June-July 2023 Q&A
Q: How do consensus standards apply to the employer responsibility for safe work practices? Are they absolute?
A: No, consensus standards are part of a system the employer can use to develop their safety programs. The issue is, can the employer defend their programs that do or do not conform to the consensus standards? Compliance with a consensus standard does not ensure compliance with OSHA. In fact, OSHA has clearly defined the role of consensus standards as useful for the employer in complying with the more performance-based requirements of the OSHA standard. “Performance-based” refers to how OSHA rules tell the employer what must be accomplished but do not dictate how the employer accomplishes compliance with the rules. The definition on applying consensus standards also goes on to say in Appendix G to 29 CFR 1910.269 that OSHA will not necessarily deem compliance with the national consensus standards to be compliance with the provisions of 1910.269. In the most recent revisions to 1910.269 and 1926 Subpart V, OSHA dropped the use of “adopted” consensus standards – a process that treated the “shall” portions of select consensus standards as enforceable – in favor of “referenced” standards. Referenced standards are not enforceable as rules, but OSHA will often use the language found in a referenced consensus standard in a General Duty Clause citation.
Q: We have a concern regarding a lineworker’s body belt being incorporated into a full-body harness. Some manufacturers make their harnesses to accommodate the traditional leather lineworker’s body belt, while others build their harnesses with a body belt as an attachment or a permanent part of the body harness. If a lineworker’s body belt must meet ASTM F887, how is it legal to use one in a body harness that has smaller D-rings?
A: This is one of the tools of the trade that gets consensus standards coverage from different sources. In the U.S., the two principal standards covering a lineworker’s body belt and/or harness are ASTM F887 and ANSI Z359. The consensus standards seem to overlap, and some people say they are in conflict, but that is not really the case. Part of the difference between the two bodies of standards is how the tools are used. ASTM F887 focuses on work positioning; ANSI Z359 is focused on fall protection. Traditionally, the lineworker’s body belt was not about fall protection as much as work positioning. The strength and performance requirements were more about holding the worker on a vertical surface. As fall protection rules evolved, the body belt incorporated a portable anchorage for fall protection. That system was limited in application to restrict falls to 2 feet or fewer. The later revisions of the F887 standard addressed body belts as fall protection. But the fall protection components themselves are covered in the newer ANSI Z359 consensus standards.
The older of the two consensus standards, ASTM F887, was originally strictly about acceptance testing components of the lineworker’s leather body belt, leather and/or synthetic lanyards, and the snap hooks attached to D-rings. Later revisions and the current edition of F887 also address the traditional lineworker’s body belt as well as the full-body harness with a system of belts and straps designed to incorporate a body belt. The ANSI Z359 series of standards covers a wide variety of fall protection devices, components and systems primarily centered around the full-body harness. The scope of the Z359 standards includes performance, design, qualification, use, maintenance, training and inspection of every component of fall arrest systems, from carabiners to retractable lanyards as well as harnesses. And even though the Z359.1 standard for fall protection does not specifically use the phrase “work positioning,” it includes the construction testing and inspection criteria for the components constructed into a work-positioning attachment for a body harness. The Z359 standard is more universal in its approach, detailing construction of components and subcomponents assembled into a variety of systems for a variety of applications. The several consensus standards do not conflict with each other. It is important to remember the wisdom written into F887 standard 1.8: “It is the responsibility of the user of this standard to establish appropriate safety and health practices and determine the applicability of regulatory limitations prior to use.”
The purpose of ASTM F887 and ANSI Z359 is to ensure equipment purchasers of the quality and performance of climbing and/or fall protection equipment. As the F887 standard states, it is the employer’s responsibility to determine what the fall protection requirements are and then to select the appropriate equipment to accomplish the task. Using the consensus standards and assuring that purchased equipment is labeled as complying with the consensus standards appropriate to your needs help to ensure the quality and performance of the purchased equipment.
Q: We understand the universal 50-volt threshold of risk for electrical shock. However, our safety procedures allow meter workers and relay techs to work barehanded on circuits below 250 volts when setting meters and when working relay circuits and modules. Are we violating OSHA rules when we allow this?
