hardhat." He says he is even getting phone calls from linemen he never met who want to participate.

"Brady brings a passion to the line trade that is contagious and very rare these days," says Bill Magers, program manager for Avista's lineman school. "The Suriname initiative is a prime example of his passion. I could do nothing other than support his outreach to provide training and safe work practices to the line workers there."

Forster and Hansen envision a three-year program of active collaboration, coaching and mentorship between U.S. and Surinamese linemen. A structured program will be a great improvement, says Forster. Currently new linemen rely solely upon ad hoc, on-the-job training from more senior peers.

And, seeing safety properly executed, says Forster, would motivate his nation's linemen to step up their vigilance.

"One of my and Brady's dreams is to get some of Suriname's linemen to attend an international rodeo and expo in the U.S. to give them a better view of how we can improve their safety and work efficiency," says Forster.

Hansen, who was a telephone lineman member of Seattle Local 89 before joining the utility, says the Suriname effort can help build a positive spirit to counter the despair that often accompanies the evening news.

"When linemen reach out across the world, it offers hope to humanity and real progress," he says. Improving a nation's electrical consumption is critical to reducing infant mortality, maintaining clean drinking water, raising life expectancy and slowing population growth. He said he hopes that progress in promoting safer and more efficient methods in Suriname will spill over to its neighboring nations.

Improving safety training needs to be coupled with efforts to help other nations provide better equipment to their linemen, says Hansen.

He has partnered with the National Rural Electrical Cooperative Association International Foundation to support "Recycling for Linemen," an effort to collect safety gear for linemen in Suriname. The NRECA has been active for 50 years helping to foster electrical development across the world. Thanks to these ongoing efforts, developing nations have the ability to be more independent and require less foreign aid.

New OSHA regulations on fall protection will leave some safety belts used in the trade out of compliance. But the equipment would still offer more protection to workers in other nations with limited resources. The effort is supported by, an apparel business. The company's website says, "When the OSHA changes take effect, a lot of personal protective equipment may be going to the landfill. Think local, act globally."

Karl Stoper, a Local 77 lineman at Seattle City Light, offered to help the recycling effort. "Donating equipment has been warmly received by my co-workers," says Stoper, who set up a booth at a lineman's rodeo in Wenatchee, Wash.

"Activities like these are the great thing about being an IBEW member," says Stoper, who began his career as a groundsman in Vacaville, Calif., Local 1245 and has convinced Washington's public utility commission to solicit equipment donations on its website.

The Suriname support program is drawing recognition far beyond organized labor and the utility industry.

"This is what I admire and respect so much about the labor movement," says Charlie Kernaghan, a world-recognized activist who has exposed third-world garment sweatshops and helped change the apparel purchasing practices of large retailers.

"If the labor movement is to prosper, we need to go international. We cannot leave our brothers and sisters behind. Brother Brady Hansen is teaching all of us a great deal, and together, we will be that much stronger," adds Kernaghan.

During Hansen's visit last year to Suriname, the nation was celebrating Maroon Day, commemorating former slaves who escaped their plantations and established autonomous communities in the nation where tropical rainforests dominate the terrain. Hansen went into the center of the nation's capital, Parmaribo, and joined the dancing and celebrations.

"I realized they were celebrating freedom from race-based and class-based oppression, similar battles fought by people in my own country," he said.

A little over a century ago, he says, workers in the electrical construction and power trades in North America recognized the need for structured safety programs. Because of their efforts, he and others have been able to enjoy decent jobs and a healthy standard of living.

"I want to help others the same way my predecessors helped me," says Hansen.

A structure to solicit monetary donations for the Suriname American Brotherhood Initiative is being established. For more information call Brady Hansen at (208) 661-0458 or (509) 495-8432 or e-mail him at


Linemen at Suriname's state-owned utility company will benefit from a safety program established cooperatively with IBEW linemen in Washington State.


Engineers from Suriname toured Avista's Spokane, Wash., lineman school.