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August 2016 Q&A

Q: We have heard that OSHA can cite an employer for violation of their own safety rules. How does that work?

A: OSHA’s charge under the Occupational Safety and Health Act is the protection of employees in the workplace. The agency’s methodology has always assumed the employer knows – or should know – the hazards associated with the work being performed in the employer’s workplace because that work is the specialty of the employer.

OSHA’s legal authority to use the employer’s own safety rules as a reason to cite the employer is found in CPL 02-00-159, the Field Operations Manual (FOM), which is published by the agency for compliance officers (see The explanation is in the FOM section about the elements required for a citation under the General Duty Clause, in particular Chapter 4, Part III, Section B, Entry 6(a). This part covers the required element of employer recognition. If there was no reasonable expectation that the employer could recognize the hazard to the employee, the employer cannot be cited for a violation. The FOM specifically states that employer awareness of a hazard “may also be demonstrated by a review of company memorandums, safety work rules that specifically identify a hazard, operations manuals, standard operating procedures, and collective bargaining agreements. In addition, prior accidents/incidents, near misses known to the employer, injury and illness reports, or workers’ compensation data, may also show employer knowledge of a hazard.”

Q: We routinely use a crane contractor to drop transmission poles between energized phases during hot-line transfers of our 115-kV system. Can the crane contractor’s operators operate under OSHA’s 1910.269 standards?

A: We have heard this question in various forms over the years, including a query as to whether an operator can act as a qualified person if he is guided by an electrically qualified lineworker. In most cases, the answer is no. The crane contractor is not a utility or a utility contractor, and the crane operator cannot be considered an electrically qualified person. Regarding the crane contractor, OSHA makes an exception for utilities for good reason. As observed by the agency in the preamble to 29 CFR 1926 Subpart CC, “Cranes & Derricks in Construction,” utilities have a long history of safe operation near power lines. That is because utility employees have specific, detailed training in working around those lines. OSHA recognizes the value of the historical level of specialty training and believes the exception for cranes operated by a utility’s electrically qualified employees to be reasonable. But this exception is very narrow. A note on page B-15 of OSHA CPL 02-01-038, “Enforcement of the Electric Power Generation, Transmission, and Distribution Standard,” states that a “qualified electrical worker normally undergoes a multi-year apprenticeship training program before he or she becomes fully qualified to perform all the different types of work that he or she would be expected to perform. This training includes not only the safety aspects of working on or near exposed energized circuit parts, but also training in the actual performance of specific tasks so that the work is of an acceptable level of workmanship” (see

Site- and task-specific training that meets the requirements of 1910.269(a)(2)(ii) can be used to train and qualify an operator to perform a specific task as a qualified person, but only for that particular task. The logic here, as well as the argument, relates to the first question answered above; the employer of the crane operator is not a utility with the degree of training, knowledge and expertise to electrically qualify the operator. And even though task-specific qualification need not be as comprehensive as the training normally provided to a qualified electrical worker, the crane company would not be able to provide justification that they can legitimately certify demonstrated proficiency in order to be an electrically qualified person as required in the standard.

Q: When an emergency rescue occurs on a bucket, I have always been taught to run and jump on the truck, which is no easy task – it is a shin killer. I watched a transmission and distribution video, and the guy in the video climbs on a truck with one foot on the step and the other on the ground. I have heard it is best to wear dielectric overshoes or to use a mat on the ground, which I doubt most lineworkers have readily available. Do you have any suggestions that might help?

A: The answer begins with the situation and whether the rescuer is electrically qualified. If the truck is not energized, there is no risk. It takes an electrically qualified person to be able to make that determination.

If the truck is energized, I foresee a lot of problems in trying to jump onto it. For starters, are there gradients around the truck? How far do they extend? If you are building up speed to make the leap, are you taking big steps or little ones? The obvious answer here is that if you are preparing to be able to climb onto a truck that may be energized, you should place an equipotential mat on the ground at the access point and lead onto the mat with an isolating bridge like Salisbury’s roll blanket material.

As to dielectric shoes, they are not a primary means of protection since they cannot be tested to assure their insulation quality like a blanket can be tested. Dielectric shoes are part of a system of protection, so I would hesitate to incorporate them as the method of protection from primary voltage contact. And although many utilities will likely object to this next observation, you could place a blanket on the ground as that would isolate the worker from contact.

There are a couple other beneficial considerations. First, most of the new computer-controlled hydraulics will not work when the truck is still energized. I have seen this twice in the past two years and talked with manufacturers about it. In both instances, while the truck boom was in contact, the arcing and voltage flowing confused the controllers so that they did not respond to inputs, nor was any boom activity initiated by either the bucket or lower controls. Second, to get back to your initial scenario, most bucket truck fiberglass booms and lower booms with built-in isolation will preclude energizing the truck if the boom and truck are set up in the proper configuration. Planning and setup are a significant part of accident prevention. We still want to plan for rescue as it is a real possibility. Prevention is best.

Q: Do you know how far a 500-gallon propane storage tank for a generator needs to be located from a substation? We are getting conflicting advice from our local propane companies.

A: Your question brings us an opportunity to explain an important issue for safety managers. It doesn’t matter whether the subject matter is propane tanks or safety glasses – the employer is still responsible for the information they use to establish their policies. You noted that the advice you received from local propane professionals is conflicting. It is not uncommon for workers operating under certain policies to believe that the policy they are providing is a standard or rule. Often it is not. In this Q&A column and throughout the pages of Incident Prevention, we work hard to assure the advice we give is the minimum standard, conventionally accepted and/or consensus approved. In addition, we run our answers through a gauntlet of industry-recognized experts to help assure the information we are providing is reasonable.

As to your question, we referred to NFPA 58, “Liquefied Petroleum Gas Code,” and drew some conclusions from there, even though the rule appears to be associated with residential applications. In note 1 to NFPA 58, we found this statement: “Regardless of its size, any ASME container filled on site must be located so that the filling connection and fixed maximum liquid level gauge are at least 10 feet from any external source of ignition (e.g., open flame, window A/C, compressor), intake to direct-vent gas appliances, or intake to a mechanical ventilation system.”

We also applied table H-28 of OSHA standard 1910.110, “Storage and handling of liquefied petroleum gases.” If you consider a substation as a source of ignition, and if you fill the tank from a truck, then it looks like the separation should be 15 feet.

Do you have a question regarding best practices, work procedures or other utility safety-related topics? If so, please send your inquiries directly to Questions submitted are reviewed and answered by the iP editorial advisory board and other subject matter experts.

Safety Management, Worksite Safety, Equipment Operations, Q & A

Jim Vaughn, CUSP

After 25 years as a transmission-distribution lineman and foreman, Jim Vaughn, CUSP, has devoted the last 24 years to safety and training. A noted author, trainer and lecturer, he is a senior consultant for the Institute for Safety in Powerline Construction. He can be reached at