A: We don’t think so, but this is dependent on the training you do and the qualification of those employees, as well as handling procedures in those circumstances. The issue here is differentiating between the requirements of minimum approach distance, which do not necessitate cover for that voltage class (avoid contact), and the language used in OSHA 1910.137(c), “In-service care and use of electrical protective equipment.” The OSHA standard does not say you must use rubber gloves, but the language they use indicates that they expect you to if you are going to make contact with an uninsulated energized conductor. OSHA does not have a table of tasks that require rubber glove use. However, the tasks cited in your question don’t require the worker’s contact with energized conductors. Meters plug in and out, but they are handled by the case, and the worker can keep hands and fingers clear of the stabs and energized components behind the meter. The relay circuits are handled by the insulating part of the wire and the insulating case of the modules, so again, there is no need for hand/finger contact with the energized components.
Regarding the meters, for years we handled them barehand or with work gloves as protection from broken glass. As an added precaution for unexpected conditions, most utilities now require Class 0 or 00 at a minimum when plugging/removing meters. Still, OSHA’s rules are based on exposure. You can avoid contact by how you handle the meter or relay wiring, so you can defend the rule as written. As the employer, you must be able to defend your procedure based on the requirements of the OSHA standard. However, if you have had a contact doing either of these tasks, you must consider whether the procedure was deficient or if the worker erred in the task. That’s why most utilities we deal with glove up for setting/removing self-contained meters.
Q: Should first aid and CPR refresher training be conducted on an annual basis? We were providing annual refresher training to our power plant personnel, but our new leadership wants to do it every two years instead.
A: A couple of the big first aid/CPR systems are establishing two-year renewals.
Most annual renewals are following the note to OSHA 1910.269(a)(2)(v)(C) that requires retraining on an annual basis. The note states, “The Occupational Safety and Health Administration considers tasks that are performed less often than once per year to necessitate retraining before the performance of the work practices involved.”
The mandatory requirements for first aid are found in 1910.269(b)(1). That rule states “first aid,” but OSHA interpreted in a 2003 letter to IBEW Local 1466 that CPR is a component to first aid, stating, “If the rescue technique could be expected to expose a rescuing employee to energized parts of more than 50 volts, then that employee would have to, in accordance with 1910.269(b)(1), be trained in first aid, including cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). For your field work scenario involving two employees at a work location, each person would need this training due to the electric shock hazard” (see www.osha.gov/laws-regs/standardinterpretations/2003-03-27).
The issue about the two-year training interval may be the nature of the majority of people who get CPR training. Most of them do not have a higher likelihood of being in the presence of someone who has been electrocuted. We do. As such, a frequency of yearly may be justified. OSHA has not ruled or advised on the two-year CPR issue. Many consultants agree that if the national standards establish a two-year training, OSHA would accept that. However, remember that OSHA’s note to 1910.269(a)(2)(v)(C) regarding the rule on retraining clearly states “once per year.” A close look at the relevant OSHA standard in the note can have some bearing on your defensibility of the two-year interval.
Q: Is there an OSHA standard that requires self-rescue devices to be included in aerial platforms when someone is working alone?
A: There is no requirement mandating self-rescue in OSHA 1910.269 or 1926 Subpart V, but it could be interpreted that way in the case of a fall arrested from a bucket. Many people incorrectly interpret OSHA as requiring prompt rescue. However, that term is applied when a worker arrested in a fall is suspended and subject to suspension trauma.
An August 2000 OSHA letter of interpretation to Charles Hill shows the vagueness of the implied expectations. You can read the entire letter at www.osha.gov/laws-regs/standardinterpretations/2000-08-14-0.
What does the rescue provision require? Here’s OSHA’s answer: “Prompt rescue, as required under §1926.502(d)(20), is not defined in the standard. The particular hazard that §1926.502(d)(20) addresses is being suspended by the fall arrest system after a fall. While an employee may be safely suspended in a body harness for a longer period than from a body belt, the word ‘prompt’ requires that rescue be performed quickly – in time to prevent serious injury to the worker.”
Electrical utility and telecommunications workers sometimes work alone. The worker’s safety status is maintained through normal work rules and operating procedures, limiting the probability of needing rescue.
