Back to the Basics: PPE 101
Have you ever noticed that management likes to show up to monitor the helicopter operations? Doesn’t it seem like all the attention is paid to helicopters, stringing operations and setting 500 kV transformers? Does the same crowd show up when one of your workers is trimming trees on the right-of-way (ROW) without a face shield or chaps? Or when someone is wearing an unbuttoned FR shirt with the sleeves rolled up? How about when you climb into a vault with an attendant that’s too busy texting his girlfriend to make sure that your air monitor was calibrated recently?
I’ve often wondered why people in the office and on the ROW place so much importance on some activities, but overlook the basics. I’m not saying that flying a bridge can’t be dangerous – I’m simply pointing out that walking in and out of the hole without wearing a hard hat can be just as fatal if you get hit in the head with a wrench dropped from 110 feet.
I’ve worked in both the office and the field, and let me assure you that your managers and the other people who work in your office care about you. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t pour millions of dollars into equipment and tools so you have everything to complete your tasks, and they certainly wouldn’t spend money to write grounding, operations and safety manuals. They wouldn’t send your crews to countless training classes. When someone is injured in the field, and the office writes a new policy and another rule, that’s their way of trying to tell you they care. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always come across that way. Sometimes I don’t think we need new policies – we need to follow the guidelines that we already have in place, like wearing PPE.
A True Disconnect
Too often, there is a big disconnect between the office and the field. People in the office don’t truly understand the day-to-day activities on the ROW, and workers in the field don’t understand what management has to deal with. The message received in the field is that big operations are scary and dangerous, but daily, routine activities pose little to no risk.
On the other side of the fence, management many times gets that idea that their workers have no regard for safety. What do you think tends to get the most attention in the home office – backing over a generator when you’re moving to the next tower or the 1,759 tasks your crew completed excellently from tailboard to 9:15 a.m.? The fact of the matter is that management and field employees are sitting on the same side of the table. No one wants to see anyone injured. If they aren’t on the same side of the table at your company, they need to make a concerted effort to get there.
If your duties require you to work in the office, there are a number of things you can do to help field workers. Get out of the office and on the ROW as much as possible. Visit large crews and especially the small crews. Talk to the line. Limit your conversations about recordables and costs and just get to know them. They probably know who you are, so shouldn’t you know them? Find out where they are from and what they like to do. Ask about their kids and families. They are pretty interesting people! Forget about workers’ compensation in the field. You care about your workers’ well-being – let them know. The recordables will gradually fall into place.
Lead by Example
When it comes to PPE, I’ve had much more success getting crews to wear theirs when I wear mine. Wear what you require your workers to wear when you are in the field. Maybe you aren’t officially doing hands-on work, but you need to set the example since you are in the vicinity of some high-risk activities. You stand a much better chance of promoting good behaviors on the ROW if you practice them yourself. Workers will take PPE much more seriously when they see that you truly take it – and them – seriously. I’ve been amazed by the positive responses I’ve seen when the director of the division just happens to show up for a morning tailboard and lets the workers know that he appreciates their efforts.
Your communication with management is vital when you’re in the field. Tell them about the good things happening every day at every opportunity. Discuss a problem or challenge that was successfully resolved with creative rigging. Invite them to come out to the yard to watch the next assembly. When management takes you up on your offer, explain what is going on and point out the challenging aspects of the work you are performing. Wear your PPE, and tell them why you are wearing it and how it is helping you. Mention upcoming tasks or locations that you are concerned about from a safety aspect. The important thing is to get management involved and keep them involved in what you are doing.
I can’t stress enough that you must be respectful of the tools and equipment provided. Managers notice little things like drawings on the insides of toolboxes. They notice the little dings and scratches on new trucks. Keep materials neat and stacked, wear the PPE that is required in your company handbook and show them you are a qualified professional. If and when there is an incident in the field, your management will know that you approach each task with skill, knowledge and integrity. Give your management plenty of opportunities to see you working safely and competently. Wearing the appropriate PPE is one of the first steps you can take to show management that you are a professional.
Tailboards and PPE
Following is what OSHA has to say about tailboards and PPE:
“1910.269(c): ‘Job briefing.’ The employer shall ensure that the employee in charge conducts a job briefing with the employees involved before they start each job. The briefing shall cover at least the following subjects: hazards associated with the job, work procedures involved, special precautions, energy source controls, and personal protective equipment requirements.
