In today’s utilities, there are two essential things that need to happen to create a safe utility workplace, both of which are referenced in OSHA’s General Duty Clause. First, employers must provide their employees a workplace free of recognized hazards that can cause death or serious physical harm. Second, employees must comply with occupational safety and health standards, regulations and company rules that are applicable to their conduct at work.
With that said, when it comes to recognizing electrical hazards in the workplace, is it better to guess or to know? This isn’t a tough question for most utility workers to answer; it is better to know. And while today we know a great deal about how to keep our workers safe, many members of our industry have learned some hard lessons about how – and how not to – test for and verify the presence of electricity. Even as recently as the 1990s, the act of fuzzing or buzzing a line was not an uncommon testing and verification method. Fuzzing or buzzing occurs when a worker uses a live-line tool to hold a wrench or similar item near a line and then listens for a buzzing sound given off as the tool approaches an energized circuit part.
In 1994, OSHA first published 29 CFR 1910.269, which required workers to test for and verify the hazard of electricity. Remember that, according to the General Duty Clause, the employer must provide a workplace free of recognized hazards. So, if the hazard of electricity is recognized, it must be addressed. And since OSHA still permitted fuzzing or buzzing in 1994, it was sometimes still used for electrical testing and verification purposes.
A 1995 letter from OSHA to Lonnie Bell at Oglethorpe Power Corp. (see www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=INTERPRETATIONS&p_id=21981) clarified the agency’s position. Mr. Bell had originally posed this question to OSHA: “Will an employer be found in compliance with 1910.269(n)(5) when his or her employees use the practices of fuzzing or buzzing, instead of a voltmeter, to test a line conductor to be grounded to be sure it is deenergized (dead) before the protective ground is installed?”