In the past, OSHA recognized the use of fire departments and technical rescue. That, of course, assumed reliable communications system access to the lone employee. The prevailing standard suggesting self-rescue comes from 1910.140(c)(21), which states that the employer must provide for the prompt rescue of each employee in the event of a fall. Additionally, 1926.502(d)(20) states the following: “The employer shall provide for prompt rescue of employees in the event of a fall or shall assure that employees are able to rescue themselves.” Note that both standards refer to prompt rescue in the event of a fall. If no fall occurs, the OSHA standard does not address prompt rescue.
The bottom line is that there is no requirement for self-rescue unless the employer determines that self-rescue in the event of a fall is the best option. A radio-equipped worker hanging from a harness could rely on a rescue service if a crew member were not present to assist.
Q: What is the consensus in the utility industry on transferring from an aerial device onto a pole structure using a personal fall arrest system at 100% tie-off on an approved anchorage point?
A: We don’t believe there is a consensus. Over the years, OSHA has consistently stated that being tied off to a tower or structure while working from a bucket is a violation of the standard. OSHA does not differentiate between “working from” and “transferring from.” They have stuck to two rules – 1910.67(c)(2)(iii) and 1910.67(c)(2)(v) (see full text below) – requiring a worker in a lift to be tied off to the lift and preventing a worker in a lift from being tied to a separate structure. Transferring to a structure from a lift is not addressed in either 1910.269 or 1926 Subpart V.
OSHA 1910.67(c)(2)(iii) states the following: “Belting off to an adjacent pole, structure, or equipment while working from an aerial lift shall not be permitted.”
In 1910.67(c)(2)(v), OSHA states, “A personal fall arrest or travel restraint system that meets the requirements in subpart I of this part shall be worn and attached to the boom or basket when working from an aerial lift.”
When the 1926 Subpart CC cranes in construction rules arrived, there was reference to transferring from a platform to a structure. Paragraph 1926.1431(k)(3) states, “Before employees exit or enter a hoisted personnel platform that is not landed, the platform must be secured to the structure where the work is to be performed, unless the employer can demonstrate that securing to the structure would create a greater hazard.” OSHA made no comment as to how or if the worker should adjust or move their fall protection during the transfer.
As far as OSHA is concerned, there is no acceptable method simply because of the language in the standard. The rule says you cannot be connected to two anchorages of separate structures at one time. In past interpretations, OSHA has used the example of a rigid structure and a movable platform, be it a helicopter, crane or bucket. Oddly enough, citing past incidents, OSHA believes the structure or pole is more likely to fail than the movable platform. And yes, their argument is silly, but they have yet to explain or change their opinion.
For all practical purposes, we recognize that being anchored to the tower before we disconnect from the bucket is the safest way, and many employers would require it. Being untethered between tower and basket would seem to violate all of the various fall protection standards. Among lineworkers, most would be comfortable preparing to transfer, transferring their fall protection clip to the tower and exiting the basket. The time to clip in and disconnect is momentary and represents little risk. In a 2004 letter of interpretation to the CEO of USA Airmobile regarding transfer from a helicopter to a structure (see www.osha.gov/laws-regs/standardinterpretations/2004-02-02), OSHA stated that using a hybrid three-legged fall protection system (Wishbone) that connects to both tower and lift with a preferred breakaway to transfer would still be a violation. However, OSHA agreed that it would be a de minimis violation and no citation would be issued. “De minimis” means that OSHA recognizes a technical violation of a rule occurred, but there was no risk to the worker. In the crane standard, the transfer is from a platform tethered to the tower, which is not the same thing as a man tethered to the platform, even though a man in a crane-suspended platform is required to be tied in. And to top it all off, a crane-mounted basket is the same as a crane-suspended platform in the 1926.1400 cranes standard.
So, what’s the bottom line? OSHA has not effectively addressed the issue of transferring from a basket to a tower. We do hazard analysis and training and then choose a procedure that best protects the worker from falling. In doing so, we accomplish the OSHA objective: to protect the worker using procedures that we can justify in light of the standards in effect.