KNOWLEDGE, INSIGHT AND STRATEGY FOR UTILITY SAFETY & OPS PROFESSIONALS

Utility organizations have an opportunity to transform their safety and organizational performance by adopting a proven strategy and approach. Engaging in these activities can help companies manage all types of risk holistically.

A Historical Review of Workplace Safety in the U.S.

A Historical Review of Workplace Safety in the U.S. While OSHA may sometimes make it difficult for businesses to do business, their rules are necessary for the safety of the American workforce. Has OSHA ever made it difficult for businesses to do business? It sure has, and I will be the first to raise my hand in agreement. I started my career in the electrical utility industry as a lineman helper five years before President Richard Nixon signed into law the Williams-Steiger Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. It became enforceable in late April 1971. At that time, I was ju…

Establishing a Comprehensive Ergonomics Program During a Pandemic

Austin Energy and Healthworks Ergonomics were able to pivot and keep up the program’s momentum after COVID-19 hit the U.S.

Are Your Lessons Learned Making Your Workers Safer?

Reports of the incident travel like lightning through the company. There are no real details yet, just a statement that at 10 a.m. today, an employee of The Big City Project was seriously injured on the job. The event soon becomes the subject of coffee break conversations. “We’ve had a lot of serious incidents lately” seems to be the consensus.

Information Transfer: What’s Needed to Protect Affected Workers?

As with all the other articles in this series, when it comes to information transfer, it is important to start with the hazard. Individuals who work on or near electric power lines and equipment face a multitude of potential high-risk electrical hazards. Employers have the responsibility to identify and control known hazards to ensure worker safety. When unknown hazards exist, the level of risk is elevated because workers may not have all the information they need to safely perform their work.

Are Your Lessons Learned Making Your Workers Safer?

Reports of the incident travel like lightning through the company. There are no real details yet, just a statement that at 10 a.m. today, an employee of The Big City Project was seriously injured on the job. The event soon becomes the subject of coffee break conversations. “We’ve had a lot of …

Information Transfer: What’s Needed to Protect Affected Workers?

As with all the other articles in this series, when it comes to information transfer, it is important to start with the hazard. Individuals who work on or near electric power lines and equipment face a multitude of potential high-risk electrical hazards. Employers have the responsibility to ident…

Frontline Utility Leadership – The Hurdle
By David McPeak

Utility Business Media, Inc. publisher of Incident Prevention Magazine is excited to announce the publication of Frontline Leadership – The Hurdle written by Incident Prevention Institute’s (iPi) Director of Professional Development, David McPeak. This book is based on iPi’s popular Frontline leadership training program and is a must read for utility industry leaders. Learn More

We’re on Apple podcasts, Spotify, Amazon and more. Just search “Incident Prevention Utility Safety Podcast” wherever you listen to podcasts.

Electrical Arc Flash and Shock Hazards for Fall Protection Using ASTM F887

Electrical Arc Flash and Shock Hazards for Fall Protection Using ASTM F887 The standard helps to ensure equipment safety in multihazard environments.

OSHA Electric Power Standards – Simplified | Part 6

De-energizing Lines and Equipment for the Protection of Employees It’s critical for workers to understand the process of de-energizing lines and equipment to hold them clear.

Managing Risk Through Cognitive Impairment Testing

Utility safety professionals have the duty to ensure a safe workplace for all employees. If that due diligence pays off, the result is consistently having few or no injuries on OSHA 300 forms year after year. But no matter how well a safety program functions, incidents never completely stop oc…
Featured Products

Tower Harness

Part of the V-SERIES fall protection harness line, the V-FIT Tower Harness is ergonomically designed for exceptional comfort through its exclusive racing-style buckle, athletic cut and pull-down adjustment. Specifically for tower climbing, the design features include an adjustable and removabl…

Safety Management


Electrical Arc Flash and Shock Hazards for Fall Protection Using ASTM F887

Electrical Arc Flash and Shock Hazards for Fall Protection Using ASTM F887 The standard helps to ensure equipment safety in multihazard environments.

Managing Risk Through Cognitive Impairment Testing

Utility safety professionals have the duty to ensure a safe workplace for all employees. If that due diligence pays off, the result is consistently having few or no injuries on OSHA 300 forms year after year. But no matter how well a safety program functions, incidents never completely stop occurring.
making workers safer

Are Your Lessons Learned Making Your Workers Safer?

