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Tag: Worksite Safety

The Case for Enhanced First-Aid Training for Lineworkers

Imagine you are working in a remote wilderness area on difficult terrain. The job involves setting poles, running wires, trimming trees, operating heavy machinery and working at elevation in track bucket trucks or hooks on a pole. The potential for serious injury is present, and extrication will be difficult if an injury occurs.  This scenario begs the question, are basic first-aid and CPR training enough for a situation like this? Should enhanced first-aid training be considered for remote utility work? Could training some of our lineworkers in advanced first aid help them more effectively...

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June – July 2022 Q&A

Q: Why does grounding alone not prevent static discharges, and why don’t we have to ground all flammable dispensing drums and stations? A: “Flammable” is a relative term, and some of the written standards are detailed to the point that they can be confusing. The best thing any facility can do is to consult a chemist, chemical engineer or fire science specialist to survey and equip your flammable operations. The simple explanation has to do with volatility, which is how easily a chemical vaporizes and then how flammable that vapor becomes and at what temperature. Every chemical in the workplace...

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Best Practices for Bucket Truck Rescue

Bucket trucks are among the most frequently used pieces of equipment in a utility’s fleet. Because of the common use of the trucks, it becomes easy for operators to become complacent in their equipment, inspection, operation and rescue plan – often defaulting to the last job safety analysis with limited consideration for the task at hand and the work environment. In a frequent scenario, one of Colorado’s electric utility contractors was issued an urgent service ticket. The lineman assigned to the job had years of experience and assumed this task would be much like the hundreds of closed service...

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Heat Injury and Illness Prevention: Past, Present and Future

On October 27, 2021, OSHA published in the Federal Register an advance notice of proposed rulemaking for heat injury and illness prevention in outdoor and indoor work settings. This followed OSHA implementing an enforcement initiative on heat-related hazards and the development of a National Emphasis Program on heat inspections in September. At the same time, the agency formed a Heat Injury and Illness Prevention Work Group of the National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health to start collecting information in preparation for the rulemaking.  Past Not many hazards found in the...

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Grounding Conductor Confusion: What’s the Best One to Use?

Consider new testing data before making a final determination. Proper grounding is both a life-and-death matter and an operational imperative. But many questions remain about grounding. Some of the most frequently asked include: Why do some designers, utilities and contractors use one type of grounding conductor while others use a different type? If copper and aluminum carry power through transmission and distribution lines, then why not use them everywhere, including for grounding? What is the best grounding conductor? The grounding conductor selection process should include both of the...

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Actionable Safety: Modeling Change for Line Crews

Demonstrating simple strategies for teams to practice can begin to effect behavioral changes that improve safety. When leaders model a specific safety behavior or tactic, we can achieve multiple positive outcomes, including initiating change in our organizations. It is critical, however, that we physically model the behavior with our actions – we must walk the walk, not just talk the talk. When we truly lead by example, we can expect our team leaders to model our behavior as well. With that said, in this article, I’m going to present you with some simple, actionable safety strategies you can...

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A Historical Review of Workplace Safety in the U.S.

A Historical Review of Workplace Safety in the U.S. While OSHA may sometimes make it difficult for businesses to do business, their rules are necessary for the safety of the American workforce. Has OSHA ever made it difficult for businesses to do business? It sure has, and I will be the first to raise my hand in agreement. I started my career in the electrical utility industry as a lineman helper five years before President Richard Nixon signed into law the Williams-Steiger Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. It became enforceable in late April 1971. At that time, I was just beginning...

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Establishing a Comprehensive Ergonomics Program During a Pandemic

Austin Energy is the electric utility provider for the rapidly growing city of Austin, Texas. This community-owned, not-for-profit enterprise of the City of Austin employs approximately 1,100 office-based and 600 field-based employees. Employee safety, health and wellness have always been a top priority, and in 2019, Healthworks Ergonomics – the company I co-own – was hired to develop a comprehensive ergonomics program to complement Austin Energy’s existing initiatives. This entry is part 2 of 8 in the series AUGUST-SEPTEMBER 2021

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Building an ATV/UTV Training Program for Utilities and Contractors

