The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulates how most electrical equipment is tested. OSHA's regulations are based on standards issued by ASTM International (originally known as the American Society for Testing and Materials), an organization whose members are made up of professionals from a number of industries, including the electrical industry. But these standards are the minimum standards – most safety professionals recommend moving beyond minimum standards. Most utilities, co-ops, contractors and linemen will take extra steps to ensure worker safety and to earn top safety rankings, something the industry is placing great value upon as a quality evaluation measure.
Fiberglass Tools & Equipment
Fiberglass tools and equipment such as hot sticks, gins, arms, ladders and platforms may seem indestructible, but they're not. Fiberglass doesn't conduct electricity like metal, but it can become nicked and scratched, which could compromise the integrity of the tool and the user's safety. If a scratch or nick occurs in wet weather, water could infiltrate the inner core of the fiberglass material allowing it to become a conductor.
For this reason, when tested, fiberglass must pass a wet test and a dry test. OSHA regulation 1910.269 requires inspection and testing of hot sticks and arms every two years. The tests for fiberglass are based on ASTM F711-02, page 334 of the ASTM manual.
Testing is not required for platforms and ladders unless suspected damage has occurred. Even so, it is in the best interest of electrical workers to test this equipment on a periodic basis, because visible inspection does not reveal if the inner core of the fiberglass has been compromised in some way.
Fiberglass used in electrical work should be waxed every three months to prevent water from sheeting on the fiberglass and conducting electricity during wet weather on the job. Special waxes are available. It is also critical to keep the equipment free of dirt and mud, as these materials can conduct electricity and cause electrical shock.
The best practice for linemen and electrical workers regarding fiberglass tools is to “inspect, protect and clean.” Before each usage, inspect the equipment for nicks and scratches, dirt and mud, and how the wax is holding up. Make sure the equipment is handled with care on the job and properly stored after the job in the proper carrying cases. Keep the equipment clean. Have it tested regularly; some companies require testing for fiberglass tools, such as hot sticks, every six months. Some companies want to test after every job.
But what is a company to do with all those suspect fiberglass products laying around a warehouse? If you suspect that the fiberglass has been damaged, you don't have to throw it away. Fiberglass is repairable. It can be restored to like-new condition in a proper fiberglass workshop. Companies can save thousands of dollars in new equipment expense and prevent suspect equipment from filling up landfills.
Grounds & Jumpers
Grounds and jumpers differ in composition based upon the intended use. If grounds or jumpers are used improperly with the wrong voltage, severe damage can occur, rendering the equipment unsafe for the next usage. Rough usage of this equipment can also cause damage. Dirt and corrosion on the clamps and heads of grounds and jumpers can also cause damage and allow the equipment to fail.
OSHA does not yet require testing of grounds and jumpers unless suspected damage has occurred, but many expect that testing will be required within the next few years.
To properly test grounds and jumpers, they must be taken apart. Every component must be tested separately. Then, they must be assembled and tested again as a whole. It is a painstaking and tedious process. It is critical that knowledgeable people assemble grounds and jumpers so that the equipment functions properly on the job. The philosophy – inspect, protect and clean – rings as true for grounds and jumpers as it does for fiberglass.
Many products are available for the proper storage and transportation of grounds and jumpers. These products will protect the equipment from damage, dirt, and corrosion. It is the best practice to handle grounds and jumpers with care. Even though they look indestructible, they are not!
Rubber is the number one safety material used by electrical workers. Rubber garments such as sleeves, boots and gloves, as well as rubber blankets, line hose and other equipment, are commonplace and required on the job for every electrical worker. But only one-eighth inch of rubber separates electrical workers from a deadly dose of electricity.
Natural Rubber, used in high voltage gloves, is a natural material. It is fragile and decomposes over time. It is susceptible to sunlight and the ozone in the air that occurs naturally. Low-voltage gloves and other electrical safety products can also be made with synthetic Type II rubber. But even with this material, electrical workers often work with sharp tools and other equipment that can puncture or tear natural and synthetic rubber. Even the tiniest pinhole can allow electricity to bypass the rubber and seek the next conductor: the user.
For this reason, OSHA requires more frequent testing of rubber goods than it does for other electrical equipment.
Like fiberglass, as well as grounds and jumpers, the best practice is to inspect, protect and clean rubber goods. Dirt can compromise the rubber's ability to insulate; therefore, dirty rubber goods should not be used on the job.
Like other electrical equipment, OSHA requires that all rubber goods must be tested if damage is suspected. The minimum standard requires that gloves must be routinely tested every six months, while sleeves and blankets must be tested annually. The testing of line hose and hoods is optional, according to OSHA, unless damage is suspected.
Most electrical workers exceed the OSHA requirement. The best practice is to have rubber equipment cleaned and tested more frequently.
There are many products on the market for the proper care and transportation of rubber goods. It is critical that electrical workers follow protocol and utilize these products to protect their rubber goods. Visual inspection of rubber goods prior to use is also critical and is an OSHA requirement.
Portable field glove inflators allow users to practice spot inspections of the integrity of rubber gloves prior to use near live lines. Leather glove protectors are also essential for the protection of the rubber gloves. The leather protects the rubber, while the rubber protects the worker.
Better Safety Records Mean Fewer Injuries
Companies that work with electricity work hard to protect their safety records. Safety records are becoming one of the industry's quality standard measurements. Contractors with better safety records and the latest equipment earn more jobs from utilities. Also, because OSHA can levy fines for failing to meet minimum standards, it is in everyone's best interests to institute an effective and mandatory safety program that exceeds OSHA standards.
When evaluating safety programs, companies should institute "inspect, protect and clean" as a policy. Caring for, protecting during transport and storage, and keeping tools and equipment clean and in good working order makes good common sense and good safety sense. It's also a best practice.
About the Author: Matt Dell is the owner of Hi-Line Utility Supply Co. in Elgin, Ill. For more information, visit www.hilineco.com or call 800-323-6606.