“1910.269(c)(1): ‘Number of briefings.’ If the work or operations to be performed during the work day or shift are repetitive and similar, at least one job briefing shall be conducted before the start of the first job of each day or shift. Additional job briefings shall be held if significant changes, which might affect the safety of the employees, occur during the course of the work.
“1910.269(c)(2): ‘Extent of briefing.’ A brief discussion is satisfactory if the work involved is routine and if the employee, by virtue of training and experience, can reasonably be expected to recognize and avoid the hazards involved in the job. A more extensive discussion shall be conducted:
“1910.269(c)(2)(i): If the work is complicated or particularly hazardous, or
“1910.269(c)(2)(ii): If the employee cannot be expected to recognize and avoid the hazards involved in the job.”
Why Wear It?
I can’t count the number of times I’ve attended a tailboard and heard, “Stay out of the bite. Stay out of the hole. Everybody be safe. Now let’s go to work!” In these situations, work begins with no discussion of PPE. Sound familiar? Take a second and answer this question: Why should you wear PPE? You should wear it because a discussion about PPE is an OSHA requirement during tailboards and, moreover, it’s selfish not to wear it.
You and your crew have to know why you are wearing PPE. When I am coaching someone in the field or reminding them to wear a hard hat or full body harness, I’m not thinking about following rules for the sake of following them. I’m not thinking about OSHA and recordables, or citations and fines. I’m thinking about the things workers probably haven’t thought of – like how an injury or fatality might impact their children, grandchildren or significant others. I’m thinking about how difficult it might be for them to make mortgage and truck payments without income. Maybe your pole buddy buys his mother a bag of groceries every week because she is on a fixed income and his dad passed away last year. When someone is seriously hurt, it affects so many people around them. It’s selfish not to protect yourself.
Maybe you don’t care if you are hurt, but there are many people around you who do. A couple of years ago I happened across someone working in hot medium-voltage switchgear with no suit or barricade. They explained that suiting up was uncomfortable. Do you know what I think is really uncomfortable? Trying to hold back tears is uncomfortable. That giant lump in your throat is really uncomfortable. You think going back to the truck at 3 p.m. on a Friday to grab the right gloves is inconvenient? I think going to a funeral is inconvenient.
Your Last Line of Defense
PPE is your last line of defense when everything else goes wrong. Occasionally, I’ve heard disgruntled workers refer to OSHA’s General Duty Clause (29 USC 654). I ask them if they’ve ever read it. The clause states:
“(a) Each employer (1) shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees; (2) shall comply with occupational safety and health standards promulgated under this Act.
“(b) Each employee shall comply with occupational safety and health standards and all rules, regulations, and orders issued pursuant to this Act which are applicable to his own actions and conduct.”
Look at the second part of the clause: “Each employee shall comply … his own actions and conduct.” The employer has obligations, but so does the employee. Your employer has probably provided all of the necessary PPE for whatever task you are about to complete. When all else fails, PPE is your last line of defense. Your children may not understand why you didn’t wear FR correctly. Will they understand, “Your Daddy loved you very much?” Wear PPE and wear it correctly.
The information available to companies and employees regarding PPE is overwhelming, and you could write volumes on the subject. However, ANSI has compiled this information and your company safety department probably already has access to it. That’s what they referenced to write your company’s safety manuals. If you have any doubts about what should be worn to help protect you on the line, contact your safety department. Here is some information to help you get started.
Most of us realize that protective helmets such as hard hats absorb shock from falling objects. Everyone in this industry should be wearing a Class E hard hat tested to withstand 20,000 volts. Not only does your hard hat protect you from falling objects and electrical current, it also provides great visibility to your buddies on the tower. When you look across a job site you see a field of hard hats, and then you notice the people wearing them. Hard hats are for visibility, too. They need to comply with ANSI Z89.1. Hard hats decompose over time – becoming brittle from sun and chemical exposure – and should be replaced after impact or if inspection reveals cracks or excessive scratches. Remember that defective or damaged PPE should never be used.
