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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?

A: First, we must be careful when we interpret OSHA work rules and remain clear that an exception to a rule does not mean it is the best choice. We imagine that the old 4-kV cutouts you referred to are the enclosed porcelain body with the fuse spring-clipped in the door. We should address some work methods here, but let’s clear up the two-man rules first.

We noticed you are writing from a state that has an OSHA state plan. In your state, the plan has adopted the federal OSHA rules in their entirety. That means you are right; rules as written in 1910.269 apply, but they are enforceable by your state plan compliance officers. We can’t always assume that state plan compliance officers will interpret rules the same way federal OSHA compliance does. According to the standards for two-man work, it appears that the exposure you explained is likely a violation of the prevailing state plan standards. The OSHA standard, as you described correctly, allows routine switching. We would describe “routine” as a switching operation for the purpose of rerouting power and dropping or picking up loads under normal operations. Routine switching is performed by a qualified person with hot sticks; mechanically linked, electrically isolated operators; motor operators; or SCADA systems. “Routine” is usually interpreted as non-emergency switching, which does not have the complications of emergencies that include nighttime or storm restorations of power and the additional related hazards.

The work you described requires two qualified persons for the following reasons. The second person must be able to observe and call out warnings before a worker aloft gets too close to a hazard or an energized exposure. The second person must also be capable of acting to rescue the worker in an emergency and perform CPR or first aid. Storm work alone or without a qualified second person can be in violation of two rules that require two workers: 1910.269(l)(2)(i)(C) (installation, removal or repair of equipment, such as transformers, capacitors and regulators, if an employee is exposed to contact with parts energized at more than 600 volts) and 1910.269(l)(2)(i)(E) (other work that exposes an employee to electrical hazards greater than or equal to the electrical hazards posed by operations listed specifically in paragraphs (l)(2)(i)(A) through (l)(2)(i)(D) of this section). We suggest that replacing fuses is likely considered “repair” as found in 1910.269(l)(2)(i)(C) and certainly that “other work” includes replacing fuses in a close energized environment.

Each edition of Incident Prevention’s Q&A series is reviewed by an editorial advisory board whose members are highly qualified experts in the utility field, and everyone on the advisory board agrees that this exposure as described is likely to be a violation of the rules and an unnecessary risk to workers.

You also write to us from a small municipal utility. A small muni is a close community where everybody knows everybody. That is a good thing, but it sometimes leads to extraordinary efforts to keep the lights on, and often the risk in doing so is not fully realized. That’s why we have the benefit of written standards. A written standard of performance like 1910.269 helps us keep aware of and in tune with responsible choices.

As to work methods, when our work brings us into the minimum approach distance, we are required to cover up to eliminate the contact hazard. In difficult conditions such as storms or other emergencies, the act to cover energized phases can add extra hazards to the task. That is a good reason to delay the task until more favorable conditions exist or a crew can be on-site. Not knowing the details of the construction, the first thing we would ask is, are the 4-kV leads down to the fused cutouts tapped with hot-line clamps that can be removed with a shotgun before you move in to work the switch? We know most are “bugged” on in 4 kV, so replacing those with hot-line clamps might help to reduce the hazard. Alternatively, you could consider a program to replace those fuse enclosures with 15-kV dropouts if space on the pole permits. That will allow hot-stick use and eliminate having to get too close.

Q: A question came up at one of our safety meetings about fall arrest versus fall restraint on a tower. We are wondering, if we are on a tower, are we still following OSHA regulations if we decide to work and move on the tower using two fall restraint devices instead of one fall restraint device and one fall arrest device (i.e., double belting and not letting ourselves fall more than 2 feet)? The reference from OSHA as I understand it is 1910.269(g)(2)(iv)(C)(2), which states, “Except as provided in paragraph (g)(2)(iv)(C)(3) of this section, each employee in elevated locations more than 1.2 meters (4 feet) above the ground on poles, towers, or similar structures shall use a personal fall arrest system, work-positioning equipment, or fall restraint system, as appropriate …” Can we use just one of the three systems, such as two fall restraints, and be compliant since there is no anchorage meeting the 5,000-pound rule? In doing so, we are assuming double belting would be legal. Our fall arrest systems and fall restraint become a burden on the tower. Our linemen seem to be smoother, safer and are ready in the work-positioning belt on every transfer. We would love to hear your opinion.

A: It’s easy to get confused as to the applications and definitions of the categories of fall prevention systems. OSHA, IEEE 1307-2018, ASTM F887 and ANSI Z359 all prescribe and define three modes of personal fall protection as a personal fall arrest system, work positioning and fall restraint. Fall restraint uses an adjustable lanyard that prevents a worker from walking off the edge of a walking surface by adjusting the restraint to limit travel. In this mode, there is no fall. What you are describing is in the work-positioning category.

