Voice of Experience: How Does the Employer Ensure and Demonstrate?
As all of you now know, the updates to OSHA 29 CFR 1910.269 and 1926 Subpart V have been out for several months, and the October 31 enforcement date extension has come and gone. There were some anticipated changes to the standard that the industry was expecting, but the more subtle revisions I’ve seen may be the ones that are more difficult to implement. The industry was given extra time to understand and clarify some of the changes, and extensions in a few areas may be granted once again.
One requirement that will likely not be granted an extension is that the employer now has to ensure that regulations will be followed. In the former version of 1910.269 and 1926 Subpart V, regulations were generally stated, and it was implied that they would be adhered to by employees after the employer identified hazards and provided training and safe work practices with PPE. However, there is now a different spin on the wording that is going to require the employer to provide additional proof that employees are following training and work practices. Following are some examples of changes in the 1910.269 standard, and there are many more examples that require the employer to ensure that tools, equipment and employee actions meet the intent of the standard:
Previous version: Routine switching of circuits, if the employer can demonstrate that conditions at the site allow this work to be performed safely.
Updated version: Routine circuit switching, when the employer can demonstrate that conditions at the site allow safe performance of this work.
Previous version: The lines and equipment have been de-energized under the provisions of paragraph (m) of this section.
Updated version: The employer ensures that the lines and equipment are de-energized under the provisions of paragraph (m) of this section.
Previous version: Load ratings of stringing lines, pulling lines, conductor grips, load-bearing hardware and accessories, rigging, and hoists may not be exceeded.
Updated version: The employer shall ensure that employees do not exceed load ratings of stringing lines, pulling lines, conductor grips, load-bearing hardware and accessories, rigging, and hoists.
Previous version: Conductor grips may not be used on wire rope, unless the grip is specifically designed for this application.
Updated version: The employer shall ensure that employees do not use conductor grips on wire rope unless the manufacturer specifically designed the grip for this application.
Previously, the standard stated the rules and employees were expected to follow directives. After reading through the updated standard several times, I realized that the revisions increase an employer’s accountability. The question is, how does the employer meet these new regulations? In general, employers have record-keeping systems and are required by current and past standards to maintain certain documentation, but the revised standard is going to require a better accounting system in the event of audits or investigations after an accident.
Training, Proficiency and Documentation
While the older versions of the standard required certification of training when an employee demonstrated proficiency in job tasks, the new standard now requires the employer only to ensure that the employee has demonstrated proficiency in work practices.
For example, the previous version of 1910.269(a)(2)(viii) stated, “The employer shall certify that each employee has received the training required by paragraph (a)(2) of this section. This certification shall be made when the employee demonstrates proficiency in the work practices involved and shall be maintained for the duration of the employee’s employment.”
Now, the updated version reads as follows: “The employer shall ensure that each employee has demonstrated proficiency in the work practices involved before that employee is considered as having completed the training required by paragraph (a)(2) of this section.”
Additionally, Note 1 to updated paragraph (a)(2)(viii) reads, “Though they are not required by this paragraph, employment records that indicate that an employee has successfully completed the required training are one way of keeping track of when an employee has demonstrated proficiency.”
The industry is currently struggling with this statement. Without adequate documentation, how can the employer convince anyone that an employee has actually received the required compliance and skills training? Proficiency demonstrations will certainly confirm competencies, but I am not sure how the annual and biannual training required to maintain a state of compliance can be ensured without documented accounts of competency observations. Note that paragraph 1910.269(a)(2)(iv) did not change. It still reads, “The employer shall determine, through regular supervision and through inspections conducted on at least an annual basis, that each employee is complying with the safety-related work practices required by this section.”
Another example that was never specifically mentioned in the online webinars presented by OSHA in May is found in 1910.269(q)(2)(iv). The former version of the paragraph was very specific in its requirement that, in the case of wire-pulling jobs, new conductors be grounded while being installed. It also required that system safety grounds be installed no farther than two miles apart during construction and installation, and that they had to be removed in the last phase of installation before the line was to be energized.
Now, the updated version of the paragraph contains criteria that may be difficult for the employer to meet. It reads, “Before employees install lines parallel to existing energized lines, the employer shall make a determination of the approximate voltage to be induced in the new lines, or work shall proceed on the assumption that the induced voltage is hazardous. Unless the employer can demonstrate that the lines that employees are installing are not subject to the induction of a hazardous voltage or unless the lines are treated as energized, temporary protective grounds shall be placed at such locations and arranged in such a manner that the employer can demonstrate will prevent exposure of each employee to hazardous differences in electric potential.”
Note 1 to paragraph (q)(2)(iv) is what I find interesting and challenging. It states, “If the employer takes no precautions to protect employees from hazards associated with involuntary reactions from electric shock, a hazard exists if the induced voltage is sufficient to pass a current of 1 milliampere through a 500-ohm resistor. If the employer protects employees from injury due to involuntary reactions from electric shock, a hazard exists if the resultant current would be more than 6 milliamperes.”
The information found in Appendix C of 1910.269 provides information about the hazards of step and touch potentials. The question I ask is, during conductor installations near or parallel to existing energized conductors, as in re-conductoring, is this part of the standard met? I think the answer is that amp meters installed on traveling grounds and system safety grounds installed in this manner have always been required equipotential grounding. The hazards of induced voltages and differences of potential have always been present, and it was believed that the answer was for grounds to be no more than two miles apart. With the different types of systems in the industry, newer methods are required to protect the employee. If there is ever a doubt, a system safety ground installed at the immediate work location to provide the equipotential zone –sometimes referred to as a personal protective jumper in transmission operations – provides a safer work environment and removes the likelihood and presence of higher induced voltages.
The updated standard is a definite improvement in safety for industry employees, but meeting its requirements will be challenging. Hopefully your company is on top of these new requirements, and if you have any questions related to the standard or any other utility safety topic, Incident Prevention subject matter experts are available to assist you.
About the Author: Danny Raines, CUSP, safety consultant, distribution and transmission, retired from Georgia Power after 40 years of service and opened Raines Utility Safety Solutions LLC, providing compliance training, risk assessments and safety observation programs. He is also an affiliate instructor at Georgia Tech Research Center OSHA Outreach in Atlanta. For more information, visit www.electricutilitysafety.com.