June 2014 Q&A

Q: Can you help us with regard to fall protection practices while working on top of a roof or in areas near substation transformers? We are aware of the exceptions for qualified climbers in OSHA 29 CFR 1910.269. How does that affect us?

A: Most utilities will tell you that they don’t require fall protection to work a weatherhead on a roof. Many have no fall protection requirements or programs for working on top of transformers. I am aware that some utilities use the definition of a working surface issued by OSHA – at least once every two weeks or for a total of four man-hours or more during any sequential four-week period – as proof that a roof or transformer top is not a work surface and therefore an exception. (See December 18, 1997, OSHA interpretation letter to Niagara Mohawk Power Corp. at https://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=INTERPRETATIONS&p_id=22508.)

The rationale is that such work areas are accessed so infrequently or for such a short period of time that there is minimum risk. Over the years, and in several archived OSHA interpretations, the administration roundly rejects that argument since a rooftop as well as a substation transformer are well-recognized fall hazards.

The fall protection rules can be found in 1910.269(g) and 1926.951(b). In the notes to 1910.269(g) you will find that transformers and capacitors are not covered by these rules, but instead are covered as walking and working surfaces by 1910 Subpart D under unprotected edges or surfaces, or work platforms. 1910 Subpart D requires a guardrail, which is not very practical, but OSHA has recognized the issue several times and would consider other types of fall protection as de minimis. Regardless of how you interpret 1910 Subpart D, you cannot ignore rule 1926.501(b), which clearly requires fall protection for employees.

What it boils down to is that you work off of a ladder or use fall protection. There are now several portable stanchion systems designed for use on transformers as well as temporary portable stanchions for work on steel. When determining how you should best protect employees from falls from roofs, keep in mind that a work-positioning system requires an anchor rated for 3,000 pounds; a fall arrest system has a 5,000-pound anchor requirement.

The fall protection standard has no provisions for fall restraint systems, but OSHA does recognize and allow use of any system that prevents falls. Restraint systems prevent falls and can be used to stop an employee who has slipped or is sliding on a sloped roof. Systems that restrain an employee must be able to withstand the force expected against them. OSHA recommends a strength of twice the force expected to be imposed against the system. (See November 2, 1995, OSHA interpretation letter to Envirocon Inc. at https://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=INTERPRETATIONS&p_id=21999.) OSHA may prefer to see some version of an engineered fall arrest system for weatherheads, but as far as we know, few exist that would work on every type of roof or be acceptable to customers whose roofs you try to bolt to.

Even if your choices are limited, it is still the employer’s responsibility to prevent fall injuries. Incident Prevention is not advocating any particular type of restraint practice, but fall protection planners shouldn’t dismiss any potential means of reducing risk. We are aware that some utilities allow attaching to a weatherhead mast based on what they have learned from experience. If you prevent a fall using a system that simply allows the worker an opportunity to gather balance and control, you have prevented a fall and likely prevented an injury even if you have to replace a bent mast.

Q: In “Train the Trainer 101: Working from Crane-Mounted Baskets” (December 2012), we read that a “person may not safety-off to a structure and the basket at the same time.” I was able to find this information in OSHA 29 CFR 1926.453, “Aerial lifts,” but I can’t find anything about it in 1926.1431, “Hoisting personnel.” This regulation and your statement are unclear to me. If a worker is accessing another work area from a crane-suspended basket or aerial lift, should they not be 100 percent protected from a fall?

A: The answer to your question comes in several parts. First – and it may sound counterintuitive – OSHA does not require 100 percent tie-off for all utility operations. Many utilities have established 100 percent tie-off and that is good, but sometimes it does create conflicts with what is actually required by the statutes, what is available in the fall protection marketplace and what tasks have to be performed in the workplace.

The rules that would apply to transfer from a basket to a structure are not in the cranes and derricks standard. Though pinned-on man baskets are covered in the cranes and derricks standard, work from and transfer from a man basket are covered in the aerial lift rules, specifically 1910.67(c)(2)(iii) and 1926.453(b)(2)(iii). The rules do not actually mention transferring from a man basket, and that is part of the issue. The two rules mirror each other and prohibit a worker from being tied to a structure while working from a basket. The rule assumes the worker is tied off to the basket at the same time. Oddly enough, the rules associated with transferring from a scaffold to a structure do not address which facility the transferee should attach to, allowing attachment to either the structure or the platform during transfer. (See May 3, 2001, OSHA interpretation letter to H B Training & Consulting at https://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=INTERPRETATIONS&p_id=24311.) Per 1926.1431(k)(3), a suspended basket that is not landed is required to be tied to the structure before an employee transfers.

