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Drones and the Future of Tower Safety

My entire adult career has been dedicated to electronic communications and related safety issues. When I was an adjunct professor at American River College in Sacramento, Calif., I regularly told my students to constantly strive for efficiency in the safest way possible. That same statement has also been my principal motivation in working to develop an idea to use drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), to eliminate the most dangerous aspect of tower climbing – how best to attach a line on the structure that enables all workers to climb while meeting the 100 percent attachment regulation required in OSHA’s new final rule. In my position as an instructor at Safety One Training International, which provides safety training for utility and telecommunications professionals out of its headquarters in Littleton, Colo., I’ve been able to take this idea to new heights, so to speak.

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Photovoltaic Solar Safety Management for Utilities

Most people who have worked in the electric utility industry are familiar with the safety concerns and applicable safety regulations associated with conventional nuclear and fossil electric power generation. Over the past several years, however, there has been an increase in the number of new generating facilities constructed across the U.S. that incorporate renewable technologies such as solar, wind and biomass. This article will provide a basic overview of one of these technologies – utility-scale photovoltaic (PV) solar – along with discussion of related safety considerations.

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From its infancy in the late 1970s and early 1980s until now, behavior-based safety (BBS) has been a source of conflict in the safety profession, among company and union leadership, and even between practitioners. Nonetheless, after 30-plus years of use at companies that run the gamut of industries in dozens of countries around the world, it seems safe to assume that the theory and practice of BBS are here to stay. And since that is the case, this reality begs several questions. What is it about the BBS system that companies, safety professionals and practitioners find appealing? What are the criticisms of BBS and are they valid? How have the proponents of BBS answered them? How is BBS different or better than it was 30 or even 20 years ago? What is its future?

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Welcome to the first in a three-part series about arborist safety. In the second and third parts of the series, we will take a look at tree-felling and cutting methods as well as storm response techniques for utility workers. This first article, however, will give readers a broad overview of chainsaw safety, including powerful statistics, reasons why chainsaw operators struggle to follow safe work practices, and the essential education and training for workers who engage in chainsaw-related activities.

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Stringing wire in any environment can quickly go wrong. Dropped conductors can wreak havoc if precautions are not taken. In an energized environment, the result of losing control or dropping conductors has a greatly magnified risk.

Guard structures are the first type of protection conventionally used to prevent contact with energized lines. Ideally, guard structures are positioned so that whether it’s the unexpected loss of stringing tension or something as major as a dropped conductor, the conductor being pulled will not make contact with the energized lines. There are other requirements, too, one being non-automatic setting of breakers for the lines being crossed if it is not possible to de-energize and ground them.

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It’s official: Flame-resistant clothing is now considered PPE, and employers are required to furnish it to employees when there is a chance that they may be exposed to electric arcs or flames. This change has been a long time coming as the industry has been in limbo for years. A number of forward-thinking companies have been furnishing arc-rated FR clothing to their employees for some time, while others have waited for regulations to require them to do so. The company from which I retired as well as other large investor-owned utilities have uniform policies that incorporated arc-rated FR clothing years ago.

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Q: I can't seem to clarify what U.S. Department of Transportation hours-of-service rules apply to utility workers. Are we exempt from the rules?

A: The university studies and experience of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration that prompted the hours-of-service rules do have some value to us as an industry with drivers. The data used to form the rules shows that fatigue affects performance. This is a model that can help us to establish safe practices with our drivers. However, there is good reasoning for exemptions when the work we do ensures electrical service for users that helps keep them safe and healthy. And because of this reasoning, there are utility exemptions for driver logs as well as hours of service, which include time behind the wheel as well as other work performed by a driver. By the way, FMCSA clarifies that when calculating hours of service, line work or any other work for the employer – including work not associated with driving – is classified as on-duty not driving time.

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I was part of a recent training session during which a gentleman from a petroleum refinery made the following statement: “Our culture will eat any program you have for breakfast.” That was such a spot-on comment.

If we believe that one more program is going to fix our organizational safety and efficiency problems, we might be sadly mistaken. We waste far too much time and money on programs to correct specific problems rather than looking more broadly at culture and behavior.