Reports of the incident travel like lightning through the company. There are no real details yet, just a statement that at 10 a.m. today, an employee of The Big City Project was seriously injured on the job. The event soon becomes the subject of coffee break conversations. “We’ve had a lot of serious incidents lately” seems to be the consensus.
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Lagging Indicators, Leading Indicators … Let’s Start Over

What do indicators really mean? Occupational safety and health (OSH) professionals continue to debate this issue. Can indicators really measure performance of an OSH program? On one side are lagging indicators, which include common markers such as total recordable incident rate (TRIR); days away, restricted and transfer rate; and experience modification rate.

Managing Risk Through Cognitive Impairment Testing

Utility safety professionals have the duty to ensure a safe workplace for all employees. If that due diligence pays off, the result is consistently having few or no injuries on OSHA 300 forms year after year. But no matter how well a safety program functions, incidents never completely stop oc…
making workers safer

Are Your Lessons Learned Making Your Workers Safer?

Reports of the incident travel like lightning through the company. There are no real details yet, just a statement that at 10 a.m. today, an employee of The Big City Project was seriously injured on the job. The event soon becomes the subject of coffee break conversations. “We’ve had a lot of …
Web-Indicators-intro-graphic.jpg

Lagging Indicators, Leading Indicators … Let’s Start Over

What do indicators really mean? Occupational safety and health (OSH) professionals continue to debate this issue. Can indicators really measure performance of an OSH program? On one side are lagging indicators, which include common markers such as total recordable incident rate (TRIR); days away,…

3 Keys to Transforming Safety and Organizational Performance

Utility organizations have an opportunity to transform their safety and organizational performance by adopting a proven strategy and approach. Engaging in these activities can help companies manage all types of risk holistically.

3 Keys to Transforming Safety and Organizational Performance

Utility organizations have an opportunity to transform their safety and organizational performance by adopting a proven strategy and approach. Engaging in these activities can help companies manage all types of risk holistically.
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A Lineworker’s Three Safety Superpowers

Workplace safety requires each of us to do our part to keep ourselves and our co-workers free from injury and illness. To meet this goal, we must understand the tools we have and know how to use them. Let’s look at a lineman’s life, for example. He can climb poles, float through the air in a buck…
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Creating a Culture of Safety Through Elite Leadership

Leaders play a pivotal role in creating a safe work environment that brings out the best in their people and produces quality results. And this doesn’t just mean leaders at the top but at every level of the organization. Leadership isn’t a difference maker – it is the difference maker.
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Lessons Learned from the Tenerife Airport Disaster

On March 27, 1977, two 747 passenger jets crashed on a runway on the Spanish island of Tenerife, killing 583 people. It remains one of the worst disasters in aviation history.

Worksite Safety


A Historical Review of Workplace Safety in the U.S.

While OSHA may sometimes make it difficult for businesses to do business, their rules are necessary for the safety of the American workforce.

OSHA Electric Power Standards – Simplified | Part 6

De-energizing Lines and Equipment for the Protection of Employees It’s critical for workers to understand the process of de-energizing lines and equipment to hold them clear.

Establishing a Comprehensive Ergonomics Program During a Pandemic

Austin Energy and Healthworks Ergonomics were able to pivot and keep up the program’s momentum after COVID-19 hit the U.S.

Information Transfer: What’s Needed to Protect Affected Workers?

As with all the other articles in this series, when it comes to information transfer, it is important to start with the hazard. Individuals who work on or near electric power lines and equipment face a multitude of potential high-risk electrical hazards. Employers have the responsibility to identify and control known hazards to ensure worker safety. When unknown hazards exist, the level of risk is elevated because workers may not have all the information they need to safely perform their work.

OSHA Electric Power Standards – Simplified | Part 6

De-energizing Lines and Equipment for the Protection of Employees It’s critical for workers to understand the process of de-energizing lines and equipment to hold them clear.

Establishing a Comprehensive Ergonomics Program During a Pandemic

Austin Energy and Healthworks Ergonomics were able to pivot and keep up the program’s momentum after COVID-19 hit the U.S.

Information Transfer: What’s Needed to Protect Affected Workers?

