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February-March 2019 Q&A

Q: We have crews working under a clearance on a de-energized circuit jointly controlled by two different utilities (employers). The concern is that the other employer’s personnel, wishing to bundle maintenance opportunities during the outage, are taking protective relays out of service on their end of the circuit. If a switch were inadvertently closed on their end, taking their relays out means no tripping protection since the other end of the circuit is open, too. Such an action could delay if not eliminate relay protection and raise current on the grounds protecting our workers. Is there an obligation between utilities to manage an outage under common rules?

A: There is an OSHA-based solution that comes in two parts. And even though your question is about grounding and tripping during inadvertent re-energizing, the solution to the issue actually lies ahead of grounding.

As you are aware, OSHA 29 CFR 1910.269(m) contains the rules for de-energizing lines and equipment for the protection of employees. That rule section is the pre-eminent means of ensuring no switch is ever closed without the permission of the employee in charge of the equipment or lines that have been de-energized and placed under their control. As you noted in your inquiry, we ground a circuit after the clearance process to ensure against any possibility of re-energizing. The grounding is based on an evaluation of relay trip settings to assure effective tripping to protect the crew under the clearance. Any change to the values or trip settings puts the crew at risk.

The issue you have correctly identified is that others – those not employed by the utility issuing the clearance – who know the circuit will be de-energized for a time could take the protective relays out of the system, which might create delay in the trip-to-lockout time in the event of inadvertent energizing. Such a scenario would be covered under the Multi-Employer Citation Policy (see And, even though OSHA never imagined the scenario, their intent for co-employer cooperation is clearly expressed in 1910.269(a)(3), “Information transfer,” which outlines the responsibilities for co-employers for the purpose of crew safety. 

Even if someone rejected the argument on the intent of the information exchange as applied to your scenario, they can’t ignore the intent of OSHA’s multiemployer policy. The policy was clearly developed to ensure that no employee is put at risk by the actions of another employer on the same work site. Although the wording of the policy does not specifically address the clearance issue, it is undoubtedly established for the same purpose: protecting workers. The multiemployer responsibility covers:

  • The creating employer, who creates the hazard that exposes workers, no matter who they are employed by.
  • The exposing employer, whose employees are put at risk by the hazard.
  • The correcting employer, who is engaged in a common undertaking, on the same work site, as the exposing employer and is responsible for correcting the hazard.
  • The controlling employer, who has control over the hazard that put the worker at risk.

In summary, OSHA holds both utilities responsible for your crew’s safe workplace. Note the following: 

  • Clearance and grounding rules are clearly established, and responsibility for the employer to the clearance-holder extends to both employers. 
  • A clearance – based on safe work procedures, such as ground ratings – cannot be altered by either employer once issued to the person in charge.
  • Employers must coordinate clearances on jointly controlled lines.
  • Responsibility by both employers to protect the crews working on the jointly controlled circuit is established by OSHA, and both utilities are equally liable for the crew’s safety.

It also is worth pointing out that the other utility who created the hazard, and who is not the employer of your crews, is not protected by the liability limits of workers’ compensation laws. 

Q: Some time ago, our utility installed fiber-optic in a 230-kV right-of-way. Now we are going back and trenching in a #10 bare copper in a PVC conduit for a means of tracing the fiber-optic. What is our responsibility based on the new OSHA rule regarding estimating induction risks, and what do your experts think are the risks and solutions?

A: The rule you are asking about is found at 1910.269(q)(2)(iv). That rule applies to installing overhead lines in the vicinity of energized lines and requires the employer to assess the risk and determine the level of induction that may be present. If the level of induction can’t be determined, it must be considered hazardous. The rules following 1910.269(q)(2)(iv) set out certain grounding requirements for risk mitigation. It’s obvious that your scenario does not match the scenario on which the rule is based, but you have rightly identified an induction risk, and your responsibility is to analyze and remediate that risk.

