Hugh Pratt, the British inventor of a device that protects riggers from electrocution, isn't kidding when he says that designing the safety tool was a divine calling.
Take a close look at one of his orange insulating links (shown above), and in the instructions you will find the words "THANKS BE TO GOD" stamped in the plastic casing.
"It was an inspirational design rather than a perspirational one," explains Pratt, founder and CEO of Insulatus, Valley City, Ohio. I spoke with Pratt late last month over the phone while he was vacationing in Kenya.
Nearly 20 years ago, Pratt was asked to build a device that would protect crews working near overhead power lines.
Electrocution was and still is one of the top killers among lifting crews in construction, according to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Furthermore, riggers are electrocuted more often than any other type of worker.
The task wasn't easy. Essentially, Pratt needed to develop a product that had the strength of steel with the insulating properties of glass. This problem vexed Pratt for several months.
As the story goes, one day Pratt was singing "Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven" in church when the solution hit him.
"I got the idea for the whole thing in one shot," Pratt says. "I went home and drafted up the patent."
Pratt's insulating links became commercially available in 1997. The company also offers a tagline link (shown below), which weighs about 3 lb and is believed to be one of only a few methods to protect load-control lines from electric shock.
Although common industry practice dictates using polypropylene rope to insulate taglines, Pratt and others note that this rope can still conduct when wet or dirty. New OSHA rules for cranes and derricks in construction, about which I wrote and produced a video for this week's issue of ENR, require the use of nonconductive taglines when working near power lines.
"The only way you can make a tagline nonconductive is by putting a tagline insulator in," says Pratt. The units cost about $250 apiece. Load insulators are more expensive, and can run in the thousands of dollars.
Today, Pratt is trying to bring down the cost of manufacturing insulating links to help empower companies and workers to stay safe. For example, Pratt has recently engaged with Chinese manufacturers to help drive down prices.
Due to an infrastructure boom in China, manufacturers there have "cheap labor and great understanding of high voltage," says Pratt. "They could make one [link] about half the price as we could, and I would be happy for them to do that."
Why would Pratt intentionally lower margins? "I hate people being killed. That's my driver."