As with all the other articles in this series, when it comes to information transfer, it is important to start with the hazard. Individuals who work on or near electric power lines and equipment face a multitude of potential high-risk electrical hazards. Employers have the responsibility to ident…

Creating Good Safety Habits

A journeyman lineman is aloft in his bucket, helping a co-worker install a new transformer on a utility pole. For a second, his mind wanders to the argument he had last night with his wife. Then, suddenly, he hears his co-worker asking for help repositioning the transformer, which is now suspended in the air, attached to the boom winch line of the line truck. In response, the journeyman lineman overreacts and operates his bucket controls too quickly, hitting and lifting the bottom of the transformer. The sling loosens and comes off the lifting eyes, causing the transformer to drop to the gr…
Luis Ortega, CUSP Emeritus
Luis Ortega, CUSP Emeritus

Strategies to Handle Workplace Conflict

“Jack, the people issues are just getting to be too much,” the foreman said. “If it’s not the landowners and members of the public throwing fits and coming into the work zones, it’s our own people getting into conflicts. At best it’s a distraction that steals our focus, and at it’s worst it becom…
Jesse Hardy, CSP, CIT, CUSP
Jesse Hardy, CSP, CIT, CUSP

Getting Shocked on a Structure?

It’s not static. And there’s a reason that’s important. Static is defined at www.dictionary.com as a stationary electrical charge built up on insulating material. The Britannica.com website defines static as a phenomenon in which charged particles are transferred from one body to another. For …
Jim Vaughn, CUSP
Jim Vaughn, CUSP

Avoid Injury When Lifting and Moving Objects

Jesse Hardy, CSP, CIT, CUSP
Jesse Hardy, CSP, CIT, CUSP

Powerful Safety Messages: Spoken and Silent

Patricia Fischer, CSP, CUSA
Patricia Fischer, CSP, CUSA

The End of the Day

Bob Dunderdale, CUSP
Bob Dunderdale, CUSP

Watch Your Step

Luis Ortega, CUSP Emeritus
Luis Ortega, CUSP Emeritus

9 Safety Axioms You Need to Know

Safety works with just the nuts and bolts, but not as well as it will if you apply these nine axioms. Too often we focus so much on the nuts and bolts of safety (e.g., grounding procedures, Ohm’s law, work methods for a pole-top rescue) that we lose sight of the big picture. There’s no doubt t…

Improving Job Briefings

Enhanced briefings can lead to greater customer satisfaction, productivity, quality, safety and system reliance.

The Safety Paradox: My Day at the Safety Conference

Here’s a hypothetical and exaggerated scenario about a day I spent attending a safety conference (the iP Utility Safety Conference & Expo, of course!). It begins with me watching a safety glove demonstration. I watch a person put on a glove, crush a wine glass, stab themselves in the hand wit…

How Common is Common Sense?

How did you learn that a stovetop could be hot and burn you? Some would say that’s common sense, that human beings have an innate awareness of hazards, yet I’m guessing many of you learned the hard way – by touching a hot stove. What about brushing your teeth? Have you ever hurt yourself doing…

System Grounding for Worker Protection Against Induced Voltages

In the last installment of “Voice of Experience,” we reviewed OSHA’s rules for transmission and distribution (T&D) equipment grounding. This time around, we are going to discuss where and how induced voltages occur and, more importantly, how to protect employees from hazards associated wit…

Understanding OSHA’s Rules for T&D Equipment Grounding

There seems to be a question of the month every month. Recently I’ve answered a lot of questions about when and how to ground distribution and transmission equipment, particularly bucket trucks, uninsulated line trucks and cranes. My standard response to those questions is, “What is required by t…

Overhead Line Work, Then and Now

Overhead line work requires much planning beforehand and total attention when it is being performed. Recently I’ve had several requests to discuss this kind of work, so I’m going to take you back to the days when I was a lineman and, later, a crew supervisor to aid in this discussion of overhead …

System Operations: Who’s in Charge?

System and utility operators are required by OSHA 29 CFR 1910.269(m) to have a procedure to de-energize their systems for protection of the employees working on those systems. The rules in 1910.269(m) do not specifically require a written procedure, but it is hard to imagine how an effective proc…