OSHA has been asked this question several times and, as usual and quite correctly, OSHA answers the questions it is asked. That answer is no – under the aerial lift rules, you cannot allow an employee to tie off to a structure while the employee is tied to a basket. No one asks if it is OK to disconnect fall protection from the basket during transfer to tie off to the structure. In this case, under new rule 1910.269(g)(2)(iv)(C)(3), a climber has to be 100 percent protected from a fall except for some conditions. The conditions are not clearly delineated, but there are examples of what OSHA would consider. If the employer can meet the criteria for those exceptions, a competent climber transferring from a basket to a tower without being tied off to the basket during the transfer would not be considered a violation.

In the new fall protection standard, OSHA would likely recognize this scenario as one of those exceptions to 100 percent fall protection, at least for the seconds the worker is transferring. If you are tied off to both platforms, it is literally not possible to transfer from one platform to the next without violating the standard. Many utilities struggle with this issue because they have created rules on their property requiring 100 percent fall protection.

This issue also arises when transferring from a helicopter short-haul rope to a structure. Incident Prevention is not recommending this device, but we are aware of the Wishbone (www.wishbonesafety.com), a three-legged lanyard. At 200 pounds, one of the legs breaks away. The Wishbone was designed as a way to provide 100 percent fall protection during transfer from a helicopter to a tower. OSHA has answered at least two questions regarding use of the Wishbone and, in both cases, indicated that in view of the rules cited, it is still a violation to be tied off to two different structures at one time. So, at best, use of the Wishbone would be a de minimis violation. (See February 2, 2004, OSHA interpretation letter to USA Airmobile Inc. at https://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=INTERPRETATIONS&p_id=24774 and February 15, 2005, letter to Dynamic Scientific Controls at https://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=INTERPRETATIONS&p_id=25012.)

Q: We have realized that arc protective wear is increasing clothing weight. In the past, we allowed some employees to work in short sleeves, but our new program prevents that. Does risk of heat illness justify an exception to arc protective clothing?

A: There is an issue with heat illness risk and arc protective wear. However, an employer would be hard-pressed to get a general exception for arc protective wear based on heat illness risks. Yes, the issue of greater risk of heat illness caused by use of arc protective clothing has to get just as much attention – if not more – than arc protective wear. If we were to think about how often workers are burned in a flash as opposed to the risk of heat illness because of protective wear, we would probably discern that the risk of heat illness is much greater than arc exposure.

Since there is not an index of how much heat exposure a worker can tolerate, the best practice is training. Workers have to understand the elevated risk, what the symptoms are, how to protect themselves, and what do if they recognize the symptoms of heat illness in themselves or others.

Good practices include issuing reminders as temperatures rise, such as heat alerts. Safety leaders can also influence pre-task planning with guidance about preventive measures when faced with heat stress risk. Workers should take frequent breaks, plan work in phases to minimize stress, and frequently hydrate and trade work assignments throughout the day. Train crew members to adopt high levels of communication among themselves. They should also be trained to have strong observation skills as well as a thorough understanding of heat illness risks.

There are other things we can do, too. First, many utilities have made assumptions to establish risk categories. Why wear Category 3 protective wear when you could be using Category 2 as the result of a detailed analysis? Use the minimum required level of protection to reduce clothing weight, work de-energized to remove the risk and use air circulation devices such as hard hat ventilators if full-face protection is being worn. The new standards require face protection at different levels according to risk. Using a balaclava may be a good practice, but if it is an extra-regulatory step, it could lead to a heat illness risk that may be just as serious a threat as an arc flash. Eliminating clothing that is not required will reduce a lot of heat retention.

Q: We are confused about the new safety shoe requirements for lineworkers. It appears that the new rule requires electrically rated boots for workers. Is this true?

A: The new rule is a slight rewording that makes electrically rated boots a secondary layer of protection that may be used, as opposed to the former version that required electrically rated boots as a primary form of worker protection.

The current rule, found at 1910.136(a), states that the “employer shall ensure that each affected employee uses protective footwear when working in areas where there is a danger of foot injuries due to falling or rolling objects, or objects piercing the sole, and where such employee’s feet are exposed to electrical hazards.”

The new rule, effective July 10, 2014, recognizes that the original rule created issues with other parts of the code that require inspection and testing of electrical protective equipment used for primary means of insulation or isolation that could not be met with an electrically rated work boot. This is the same issue with insulating overshoes. OSHA changed the electrical reference to read, “… or when the use of protective footwear will protect the affected employee from an electrical hazard, such as a static-discharge or electric-shock hazard, that remains after the employer takes other necessary protective measures.”

A strict interpretation would be that if the practices and procedures remove the risk, electrical protective footwear is not required. The opposite is also true. If a job hazard analysis identifies risks from ground, potential electrically rated boots would be required. This secondary level of protection could also be met with overshoes.

Do you have a question regarding best practices, work procedures or other utility safety-related topics? If so, please send your inquiries directly to kate@incident-prevention.com. Questions submitted are reviewed and answered by the iP editorial advisory board and other subject matter experts.

Worksite Safety, ppe


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.

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