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October 2014 Q&A

Q: I can’t seem to clarify what U.S. Department of Transportation hours-of-service rules apply to utility workers. Are we exempt from the rules?

A: The university studies and experience of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration that prompted the hours-of-service rules do have some value to us as an industry with drivers. The data used to form the rules shows that fatigue affects performance. This is a model that can help us to establish safe practices with our drivers. However, there is good reasoning for exemptions when the work we do ensures electrical service for users that helps keep them safe and healthy. And because of this reasoning, there are utility exemptions for driver logs as well as hours of service, which include time behind the wheel as well as other work performed by a driver. By the way, FMCSA clarifies that when calculating hours of service, line work or any other work for the employer – including work not associated with driving – is classified as on-duty not driving time.

Employees operating utility service vehicles as defined in 49 CFR 390.5 are exempt from 49 CFR 395 hours of service and the requirement to keep log books. However, every state has the authority to impose hours-of-service rules or to interpret hours-of-service rules as they deem necessary for the safety of the public, so there are differences in enforcement between states.

Also keep in mind that the exemption does not always apply to contractors performing construction or contractors traveling to and from jobs outside the utility’s service area, except in response to an emergency.

The basis of the rule is that electricity is necessary for public safety. Construction of a new line does not constitute maintaining service in support of public safety.

We are not asked for logs when traveling to storm work, but contractors are frequently asked for seven days of logs when traveling between states, when crossing ports of entry or during routine roadside inspections. In many states, contractor vehicles are not considered utility service vehicles, and the exemptions do not apply unless they are performing dock work as a utility maintenance or operations crew. In those cases, “Authorized Contractor” signs on the doors of the utility’s trucks help to eliminate confusion for enforcement officers.

One last observation: Since electricity is necessary for public safety, hours-of-service rules are waived for both utility and contractor crews during states of emergency such as traveling to storm work. Over the years we have seen state enforcement agencies enforce hours-of-service rules on the return trip from storm duty, which is certainly reasonable. Many safety professionals can relate incidences where crews spent weeks on storm restoration duty with no incidents only to lose a lineworker in a crash on the way home.

Q: We were advised by a vendor that the new OSHA rules require a body belt with four D-rings so they can be used with fall protection equipment and secondary safeties. We were also told that you cannot attach two snaps in a single D-ring. Do we need to buy new four-ring belts for all of our lineworkers?

A: There might be legitimate reasons for an employer to provide four D-ring body belts, but a requirement by OSHA is not one of those reasons. The practical reason some people use four rings is to eliminate the possibility of confusing snaps while transferring from fall protection to secondary safety while crossing obstructions. Most people would agree, though, that confusing which snap goes to which device is unlikely since they are usually very different in material and color.

Many people ask us this question as it is easy to get confused by the language in the rule. Basically, there is no requirement to use a four D-ring belt. The issue is how snaps become inadvertently dislodged in D-rings. The longtime restriction for the number of snaps that can be engaged in a single D-ring is based on locking or nonlocking snaps. Nonlocking snaps can press against the gate of the other snap and twist each other out. Locking snaps cannot. Read the rule closely and, in 29 CFR 1910.269(g)(2)(iv)(F), you will see that it qualifies “unless nonlocking snaps are used.” By the way, if you read the transcript of OSHA point man David Wallis’ webinar on fall protection, he was directly asked if it was prohibited to use two locking snaps in a single D-ring. His answer was a simple no – it is not prohibited.

Q: Does it violate minimum approach distance rules to lift wire with a bucket? If that is considered a violation, where are the rules published? We can’t seem to interpret how OSHA might rule on the practice.

A: We encourage you to adopt lifting trees, especially those mounted to a digger derrick boom, for a very practical reason. Lifting with or without a tree mounted on a bucket frequently overloads the capacity of the bucket/boom. But even more importantly, if something goes wrong, you are trapped by the phases attached to the bucket and you can’t escape.

IEEE 516, “IEEE Guide for Maintenance Methods on Energized Power Lines,” is a consensus standard adopted by OSHA. IEEE 516 (g) states, “The aerial device, including buckets or platform and upper insulating boom, should not be overstressed by attempting to lift or support weights in excess of the manufacturer’s rating. To protect the fiberglass parts, none of the parts of the bucket, platform, or upper arm should be used as a support point for prying or lifting.”

Another concern we would like to address is the placement of rubbered-up phases on a bucket or boom. Doing this puts the bucket in a work configuration for which it is not designed. We are aware that it is not an uncommon practice to lift covered phases on the lip of a bucket. To many, the insulation rating of a bucket and boom seems to make it an electrically safe practice. But the design and purpose of a bucket is to provide positioning of the worker, not positioning of conductor. The boom provides insulation from ground for the worker. Placing phases, even though they are covered, makes the bucket an insulation device for phases, not workers.

In IEEE 516 7.5.1 you will read, “Vehicle-mounted devices are used to position the worker in contact with or near energized lines or equipment and provide electrical insulation between the energized equipment and the ground potential at the vehicle location. Examples of vehicle-mounted devices include aerial ladders, articulating boom platforms, extendable boom platforms, vertical towers, and telescoping boom platforms.”

IEEE 516 also tells us that workers can reduce minimum approach distances if they cover with the properly rated materials such as hose. However, when using any cover, the worker still has to maintain the air distance or electrical component, which is provided by the cover. The only exception is when gloving an energized phase. In that exception, and as explained by the 516 standard, the bucket provides the required secondary isolation to protect the worker while gloving the energized phases. If phases are on the bucket or boom, they are not in brush contact, so they are in violation of the operational safety procedures established for working hot with cover. Placing a phase in rubber and then compressing it onto the bucket does not comply with the IEEE standard as it violates the brush contact design of the rubber hose.

IEEE 516 states, “Insulating cover-up materials and blankets do not have a mechanical load rating. This equipment is designed for brush type contact and not to support load in compression or tension.”

All of the above is not meant to confuse or criticize work practices, but is an effort to encourage use of insulated-phase lifting trees. The citations of the standard and practical safety observations are justification for doing so.

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.

Safety Management, Worksite Safety, Equipment Operations, ppe

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