A disclaimer of liability for Incident Prevention magazine and our contributors is necessary here as this is an unusual scenario. We want readers to be clear we are offering suggestions in this article based on experience and assumptions. We cannot with any certainty ensure there are no risks other than those mentioned.

Further, there is no consensus standard that addresses this situation, so the thoughts that follow are educated assumptions or suggestions from individuals who are familiar with the phenomenon and management of inducted voltage. Still, we want to cover it here as an opportunity to work through a hazard analysis in an unusual condition.

Normally, a direct-buried conductor would not be subject to a potential rise if it was in direct contact with the earth. The voltage likely would bleed off into the ground. In this case, your conductor is in an insulating PVC conduit. In addition, you likely are feeding into the conduit from a large reel. We have to assume the reel is necessarily beneath the energized circuit. Our experts had not come across this question before, but all of them came to similar conclusions about what risks may occur and how to minimize them. Here are some of their thoughts:

  • Check for voltage on the reel. Most agreed that 240 kV is the threshold for induction to a reel on the ground, assuming the circuit conductors are 50 feet or so above. They wondered if – once the reel is installed, and before the bonding is connected to the mandrel (assuming you are using a bonded mandrel) – you could check for voltage between the conductor on the reel and a remote ground driven near the trailer. There were several different recommendations on which meter to use; a VOM at 1,000 volts while wearing Class 2 gloves was one suggestion, all the way up to a phasing meter set on the 4-kV scale just to be sure.
  • Use rubber gloves. Until you understand the level of risk, it makes sense to handle the wire reel and pulling-end conductor with rubber gloves. Doing so will limit shock risk, and it also will meet the OSHA rule to assume induction is hazardous until you can assure that it isn’t.
  • Ground the payout reel. Most agreed that induction into the reel of wire is likely and that if the reel is bonded through a grounding reel mandrel, induction will bleed off, limiting the risk of energizing the wire in the conduit.
  • Test for voltage at the end. Most wondered if it is possible to stop the pull just as the wire end exits the conduit in order to check for voltage with a meter. If you have a series of pulls with no detectable voltage, the assumption is that bonding the payout reel works to bleed off any induction.
  • Touch ground at the pulling end. Is it possible to provide a grounding element that will immediately ground the wire as it exits the conduit? Several thought of installing a screw-in temporary ground rod so that the wire can immediately be touched against the rod to discharge any voltage that might be present.

We hope you will follow up with us on what you found and what methods you adopted to control risks.

Q: What is the significance of the recently issued final rule on the certification of crane operators? I understand there are some changes.

A: The changes are not substantial. The original compliance date for certification of all operators was December 10, 2018. OSHA recognized that the literal terms of the rule for certification of operators did not match the crane industry standards and were hindering effective completion of licensing without adding any safety benefit. The original language specified particular classification of an operator based on crane type and lift capacity. The industry consensus standards for training and certification only designated the type of crane the operator was certified to operate. The differences in language between the industry and OSHA’s standard created a problem in literal compliance. After review and discussion with the crane industry, OSHA decided that using the terms “type” and “type and capacity” was limiting the certification process and served no safety interest, so they altered the language for the certification requirement. The new language allows an operator to be certified for either a type of crane or both type and capacity of a crane.

The language in the final rule also continues the employer’s responsibility to evaluate an operator’s competency. Until this revised language, the rules in effect could have been interpreted to assume that after an operator was certified, the employer no longer had a responsibility to ensure the operator’s safety and qualification. The basis for that employer evaluation of an operator were the competencies listed in Subpart CC, section 1926.1427, “Cranes & Derricks in Construction.” Those competencies were the same as those required to be certified by a third-party licensing agent.  OSHA wanted to be sure that employers understand that if an operator is licensed by a third party or auditor (see 1926.1427(e)), that does not exempt the employer from the responsibility to evaluate and ensure an operator’s qualification and safety. The operator third-party certification rule was effective December 10, 2018. Employers had until February 7, 2019, to document employer evaluation and training of crane operators.

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