Utility task vehicles (UTVs) and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) are quickly becoming the preferred motorized equipment for lineworkers to use to access difficult terrain for necessary inspection and repair of infrastructure. And although they are exceptionally capable, these vehicles – identifiable by their large off-road tires, relatively small size and light weight – pose certain challenges for both utilities and contractors who wish to use them on job sites. This entry is part 1 of 7 in the series APRIL-MAY 2021

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FR/AR Clothing Considerations During the COVID-19 Pandemic

In 29 CFR 1910.132, OSHA clearly states that personal protective equipment and appropriate training are required for individuals working in utilities, electrical petroleum, oil and gas exploration, and other industries where there is a danger of being injured by arc flash or flash fire. This entry is part 3 of 7 in the series APRIL-MAY 2021

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Drive Safe. Work Safe. Save Lives.

Members of the OSHA Georgia Struck-By Alliance and the Associated General Contractors of Georgia Inc. (AGC Georgia) will join thousands of employers and workers during this year’s National Work Zone Awareness Week (NWZAW), which takes place April 26-30. This year’s theme is “Drive Safe. Work Safe. Save Lives. Everyone plays a role in work zone safety.”

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Minimum Approach Distances: What’s Required?

Let’s kick off this article with a definition of what “MAD” means in the utility sector – and it does not mean that we’re upset with you. The word is actually an acronym that stands for minimum approach distance, which is the calculated safe working distance that provides worker protection when working on or in the vicinity of energized lines and equipment.

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Fire Extinguisher Use and Safety for Utility Workers

Officer George Brentar, a 22-year veteran of the Euclid, Ohio, police force, died October 10, 2007, when his car skidded into a pole and caught fire on an entrance ramp to Interstate 90. Officer Brentar had spotted a speeding motorist and was attempting to catch up to the vehicle when his car hydroplaned. The right rear end hit a pole and the car immediately burst into flames, with Officer Brentar trapped inside. This entry is part 1 of 8 in the series FEBRUARY-MARCH 2021

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Arc Rating Standards for Personal Protective Equipment

Employees who interact with electrical equipment and electrical installations may be exposed to electrical shock and arc flash hazards. A previous two-part article titled “Arc Flash Considerations for Utility and Construction Activities” (see https://incident-prevention.com/blog/arc-flash-considerations-for-utility-and-construction-activities and https://incident-prevention.com/blog/arc-flash-considerations-for-utility-and-construction-activities-part-ii) discussed the electrical hazard identification and risk assessment. If the employer has taken steps to reduce the risk of injury or death...

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Why are Job Briefings and Risk Assessments Important?

When you hear the term “job briefing,” what comes to mind? Perhaps a meeting, a form to fill out or maybe even a complete waste of time? How we perceive job briefings has a huge impact on how we complete them. Per OSHA, job briefings are required to be completed before each job; however, for us to perform them effectively, it is critical that we understand the intent behind that requirement. What Needs to be Covered? A job briefing is intended to be used as part of the planning process to accomplish a job both safely and successfully. OSHA 29 CFR 1910.269(c)(2) requires that the following topics...

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What are OSHA’s Training Requirements?

In our first article in this series (see https://incident-prevention.com/blog/when-osha-electric-power-safety-standards-apply), we discussed how to apply OSHA’s electric power standards. This article will review OSHA 29 CFR 1910.269 and 1926 Subpart V training requirements relating to qualified and unqualified employees. To determine training requirements, you must first ask the question, are my employees exposed to electric power system hazards? If so, the training portion of the OSHA electric power standards should apply. OSHA requires all employees to be trained in the safety-related work...

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Are You Using Your Five Senses to Stay Safe?

All of us have experienced mishaps in our daily lives, both at home and at work. An accident typically is defined as an unwanted incident occurring unexpectedly and unintentionally, usually resulting in damage or injury. In our work lives, proper training develops our mindset as well as our knowledge. Increasing our knowledge allows us to identify known hazards and to recognize unknown hazards. Training value is understood and incorporated into workplace law. OSHA’s General Duty Clause requires employers to furnish to each of their employees a workplace that is free from recognized hazards...