Eyes and Face
Yes, you are the coolest looking lineworker on the ROW. Fair enough. Do your glasses have ANSI Z87.1 printed on them? If they don’t, take them off and get a pair that does. That goes for management, too. Wear what is required when you are on the ROW. Incidentally, a face shield does not replace the need for safety glasses. Safety glasses provide a level of impact resistance that face shields do not. Refer to NFPA for arc flash requirements. Safety glasses need side protection from flying objects. That means side shields for those employees who use impact-resistant prescription lenses. The bottom line is that you need your eyes to perform your duties. Why take chances?
I haven’t run into any lineworkers who are afraid to invest in good boots. Management, on the other hand, needs to remember to set a good example. When you visit the ROW, show your crews you take the company safety program seriously by wearing compliant footwear. Considerations for footwear selection include falling or rolling objects, objects that may pierce the sole, ankle support and comfort while climbing. Nonconductive soles should meet the requirements of ANSI Z41 PT91 (M/F) I-75 C-75 EH. EH inside the tongue lets you know the boot possesses the electrical hazard designation and passes a 14 kV test when new. A CD in the tongue means the boot is conductive for bare-hand bucket work and prevents buildup of static. Metatarsal guard protection should be worn while backfilling trenches with a tamper.
Stop jumping out of the pole truck without your vest. I know you are only crossing the county road for a minute to get back on the ROW, but how long does it take to get clipped by a side mirror? ANSI recently changed reflectivity requirements. Ask your safety department to ensure your company policies are current. On highways, where the average vehicle speed is 45 mph or greater, vests with sleeves should be worn. This helps you look less like a traffic barrel to oncoming traffic. Flammability is another consideration while working in energized areas. Ensure your crews aren’t wearing vests that might burn or melt should they be exposed to electrical arc or flame. Clothing like this can increase the extent of injury to a worker should an arc occur.
Hearing protection is probably ignored more than any other type of PPE. We work around a lot of noisy equipment. Earplugs only cost a couple of cents. You won’t even realize that your hearing has been affected for several years and by then it’s a little too late. Many old-timers have told me that they don’t have a problem hearing unless they are in the vicinity of background noise, such as a fan in their home. When your child gets married, it would be nice to hear the ceremony, wouldn’t it?
Every company has a policy regarding fall protection. Some utilities are beginning to require 100 percent tie-off. Know your company’s plan and follow it; exceed it. Below is what IEEE has to say about fall protection in the utility industry. Does your company’s policy match up with IEEE? If not, ask why.
IEEE Std 1307-2004
6.2 Climbing, transitioning, and transferring
“… Fall protection equipment is not required to be used by qualified climbers climbing or changing location on poles, towers, or similar structures, unless conditions such as, but not limited to, ice, high winds, damaged or questionable supports or members, the design of the structure (i.e., no provisions for holding on with hands), or the presence of contaminants on the structure, could cause loss of footing.
“Horizontal access to the worksite on a cross arm that requires the worker to move on his/her hands and knees or in a crawling-on action shall be performed using fall protection unless the cross arm is designed to permit the climber to use that method of climbing. …”
IEEE Std 1307-2004
22.214.171.124 Multi-worker bucket or platform aerial device
“(b) The transfer is made to or from the device through a door …
“(c) Two or more climbers shall be available at the point of transfer. One shall remain in the basket or platform and be attached to the aerial device at all times.”
We aren’t going to be able to eliminate all hazards in the utility world. However, we can reduce our exposure to hazards by wearing the proper gear. We, the readers of iP, need to set the example. We are coaches, mentors and professionals. Take the opportunity to prevent an injury. PPE is part of our uniform!
• ANSI/ISEA 207-2006: American National Standard for High-Visibility Public Safety Vests
• ANSI/ISEA Z89.1-2009: American National Standard for Industrial Head Protection
• ANSI/ISEA 105-2011: American National Standard for Hand Protection Selection Criteria
• IEEE Std 1307-2004: IEEE Standard for Fall Protection for Utility Work
• The Field Guide for Powerline Workers (Van Soelen, Wayne, Delmar Cengage Learning, 2007)
About the Author: Heath J. Haukland, CUSP, has more than 20 years of industrial and institutional MEP construction experience. He holds a degree in occupational safety and health technology and is a member of IEEE and ASSE. Haukland currently works on the Sunrise Powerlink Project in Southern California as a safety manager and field safety advisor for Burns & McDonnell and San Diego Gas & Electric, respectively.