October-November 2019 Q&A
Q: Are utilities required to have a written fall protection program that follows a written hazard analysis?
A: It’s not a bad idea because the process assures a fairly complete assessment of fall risks that makes training and protection of workers more effective. We know the source of your confusion because it’s a question we get often, and we’ve looked into it. It takes some deciphering, but here is how the confusion starts. We often hear of power and telcom companies reading OSHA 29 CFR 1910 Subpart D, “Walking-Working Surfaces”; seeing 1910.28, “Duty to have fall protection and falling object protection”; and begin writing complex compliance programs following the Walking-Working Surfaces rule. There is nothing wrong with a robust hazard analysis program that drives training, but if you are doing it to comply with a standard, you may not need to. If you read closely, you will find an exception for both telcom (see 1910.28(a)(2)(vi)) and electric power transmission and distribution (see 1910.28(a)(2)(vii)). The T&D exception relies on compliance with 1910.269(g)(2)(i).
But wait, it gets better. OSHA 1910.269(g)(2)(i) requires T&D fall protection to comply with Subpart I, “Personal Protective Equipment.” The PPE standard includes 1910.137, “Electrical Protective Equipment,” and 1910.140, “Personal fall protection systems.” If the reader starts at the beginning of Subpart I, “General requirements,” they will find that the subpart requires a written hazard assessment, referring the reader to Appendix B (see (1910.132(d)). Seeing that requirement, they begin writing a hazard analysis. However, if you read Appendix B closely, there is not one reference to a hazard assessment for fall protection. The appendix refers only to impact, penetration, compression (roll-over), chemical, heat, harmful dust and light (optical) radiation.
We’re still not done yet. The fall protection section of the PPE standard found at 1910.140 is entirely about equipment and use. Nowhere in 1910.140 is there a requirement or criteria for training or a fall risk hazard assessment. In 1910.140(d)(1)(v), the rule says any employer following Appendix D of Subpart I will be in compliance with the fall protection requirements. Appendix D is entirely about equipment specifications and application. Subpart I also refers to Appendix C, “Personal Fall Protection Systems Non-Mandatory Guidelines.” In Appendix C, paragraph (e), we finally find a reference to fall protection training. The paragraph starts by immediately stating, “As required by §§ 1910.30 and 1910.132 …” However, 1910.30 is Walking-Working Surfaces, from which utilities are exempt, and 1910.132 is the hazard assessment standard that has no references for fall protection.
So, now you have circled through the OSHA logic and still have no clear answer. Here is what we recommend: OSHA mandates training and demonstration of skills in 1910.269(a)(2)(ii)(D) that generally require training in the use of the special precautionary techniques and PPE, which would include climbing techniques and fall protection equipment. And in 1910.269(a)(2)(viii), the rule requires that 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.” Paragraph 1910.269(g)(2) contains the requirements for fall protection equipment as well as the criteria for a qualified climber.
So, fall protection for climbers does not appear to require a hazard assessment, although it is required for other PPE used by a utility. Fall protection for utility workers is exempt from Walking-Working Surfaces except for substation workers, who get the last OSHA curveball. Even though the first section of Walking-Working Surfaces exempts utilities, OSHA refers substations back to compliance with Walking-Working Surfaces. A note to 1910.269(g)(2)(iv)(C)(3) states the following: “These paragraphs apply to structures that support overhead electric power transmission and distribution lines and equipment. They do not apply to portions of buildings, such as loading docks, or to electric equipment, such as transformers and capacitors. Subpart D of this part contains the duty to provide fall protection associated with walking and working surfaces.”
Q: The utility I work for had a “drive-by” inspection by a state-plan OSHA compliance officer who said he stopped because he saw a violation – that crew members were not wearing sleeves with their Class II gloves on a 13.2-kV pole changeout. The compliance officer said there is no longer an exception. What is the rule?
A: I know it will be hard to believe, but that compliance officer was wrong. I hope you gave notice of intent to contest the citation as you will be successful if that is the only citation. If your state plan rules are the same as federal OSHA rules, the glove and sleeve rule does have an exception. Rule 1910.269(l)(4)(i)(B) is the exception to mandatory sleeve use provided that “[w]hen installing insulation for purposes of paragraph (l)(4)(i)(A) of this section, the employee installs the insulation from a position that does not expose his or her upper arm to contact with other energized parts.”
The compliance officer may be referring to an OSHA Electrical Transmission & Distribution Partnership best practice that applies only to partnership contractors. The best practice is to always use sleeves when using gloves. For partnership companies, that practice invalidates the sleeve exception and is enforceable by OSHA in some circumstances under the General Duty Clause. You can find the partnership best practice on cradle-to-cradle use of insulating rubber gloves and sleeves at www.neca-neis.org/powerlinesafety/press-room/detail-page/best-practices/2021/12/30/cradle-to-cradle-use-of-insulating-rubber-gloves-and-sleeves.
Q: Are there any standards that explain when an apprentice lineworker can work on an energized circuit or any rules about what constitutes supervision of an unqualified person?
A: Those are decisions that the employer must make. OSHA does not specify what employees are qualified to do even though OSHA does have requirements in order for someone to be considered a qualified person. Using those rules, we can determine or set standards for what an apprentice is qualified to do.
The first expectation is that all craft persons must be qualified to perform work. Qualification according to OSHA means that they are capable of identifying and controlling the risks associated with hazards presented by the tasks. In the definition of a qualified person, OSHA states that employees who are undergoing underground on-the-job training are considered to be qualified if they have demonstrated an ability to perform duties safely and if they are under the direct supervision of a qualified employee. The issue is the definition of “direct supervision.” In CPL 02-01-038, “Enforcement of the Electric Power Generation, Transmission, and Distribution Standard,” published in June 2003, we find OSHA’s definition of direct supervision as follows: “Observing an employee closely enough to provide immediate feedback in case the employee is about to perform an unsafe act (work practice). The purpose of this close supervision is to ensure that proper safety rules, operating procedures, and electrical safety-related work practices are being followed” (see www.osha.gov/sites/default/files/enforcement/directives/CPL_2-1_38.pdf).
In practical language, we recommend that any program involving direct supervision meet the following criteria:
- Supervision from a position that provides immediate feedback sufficient to prevent an unsafe act.
- Assurance that safety rules, operating procedures and safety-related work practices are followed.
Do you have a question regarding best practices, work procedures or other utility safety-related topics? If so, please send your inquiries directly to firstname.lastname@example.org. Questions submitted are reviewed and answered by the iP editorial advisory board and other subject matter experts.