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I’ve Got Your Back: Lessons in Socio-Biomimicry

Creating a safety mindset and a culture of caring can be facilitated using the process of socio-biomimicry. Simply put, biomimicry is a way to solve engineering and other problems by looking to nature. The term was popularized in 1997 by Janine M. Benyus in her book, “Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature.” Nature can also be used to inspire a fresh look at social systems and how other life groups manage safety. I developed the Safe-ari process of socio-biomimicry to solve a client’s problem of fading situational awareness. Fourteen learning points on situational awareness were distilled...

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Safety Success During an Insulating Boom Flashover

Salt River Project, or SRP, is a power utility located and operated in the greater Phoenix area. Created as part of the federal Reclamation Act of 1902, it was originally established to help secure a reliable water source to the desert valley. Today, SRP not only provides reliable water – it also supplies reliable power to over 1 million customers, operating and maintaining all of its own assets, including generation, transmission and distribution. The utility has a successful 500-kV barehand/live-line program that dates back to the late 1970s. In the fall of 2018, SRP experienced a boom flashover...

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Best Practices for Using Your Aerial Device Jib to Handle Transformers

When it comes to lifting transformers, aerial devices equipped with jibs are one of the handiest tools available to lineworkers. Compared to old methods for transformer replacement – which required workers to climb the pole and use a pulley to manually lift the transformer – using a jib is safer, easier and more productive. Most aerial devices sold to companies in the utility industry are equipped with jibs. However, not all jibs are the same, and the user should evaluate the type of work to be done when choosing the equipment for the job. Consider whether the tasks are construction or maintenance...

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Mother Nature vs. FR/AR Clothing

The company I work for receives a lot of questions about flame-resistant (FR) and arc-rated (AR) clothing, including inquiries about what should be worn on extremely hot summer days and very cold winter days. We’re always happy to answer those questions because it’s our business and – in the electric utility industry – donning FR/AR apparel often is necessary for workers’ personal safety. The fact is, extreme weather doesn’t appear to be stabilizing anytime soon. Both NASA and the American Meteorological Society have predicted that we can expect both more intense and more frequent heat and...

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Working in Switchgear Cubicles Just Got Safer

All of us who work with electricity know how hazardous it can be. During a stint with my previous employer, a co-worker and good friend was electrocuted and killed when he made contact with energized switchgear components. Another co-worker at the company also was seriously injured. Safety is always a part of our job; it’s something we talk about and practice every day, but given what happened to my two former co-workers, I felt that more needed to be done to establish a zero-accident workplace – more than just job briefings, using human performance tools and “living safely.” When it came to...

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Take Your Time and Follow the Rules – Or Pay the Price

The last time we met Bob the foreman and his crew, they saved the day when a vehicle hit a utility pole on a busy roadway in Safety County, New York (see https://incident-prevention.com/blog/safety-concerns-when-setting-wooden-utility-poles). These days, Bob and his crew are still in action, working for Sunshine Electric Co. At Sunshine, following company safety rules and industry best practices is as normal as breathing air. On this particular day, we find Bob prioritizing the unending string of planned field work assigned to his crew. His first priority for Sunshine’s customers is the list...

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Are You Taxing the Variables?

Planning is a critical part of our work in the electric utility industry. Inevitably there will be unknowns in each plan we put together; the more variables there are, the less control you have over your intended outcomes. So, it’s worth spending the time to identify and address those unknowns. In the remainder of this article, we will cover how to identify the critical elements and variables in your projects as well as how to weigh the consequences of those variables to help ensure the best possible outcomes for your plans. A friend of mine who is a psychologist once shared a story from her...

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When OSHA Knocks

Les Prudent was sitting at his desk on a Monday morning, savoring a cup of coffee and reflecting on his solar farm transformer company’s crazy year of growth. From four people three years ago, the company now employs 112. A friend from a local business group recently suggested Les hire a full-time safety coordinator, but he’s been comfortable handling those matters on his own. He just put some of those “Safety First” posters on the fabricating area’s walls. That should do it. His wife, Linda, who is also the company’s office and accounting manager, just stuck her head in the door and said,...

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Using Situational Awareness to Enhance Field Security

Recently I was on a conference call during which a client and I discussed aggression aimed at the client’s line crews and service technicians. As I hung up, I came to the realization that hostility toward utility workers isn’t a passing storm – it’s a bellwether of change in the public attitude. Aggression directed at utility workers is a critical issue that we must deal with effectively before more people are hurt.   The truth is, a growing number of people no longer see investor-owned, municipal and cooperative utilities as benevolent service providers. Instead, they see adversaries...