Work positioning is a system typically consisting of two safeties rigged to a body belt with two D-rings as a double safety, where one of the two is always attached and the fall is limited to less than 2 feet. Work positioning is a popular and OSHA-compliant choice on towers. The problem with the safety strap is that it won’t keep you from sliding down the structure if you cut out. Rigging the work-positioning equipment at the waist concentrates arresting forces at the waist. With work positioning, you must keep the fall distance arrest impact to 2 feet to limit stress on the body at the waist. A worker can use a full-body harness in work positioning, but the worker’s rigging connected at the waist is still arresting at the waist and must limit the fall distance to 2 feet. The 6-foot fall limit applies with a body harness to lanyard attachments on the upper body attachments that distribute arrest forces across the body.

OSHA doesn’t care what method or combinations of methods you use as long as you are prevented from falling following the fall-distance and impact stresses found in 1910.269(g)(2) and 1910.140(d)(2)(ii). Those requirements are that a personal fall arrest system be rigged so the employee cannot free-fall more than 6 feet, contact a lower level or impart a maximum arresting force of greater than 1,800 pounds, or that work positioning rigged at the waist limits the fall to 2 feet and arrest forces to 2,000 pounds.

Most utilities are using a double lanyard or Y lanyard work-positioning fall prevention system with large pelican hooks to snap around lattice as they climb. Also popular is the first man up. The first man climbs with work-positioning double lanyards and anchors a fall prevention system rope to the tower. The rest of the crew uses rope grabs, sliding up the rope as they climb. In their work position, they use work positioning, fall arrest or a combination of the two to move around the tower at the work location.

Q: I have two questions. One, does OSHA or the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations address how to prevent a person from falling off a bucket truck while entering or exiting the bucket? And two, is a condominium homeowners association liable or responsible for roofers who aren’t wearing fall arrest devices while working on condo building roofs?

A: We are not experts in roofing, but we’ll offer some advice based on our experience that likely will answer your question.

As to the bucket truck question, we have the answer to that one, and it’s pretty clear. The FMCSR do not address fall protection; that is OSHA’s purview. Part 399, Subpart L of the FMCSR, “Step, Handhold, and Deck Requirements for Commercial Motor Vehicles,” addresses requirements for maintaining slip resistance to prevent falls. If a roadside inspection finds damaged steps or grease on walking or ladder surfaces as described in Subpart L, a citation might be given to the driver. However, actual falls from trucks are not reportable to or investigated by Department of Transportation or FMCSR enforcement. OSHA, on the other hand, does cover fall protection and investigates falls in any workplace incident that results in a hospitalization or fatality.

As to the OSHA rules, there is no fall protection required for entering or exiting a bucket. First, that would be impractical. The nature of fall protection is twofold: the fall arrest system must not allow a worker to fall more than 6 feet, and the fall arrest system must not allow the falling worker to hit a lower level. For the worker to enter or exit a bucket, the lanyard must be long enough to get in or out. If it’s long enough to get in or out of the bucket, a fall during the process would still allow the worker falling to hit an object below the work level. The only way to accomplish fall protection during entering or exiting requires some anchorage suspended over the bucket, thus the issue of practicality. Manufacturers do design in-bucket access, intended to provide some fall prevention via slip-resistant footholds and handholds as addressed in the FMCSR and in the construction specifications of part 4.9 of ANSI A92.2, “Vehicle-Mounted Elevating and Rotating Aerial Devices.” The employer must ensure that contact surfaces are serviceable and kept free of oils or contaminants that might reduce handholds, and the step surfaces must be maintained to prevent loss of foothold. In addition, directly from the OSHA rules, operators crossing equipment are exceptions to fall protection when crossing the equipment to enter or exit the workstation, per the definitions in 1926.500.

“Walking/working surface” means any surface, whether horizontal or vertical, on which an employee walks or works, including floors, roofs, ramps, bridges, runways, formwork and concrete reinforcing steel, but not including ladders, vehicles or trailers on which employees must be located to perform their job duties.

Ladders, vehicles and trailers are all work surfaces that come into question. It is possible to provide some fall protection for certain industrial trailers when they stop at repeated locations, allowing construction of protected access. Some other trailers, like tanks, allow for a walkway with a handrail along the length of the trailer. But attaching a handrail to a fiberglass boom is not practical.

As to your second question, we are not able to offer legal advice, but we have several highly experienced consultants on Incident Prevention’s editorial advisory board who provide expert witness testimony in OSHA cases and have experience that might be useful. We can tell you from that experience that in a civil case where an injured worker sues the employer, if the workplace is not an employer-owned facility, the property owner is also sued. In most cases, the property owner is dismissed from the case because they are not the employer, they do not know the rules, and they have no direct control over the craft operation. This is similar to OSHA’s Multi-Employer Citation Policy. If an incident occurs on a construction site, employers who are on the site may be cited by OSHA for violations of regulations that resulted in incident injuries. The premise of the multi-employer policy is that those other employers on the site knew the safe work regulations and were aware or should have been aware of the violative conditions that caused the incident and could have taken action to remove the hazard. A condo association is not likely to be familiar with the rules or violations of the rules. Still, the dismissal typically comes after thousands of dollars in attorney fees. We advise condo associations to ask their lawyers about the risk. They will likely be encouraged to ensure by contract that the contract employer meets all worker protections as required by the controlling agency.

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.

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