Q&A

October-November 2021 Q&A

Q: We are contractors with a truck grounding question for work inside substations. Working within a proper clearance, the generation and transmission cooperative (G&T) that owns the transmission circuit coming into the substation believes 4/0 equipment grounding is needed, while the consumer utilities operating the substation say 1/0 or 2/0 is required. We sometimes are required by the G&T to use double 4/0 to meet the required available fault current. Can you explain the disparity in requirements? Also, do we meet the OSHA requirements if we use the 1/0 or the 2/0 for equipment grounding on manlifts when working within the minimum approach distance in a de-energized area that is locked out and tagged out? A: This must be a multifaceted answer, and perhaps explaining why there are so many opinions will be more valuable than how to make a grounding decision on your own. There are various opinions, such as you describe, because there are many ways to look at both the OSHA rules and what engineering is assuming the exposure to be as well as what they are trying to accomplish. The G&T is familiar with the maximum available fault current associated with their lines entering the substation up to the first circuit switch. The substation operator is familiar with the maximum available fault current beyond the impedance of the power transformer and the bus systems that they design and protect. The values are different between the two systems. In addition, there are different ways of calculating fault, especially if the calculation adds in buffers or safety factors that affect the outcome. We often find that engineers are uncomfortable with anything less than overbuild when they know they are calculating against the lives of workers in the substation. It seems logical that the ground cable used on a manlift should be the same as the grounds calculated to ground the bus, but that is not necessarily the guidance that comes from OSHA. The preeminent rule for grounding mobile equipment is 29 CFR 1910.269(p)(4)(iii)(C) for general industry or 1926.959(d)(3)(iii) for construction. We are paraphrasing here due to space limitations, but both rules require that if the employer cannot ensure employees are protected from accidental energizing of the equipment by the methods in use, then the equipment must be grounded to the best available ground, bonded together, equipotential matted and barricaded. The OSHA standard does not describe in any reference how the grounds should be sized, only that the grounds minimize the time the lines or electric equipment remains energized. To minimize the time the lines remain energized means that the grounded lift must be able to trip the circuit protective device of the lines in contact with the lift. That seems to indicate that appropriately sized grounds are called for. When OSHA calls out ground sizes, they usually refer us to 1926.962(d)(1)(ii) (protective grounding equipment shall have an ampacity greater than or equal to that of No. 2 AWG copper) and 1926.962(d)(2) (protective grounds shall have an impedance low enough so that they do not delay the operation of protective devices in case of accidental energizing of the lines or equipment). There again is language that suggests sizing an equipment ground according to fault current. But that isn’t the only solution. If we look closely at the rule for grounding, 1910.269(p)(4)(iii)(C), a portion of it reads “methods in use.” If the methods used ensure the worker cannot be electrocuted by contact with the lift, then the size of the ground or even whether you ground at all is inconsequential. If the work hazard assessment determines that the lift is isolated, the bus is de-energized and grounded, there is no possible contact with the energized bus or equipment, and work rules prohibit workers on the ground from approaching the lift, then the employer can ensure the worker is protected by the methods in use. If that’s the case, 1910.269(p)(4)(iii)(C) is satisfied with no grounds or with small grounds if no one is comfortable with not grounding simply out of habit in the substation. Incident Prevention does not intend to be critical of the engineers who decide your work policy as it is their responsibility to make these determinations and we cannot judge their intent or methodology in this forum. What we do is help to clarify the standards as we understand them. It is the employer’s responsibility to decide how safe work is to be done, and workers must follow the employer’s rules. If we can help the parties understand the rules or see them in a different light, it sometimes makes the work easier on everyone while maintaining worker safety at the highest level. Q: Thank you for offering this platform where we can get answers from a utility safety perspective. We recently had an incident with a minor injury on a distribution construction site, where a helper was struck by a Cat 962 wheel loader equipped with forks. The injury required an overnight hospitalization and State Plan OSHA did an inspection. OSHA returned a citation for failure to train under the powered industrial truck (PIT) standard. They said in the informal conference that we were using the loader as a PIT, so the citation is appropriate. Are they correct? A: First, as a reminder, Incident Prevention is not offering legal advice here. What we do in this column is offer opinions from highly experienced industry professionals regarding rules and standards related to the utility industry. As to your question, we reviewed your state’s occupational safety standards, and in our opinion, the answer is no – OSHA’s reasoning and citation are incorrect. On a wheel loader, even if it is equipped with forks, citing operator training under the PIT standard is incorrect. Your state plan adopted the federal OSHA standards in their entirety without changes. This is the third such citation we are aware of in the past few years where both State Plan and Federal OSHA have incorrectly cited an employer in loader-related incidents. One citation was given to an investor-owned utility and two others were given to contractors. OSHA is run by humans and humans make mistakes, but we hope this is not a trend with OSHA. We also hope that you will contest the citation. Your operator may