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The Safe Use of Outrigger Pads for Equipment Stability

An outrigger pad is a safety tool that can be used with any equipment that has outriggers, down jacks or stabilizers. It is a must for stability when a piece of equipment – such as a crane – lifts loads or personnel aloft. This article will provide an overview of outrigger pads, including how to use them safely and what kinds of pads are available on the market today. The BasicsOutrigger pads are placed on the ground under the equipment’s outrigger, shoe, float or foot. The size and thickness of the outrigger pads to be used should be selected based upon the type of equipment, soil conditions...

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Emergency Response Training for Electric Utility Workers

In my 40 years of electric utility experience, I have investigated and documented dozens of work-site incidents that required immediate emergency medical response from a crew. One pattern has become clear after debriefing workers who have rendered assistance at a scene: Workers who responded well to rescuing their co-workers used effective communication and competent delivery of job-site first aid, including CPR. Time and again, nearly all workers involved in successful emergency responses said, “I was just doing what I was trained to do.” Looking back on the history of the electric utility...

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Investigating and Documenting Slips, Trips and Falls

People are affected by gravity at every moment of their existence. There is an ongoing struggle between this planet, which never stops trying to pull things to its center, and humans who are trying not to be overcome by the pull. In the battle against gravity, humans rely on balance, coordination, traction and decision-making. In work environments, employers are responsible for managing hazards; reducing or eliminating hazards that could cause slips, trips and falls; training employees; and investigating incidents to prevent recurrence. The remainder of this article will focus on the investigation...

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Strength and Conditioning Strategies to Prepare the Next-Generation Utility Worker

Apprenticeships in the utility and construction fields often serve as a transition point for individuals from sedentary or light work to heavy or very heavy jobs. As more individuals seek jobs in the trades, many may have little to no experience with regular physical activity. Injury-free performance of heavy or very heavy job tasks strongly corresponds to an individual’s physical abilities and health habits. While the electrical utility industry strives to engineer the risk out of jobs, many tasks still require a minimum amount of strength, endurance and flexibility. Strength and conditioning...

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Overcoming Conflict on the Right-of-Way

A news helicopter circled overhead as the two ambulances left the job site. The deputy sheriff looked at the superintendent and said, “Tell me again, how did this happen?” The superintendent removed his safety glasses with a sigh as he surveyed the devastation left behind by the 345-kV contact. “Well, we had to set up for work directly under these lines because some local environmentalists wanted the wildflowers protected,” he said. “So, we did what we were asked. If you notice over there, those flowers are still looking beautiful, but it seems that the now-deceased landowner still didn’t like...

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The Hard Hat Celebrates 100 Years

When you think of people who have changed our lives with their inventions, you may think about Thomas Edison and his lightbulb or Alexander Graham Bell and his telephone. Not many of us would think to include Edward W. Bullard on that list, but 100 years ago – in 1919 – he invented the hard hat, which today is one of the most recognized safety products in the world and is responsible for saving thousands of lives over the past century. To truly trace the heritage of the hard hat, we have to go back even further to 1898, when Edward Dickinson Bullard founded E.D. Bullard Co. in San Francisco....

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How Hawaii Electric Light Co. Protected Employees During a Lava Flow

On May 3, 2018, Hawaii Electric Light Co., the company I work for, discovered we had a problem. Lava flows were popping up in the middle of a residential neighborhood in our service territory. This wasn’t the first time Hawaii Electric Light had experienced a volcanic eruption, but it was the first time one had begun in the middle of a densely populated area. We wondered, how would we keep our employees safe during this event? How would we keep the lights on in the affected area? These were the questions that had to be answered very quickly given the circumstances. Hawaii Electric Light is...

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Using Task-Based Work Assignments to Create Proficient Crews

Preventing accidents in utility work, where safety is paramount, starts with establishing protocols for personnel and equipment. Creating task-based and specific work assignments is an affordable way to establish realistic parameters for work to be performed. Using this method enables crew leaders to develop consistency and reliability in assigning tasks by distinguishing between trainees and qualified personnel. Work is assigned based on skill proficiency, which in turn leads to risk mitigation and accident prevention. The concept of grouping teams of workers by specific work assignment is...