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A lot of safety training is focused on the individual operating in a crew setting, but there are many employees who work alone. How is their safety training different? If you answered that their safety training is not and should not be different, you are correct. However, their work environment is different from a crew’s work environment because they must rely solely on themselves to stay safe. Staying safe on the job requires constant vigilance by every employee, which includes utilizing the best practice of performing a detailed job briefing, tailboard or toolbox talk before starting work.

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Mitigating the Risks of Aerial Patrols

A safe and reliable operation is built on a foundation of strong, continually evolving programs that adapt to changing regulations. Federal requirements now mandate that electric transmission utilities perform annual vegetation inspections on all of their rights-of-way. To complete these inspections, many utilities rely on helicopters, which pose high risks due to low-altitude flying and close proximity to lines where the danger of a strike is always present.

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There are a number of components necessary to create and maintain a strong, effective safety committee. Key among them are employee involvement and evolution – that constant search for ways to improve both how the committee functions as a group and the results committee members produce. Other ingredients for success include ownership at all levels of the organization, a clearly defined committee charter, sponsorship, effective committee facilitation, and companywide communication about committee activities and progress.

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SRP Rope Access Program Addresses Towers of Power

You’re working 120 feet above the desert floor on a high-voltage transmission line. A crewmate slips out of part of his rigging and hits hard against the skeletal metal superstructure of the lattice tower. The work site is miles away from town and emergency first responders. Your crewmate dangles perilously, dazed and perhaps critically injured. What do you do?

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Responding to Pole Fires

From time to time, most utilities with high-voltage systems have to deal with the problem of pole fires. While causes vary, fires always affect system reliability by damaging facilities and resulting in outages. Worse, it is hard to define the risk to workers dealing with a pole fire, especially when the fire’s cause is not easily determined.

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With the publication of OSHA’s new final rule regarding 29 CFR 1910.269 and 1926 Subpart V, the fall protection rules have changed – somewhat. Both the general and construction industries have had fall protection rules in place since the advent of workplace safety rules, including the duty to have fall protection found in 1926.501. However, provisions specific to the industry have enabled utilities and their contractors to operate under fall protection exemptions for poles and similar structures. That is no longer the case.

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In this installment of “Voice of Experience,” we will take a look at the wording in OSHA 29 CFR 1910.133, “Eye and face protection.” A review of this standard is a great opportunity to gain a better understanding of what OSHA requires of both the employer and employee in order to properly protect these vital body parts in the workplace.

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Q: Can a boom truck be used as a manhole rescue device? I’ve heard that OSHA rules prohibit boom truck use because the truck has too much force, resulting in greater harm to the employee in need of rescue.

A: There may be issues with a boom truck as a rescue device, but its use is not prohibited in the situation you mention. Based on the criteria for rescue, however, it’s possible that the use of a boom truck may not be your best option. Incident Prevention does not advocate this method nor any other particular method of rescue from a manhole, but we do make every attempt to give you the information you need to make the right decision.

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Numerous studies have shown that cellphone use while driving distracts drivers and reduces their ability to safely operate a motor vehicle. While there are other driving distractions such as screaming children, flashing billboards and eating, the focus of this Tailgate Topic is distracted driving due to cellphone use.

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Distributed generation (DG) is also referred to as on-site generation, dispersed generation, embedded generation, decentralized generation, decentralized energy, distributed energy and district energy. Its definition varies slightly from source to source, but for lineworkers, DG is anything that generates power, is connected to the grid and is not part of the normal generating system of whomever we are working for at the time.

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We have been expecting it since 2005. It's here, and it's big. The OSHA final rule regarding 29 CFR 1910.269 and 1926 Subpart V was announced April 1, popularly known as April Fools’ Day. The significance couldn't have been missed by those at the U.S. Department of Labor. Who says they have no sense of humor? The unofficial PDF version published April 1 has 1,607 pages. The official version – published April 11 in the conventional three-column Federal Register format – has a mere 429 pages. The final rule becomes effective July 10.

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We have been expecting it since 2005. It's here, and it's big. The OSHA final rule regarding 29 CFR 1910.269 and 1926 Subpart V was announced April 1, popularly known as April Fools’ Day. The significance couldn't have been missed by those at the U.S. Department of Labor. Who says they have no sense of humor? The unofficial PDF version published April 1 has 1,607 pages. The official version – published April 11 in the conventional three-column Federal Register format – has a mere 429 pages. The final rule becomes effective July 10.

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