Author: Jim Vaughn, CUSP

After 25 years as a transmission-distribution lineman and foreman, Jim Vaughn, CUSP, has devoted the last 20 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 jim@ispconline.com.

A Close Look at Step and Touch Potentials

The topic of step and touch potentials is controversial, which is precisely why we need to discuss it. In my role as a work methods auditor and consultant, I see more variations in how employers address step potential than in any other aspect of equipotential bonding. I know the reasons for this and will address them here. But first, I need to clearly state the following: The theoretical argument for hazardous step potential in electric utility work environments clearly exists. Every employer must assess the hazards of step potential in their work environments and adopt a plan to protect exposed...

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April – May 2022 Q&A

Q: Why are communications systems bonded to a utility system neutral? Doesn’t that make the communications messenger a parallel neutral path? A: Yes, it does, but this is a case of “Which is worse?” There are a number of things we do for one purpose that create hazards for another. We must know the issues and choose what we will do. Down guys are one example. In transmission and distribution, many utilities install insulators in the upper section of a down guy to isolate it from the electrical environment at the top of the pole. The purpose is to protect the public from the potential of a hot...

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February – March 2022 Q&A

Q: Is it a good idea to wear dielectric boots in a substation? Do they provide additional protection to a worker? We feel that the worker is at equipotential – given the grid and stone are maintained per design – so we don’t believe that dielectric boots would provide extra protection. What are your thoughts? A: The design of the substation’s grid has two purposes in its construction. One incorporates ground rods to create a low-resistance electrical path to get harmful voltage and current into the earth to protect the equipment in the station. The grid itself helps by interconnecting the rods....

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Safety Signs and Sign Policy

You might be surprised how a little thing like a safety sign can turn out to be one of your company’s biggest financial losses of the year. Over the last decade, I’m aware of three clients who lost big because a sign they put up was the wrong color, the print was imprecise, or the employer didn’t have a sign policy or effective safety sign training. Let’s start with having a sign policy. When helping to develop any policy, I always tell clients that the policy you write is only as good as the training you provide when you roll it out. For instance, if I were to research signs in preparation...

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Containing Contagions in Close Quarters

Pandemic preparation is nothing new. In fact, I have been telling employers since the 1980s that a pandemic plan is one of the business/safety mechanisms they should have in place. It’s just good practice to address and interrupt a contagion that could potentially immobilize the employer’s workforce. The United States has been researching pandemic responses since a swine flu outbreak in 1976, but few if any publications back then addressed workforce contagions. The earliest literature on organized pandemic responses appeared around 1976 when the U.S. government established formal research panels...

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December 2021 – January 2022 Q&A

Incident Prevention magazine still receives many questions about the different facets of equipotential bonding. In this installment of Q&A, we provide detailed answers to several of the most frequent questions in an effort to help the industry better understand and resolve these issues for the safety of their workers who use temporarily grounded systems. Q: We have heard that we should be bonding baskets to the grounded transmission or distribution bus to equalize voltage differences between the basket and grounded phase. The idea of using a jumper bond from an insulating aerial lift to...

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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...

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Eating the Elephant

There is an adage applied to seemingly insurmountable jobs: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” Of course, being quite literal, my first thought after hearing the adage for the first time was, “Won’t it spoil before you finish?” And that’s the problem with safety management. There’s too much to do and too few people to do it. One way you are assured to fail is to try to do everything at once. Even a plethora of half-measures do not create sustainable change. Change comes from using a methodical approach to solving problems. If you are one of those overworked safety professionals,...

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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 example, if two objects are rubbed together, especially if the objects are insulators and the surrounding air is dry, the objects acquire equal and opposite charges. So, why are these definitions of “static” important? Because what you are experiencing is not static – it is induction. Why is that important?...

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