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.

June-July 2020 Q&A

Q: Should we worry about beards in relation to arc flash? At our company, we think hair generally protects the body against extremes. Do you know of any evidence to the contrary? A: Here is what we know: Human hair is protein fiber. It will burn when exposed to a flame but stop burning when the heat source is removed. Human hair does not melt; it becomes a fragile ash that turns to powder when crushed. This property is known as self-extinguishing. Hair is pretty much like cotton – it burns away. As such, it is not a hazard related to arc flash and actually provides some protection. OSHA does...

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Train the Trainer 101: The ABCs of Grounding Mobile Equipment

Across our industry, I have found all kinds of policies for grounding trucks. I also have found that in many cases, employers’ rules for grounding trucks are not based on OSHA requirements and – even more concerning – are not based on sound principles of protection. I believe the grounding policies are well intentioned, but they fail to achieve two important goals: (1) meeting the OSHA standard and (2) protecting workers where electrical contact hazards exist. So, let’s take an ABCs approach to the issue because even though some detailed explanation is required, it really is that simple. A Defensible...

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April-May 2020 Q&A

Q: Recently we had an employee reference OSHA 29 CFR 1926.960(f) and 1910.269(l)(7), “Conductive articles.” The question is, can an employee work in an energized area while wearing jewelry, and earrings in particular? The rules discuss conductive articles such as watches, bands, rings and chains, but I do not see where it mentions earrings.  A: When it comes to interpretation, it is good to confine a rule to the language used, but sometimes you also have to address the intent. The concern that drove the creation of this rule was whether jewelry, which is conductive, increases electrical...

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Train the Trainer 101: FMCSR Awareness

When analysts look at utilities, and to some extent utility contractors, they often see what’s referred to as “mission creep.” That occurs when the expertise of the utility should be focused on quality and continuity of service but begins to be compromised by focus on too many other areas. The opposite of mission creep is when business elements that are critical to successful progress toward the goal get overlooked because of focus on the goal. One business element that gets less attention than it deserves are big trucks and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR). Granted, 75%...

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February-March 2020 Q&A

Q: Where does OSHA’s switching and lockout/tagout policy draw the distinction between generating plants and the plants’ substations, particularly with metal-clad substations? A: It depends more on the equipment used than a distinct line, and it has to do with OSHA’s intent, equipment design and practicality. Let’s look at this from the perspective of intent. OSHA intends that employers have an energy control plan that protects workers. LOTO was developed for that and has worked very well over the years. The data shows that LOTO has been directly responsible for a dramatic decline in severe and...

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Train the Trainer 101: Know OSHA – or Pay the Price

There are two reasons why it’s problematic not to know OSHA. The first reason gets the employer in trouble. The other reason gets everyone in the utility sector in trouble. Let’s begin this installment of “Train the Trainer 101” with a discussion about the first reason and why it’s important to know OSHA from the perspective of rules and regulations. There are some realities we need to acknowledge to understand the difficulties different employers face. These are generalities based on my experience; I do not seek to classify all sectors of the utility industry as the same. It is a reality that...

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December 2019-January 2020 Q&A

Q: As a contractor doing transmission maintenance, we see many different constructions of statics at the tops of transmission poles and structures. They’re grounded, and we always thought they were safe to handle with leather gloves. Now we’re hearing that statics should be grounded temporarily for worker protection. What’s the explanation for that? A: It’s called a “static,” but don’t forget that the voltage and current flowing on it is induction-coupled alternating current that will kill you. As an industry, there are a lot of utilities that have worked statics in leather gloves and have had...

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Train the Trainer 101: Rigor and Discipline

The date was January 28, 1986. The event was the tenth and final flight of the Space Shuttle Challenger. Seventy-three seconds into flight, the booster rocket that was lifting Challenger into space exploded, killing all seven astronauts aboard. When events like the Challenger explosion happen, you never forget where you were at the time. You remember the iconic photos and the national days of mourning for those lost. After the Challenger explosion, President Reagan appointed the Rogers Commission to investigate the disaster, and some of you may remember the news commentary on the Rogers Commission...

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October-November 2019 Q&A

Q: Are utilities required to have a written fall protection program that follows a written hazard analysis? A: It’s not a bad idea because the process assures a fairly complete assessment of fall risks that makes training and protection of workers more effective. We know the source of your confusion because it’s a question we get often, and we’ve looked into it. It takes some deciphering, but here is how the confusion starts. We often hear of power and telcom companies reading OSHA 29 CFR 1910 Subpart D, “Walking-Working Surfaces”; seeing 1910.28, “Duty to have fall protection and falling object...

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