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Expand Pre-Job Briefings to Include Your Hydro-Excavator Partners

Editor’s Note: This month’s Tailgate Topic has timely advice to ensure crews working with unknown subcontractors are kept safe. Remember that OSHA requires those subcontractors to be qualified for the assigned task and that their employer is responsible for their safety. Having subcontractors observe and participate in a line crew’s tailboard is a good way to help them ensure safety without directly supervising their work practices.

Most state’s dig laws restrict the use of mechanized equipment within specified tolerance zones of buried utilities. Because of these laws, hydro-excavation trucks working in conjunction with electric line crews are now more prevalent throughout the industry.

Hydro excavation removes soil with pressurized water while using a vacuum to transfer the soil to a debris tank. These trucks and their operators are now integral parts of a line crew’s day-to-day work. Hydro excavators assist with everything from setting poles and installing underground cable to potholing for directional boring equipment.

A contractor who was directional boring fiber within our utility easement recently had an incident. This contractor was using a hydro-excavation truck to expose existing underground utilities within the easement. While working, there was a boom malfunction with the truck that resulted in the boom rising into our 12.5-kV circuit and locking it out. Thankfully, there were no injuries due to this incident. And though the incident did not happen directly with our crews, it still raised the question: What can we do to help prevent something similar from happening in the future within our groups?

At NIPSCO, we determined that a good way to help prevent an incident from happening would be to involve these hydro-excavator operators in our pre-job briefings. OSHA 29 CFR 1910.269(c)(2) identifies the minimum subjects to be covered within a pre-job briefing: hazards associated with the job, work procedures involved, special precautions, energy-source controls and personal protective equipment. The remainder of this month’s Tailgate covers topics that may be helpful to expand upon when hydro-excavation truck operators are a part of your pre-job briefings.

Truck Positioning
Discussions about truck positioning should include both the location where operators will need to perform their tasks and the staging area. If an operator is working along a roadway and utilizing traffic control, include their truck in the work-zone protection plan. Also verify what part of the truck the operator prefers to work from. That preference will help determine the positioning of bucket and digger derrick trucks that are being used in the same location.

Emergency Stops
A hydro-excavation truck should be equipped with an emergency stop. The emergency stop will be in different locations depending on the make, model and year of the truck. During the pre-job briefing, ask the operator to show the crew members where the stop is and how to operate it. Discuss some possible scenarios in which the emergency stop should be used. Also verify the operator has performed all required pre-trip inspections of their equipment.

Work-Zone Considerations
During the pre-job briefing, discuss the hydro-excavator truck operator’s role as part of the crew and where and when they can be in the work zone. While they’re performing their work, keep them out of harm’s way. In my experience, I’ve seen larger pole replacement jobs where operators worked ahead of the line crews, performing excavations for the next pole to be set. Be sure when conductors are being moved that they are not within that span of wire. Identify and communicate all potential drop zones during the briefing. Make operators mindful of – and help them understand – some of the terms we use to communicate to crew members on the ground, such as “moving wire,” “headache” and “in the hole.”

Fall Protection
Fall protection is another important item to cover with hydro-excavator truck operators. Some excavations for direct-bury poles can be upward of 12 to 15 feet deep. If there has been a soil analysis and engineering has determined extra depth for poles is required, it’s fair to expect higher potential for a cave-in.

In the past, when augering holes using a digger derrick truck, there was no personnel in proximity of a hole being drilled. With today’s techniques plus utilizing hydro-excavation trucks and operators, there is an individual beside the excavation throughout the entire process. Depending on the soil type, terrain and depth of the hole, there is real potential for a cave-in or collapse, which could result in a worker falling into the hole. Provisions should be made and followed for these circumstances as they present themselves in the field. Some contractors may already have policies in place to prevent this type of incident.

Here’s one question that should be asked and documented during the pre-job briefing: What are the triggers that require the operator to tie off? I recently witnessed a crew member being assigned the role of hole attendant. Their responsibilities were much like those of a dedicated observer. At a safe distance, this person monitors the hole and soil conditions opposite the operator. They are also responsible for keeping members of the line crew at a safe distance while other work is being performed on-site.

This is not an all-inclusive list of topics to cover with hydro-excavation truck operators at the pre-job briefing. However, by including these operators in the briefing, the conversation will likely lead to discussion of other hazards specific to the job site.

The bottom line is that we should put just as much emphasis on keeping these hydro-excavation truck operators safe as we do with our line crews. I’m hopeful that these topics will be helpful in your pre-job conversations and will prevent future incidents within your organization.

About the Author: Phillip Ramey II is a journeyman lineman and safety advocate for Indiana-based NIPSCO, where he has been employed for 20 years.

Phillip Ramey II

About the Author: Phillip Ramey II is a journeyman lineman and safety advocate for Indiana-based NIPSCO, where he has been employed for 20 years