have erred, and you may be responsible, but you may be responsible under the appropriate standard – not the PIT standard. OSHA has a lot of power and when they go off the rails, industry needs to correct them. We wouldn’t want an incorrect OSHA citation to set a precedent that alters 30 years of exceptions for loaders. The 900 series wheel loaders are popular and have been used on construction sites to move dirt and handle poles under the PIT exception for decades. The exception is justified because loaders have center frame articulated steering with completely different mechanical and stability characteristics than forklifts. The loader cannot meet the PIT standards in operation or training. The current requirement is for an employer to ensure an operator is qualified, and that qualification – earned through training or experience – has proven to be more than sufficient. Loader incidents are not an issue in our industry. You can find the exceptions defined by OSHA in 1910.178(a)(1) and in the preamble to the final rule regarding the powered industrial truck standard, dated December 1, 1998. You can also find the exception in the OSHA-recognized ANSI B56.6, “Safety Standard for Rough Terrain Forklift Trucks.” Q: What is the first thing you would do to reduce incidents and improve safety at a power-line contractor? A: Train your supervision. In fact, in this issue, Jim Vaughn’s “Train the Trainer 101” addresses this same topic in broader terms of cultural change. Your supervisors are your frontline, hour-by-hour bridge between the employer’s programs and the crew’s execution of those programs. Supervisors can play a key role in building safety culture when they understand that role and have the requisite knowledge about and buy-in of the role. Too many employers fail to train supervisors, relying on their experience as craft professionals to fill that gap. But without in-depth safety training, supervisors will never know how important they are to the safety culture success that protects employees, and the employer loses the safety resource that comes from a well-trained supervisor. Q: What is an employer’s affirmative defense relative to an OSHA charge, and how does it work? A: For the second time this issue, we must preface this discussion with a disclaimer. Incident Prevention is not offering legal advice. We do have opinions based on our experience with OSHA cases, in which affirmative defenses – usually employee misconduct – have been used to contest a citation right up to the courtroom. In simplified terms, an affirmative defense is when an accused party puts forth alternative claims or facts to challenge the claim against them, even if the facts of the claim are true. Here’s an example of a common scenario in which an affirmative defense is claimed by an employer. OSHA investigates an incident that resulted in an injury to an employee and finds the employer responsible. The agency issues a citation for violation of a certain rule. The employer responds to OSHA’s complaint, showing that they did everything they were supposed to do and that the employee violated the rules they were trained to follow outside the control of the employer. Most successful affirmative defenses have demonstrated that the employer’s safety manual rules and training, if followed, would have protected the employee from injury. The phrase “employee misconduct” does not necessarily mean the employee was willful or egregious in their actions. People make mistakes even if they are well-trained and known to be conscientious. The employer would have to show that the rule was communicated to the workforce by training; that supervisors and other employees were trained to comply with the rule; that supervisors enforced the rule; and that a disciplinary program effectively remediated employee noncompliance with safety rules. If the employer successfully puts forth that defense, and they can demonstrate the employee violated the rule outside of the control of the employer, then the employer showed due diligence and cannot be held responsible for a condition over which they had no control, such as employee misconduct. It is our understanding that in Canada, affirmative defenses can be successfully argued in many jurisdictions. The terminology and process may change, but the premise remains the same. A defense can be established if the employer has developed appropriate safety systems, workers and supervisors have been trained, and employee noncompliance with a safety system has been documented. The provincial occupational health and safety acts use language such as “reasonably practical,” thereby creating a system of strict liability and providing an opportunity for a due diligence defense. An employer can argue that an employee has “removed himself or herself from the course of employment” if they have intentionally deviated from the known expectations and conditions of employment. In both the U.S. and Canada, there are attorneys who know the rules of defense in occupational safety citations and can give legal advice to assist employers in dealing with and defending themselves against claims. What we do as safety professionals is ensure the employer has a defensible safety manual, training and supervision, as well as a functional discipline program for noncompliant employees. Do you have a question regarding best practices, work procedures or other utility safety-related topics? If so, please send your inquiries directly to kwade@utilitybusinessmedia.com. Questions submitted are reviewed and answered by the iP editorial advisory board and other subject matter experts.

August-September 2021 Q&A

Q: We have been reading OSHA 29 CFR 1910.269 regarding two-man work, but we cannot find a definition for “routine switching.” We are under the impression that a trained troubleshooter can replace blown fuses in cutouts without a second man. Since it is not specifically mentioned in the exceptions, do we have this wrong? We have old porcelain cutouts on our 4-kV system where you cannot remove the door with a stick and must grab it with your hand, putting the worker within the minimum approach distance of the energized 15-kV overbuild above. This is especially an issue for us at night and in storms. Can you help?
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