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Enhancing Safety for Line Patrol Technicians

Sunflower Electric Power Corp. is a generation and transmission cooperative located in Western Kansas. We have approximately 2,600 miles of overhead transmission lines, which we patrol annually using vehicles. While you may have heard stories about Kansas being flat as a pancake, they are not true. Several areas of our service territory feature deep ravines, water crossings, washouts and rock outcroppings that make line patrols challenging and hazardous. In the past, patrol vehicles used by our line technicians were either pickup trucks or standard-equipped side-by-side all-terrain vehicles...

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Train the Trainer 101: The Value of a Site-Specific Health and Safety Plan

If you follow OSHA’s guidelines, you train your workers to perform hazard analysis. You probably have a tailboard process as well, although your company might have a different name for it. Tailboards and crew hazard analysis are fundamental leading indicators of a good safety program. But hazard analysis and tailboards are only two elements of what really makes a difference in a safe approach to work. A health and safety site-specific plan (HASSSP) and the HASSSP process bring with them innumerable benefits – not just prevention of unwanted incidents. When I was a contractor safety manager,...

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Innovative Fire Suppression Solutions for System and Worker Safety

For over 100 years, PECO – a Pennsylvania utility and member of the Exelon utility family – has been supplying electricity and natural gas to customers across southeastern Pennsylvania, including those in Philadelphia and its surrounding suburbs. PECO has hundreds of miles of utility poles and thousands of circuit miles of medium-voltage distribution cables installed in conduit and manhole systems. With all this infrastructure, it is only natural that wear and tear will occur, which can have an impact on the distribution system. Over the decades, PECO has experienced numerous failures of distribution...

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Key Concepts of an Insulate and Isolate Program

Most utilities and contractors that perform work on energized conductors use some form of cover-up program or process. Culture plays a big part in how we currently cover for protection. When a new lineworker joins the crew, that person learns the ways of senior members of the crew, and later that knowledge is passed on to the next new person. Having control of what we work on also has played a significant role in how we cover. If you have control of the energized conductor or equipment you are working on, you may not need as much cover for protection, right? The problem is, in numerous cases,...

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Using Technology to Eliminate Aerial Device Overloads

Knowing bucket capacity and understanding how to read a jib load chart are two critical elements of aerial device operation. While both tasks are fairly straightforward, it is crucial to stay within the allowable capacity of the unit. The platform capacity and material-handling capacity provided by the manufacturer are not recommendations – they are absolute maximum capacities that ensure the machine is not overloaded. Overloading equipment can result in overturning or boom failure. Equipment damage also may occur, resulting in costly repairs and a shortened usable life for the aerial device. A...

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Safety Concerns When Setting Wooden Utility Poles

On an invigorating and beautiful late-spring Sunday afternoon, Frank decides to take his young family for a drive in his brand-new van. Frank, his wife and their two young daughters are cruising along with a scenic view of the mountains. He is enjoying this priceless quality time with his family. While listening to some good music on the radio, the van approaches a tight curve on the road. Suddenly, Frank notices a large wooden utility pole ahead that is carrying lots of wire and leaning excessively toward the road. Frank jams on the brakes, but he cannot stop in time. He hits the pole, and...

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Understanding Hypothermia in the Outdoor Work Environment

Outdoor workers – including lineworkers and communications technicians – routinely work in hazardous environments. Most of these hazards are well-recognized and understood by the workers and their management, but that is not always the case with cold-weather injuries, such as hypothermia and frostbite. Until workers receive specific and relevant training from medical professionals with cold-weather experience, they may lack the basic understanding of just how suddenly cold weather can kill. Although there are numerous types of cold-weather injuries, this article will address the most common...

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Overcoming Barriers to Crane and Rigging Skills Development

The utility industry has high expectations for employing safe work practices and readily invests in equipment and training. Maintaining a workforce with the right skills is a herculean task. Crane operation and rigging skills development presents greater challenges than some other areas because these skill sets typically are not part of the routine work schedule. Individuals with crane operator certification may have fewer than 100 hours of actual operating time in a year, or go more than a year with no seat time or hands-on practice time. OSHA requires employers to ensure that crane operators...

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October 2017 Q&A

Q: We have gotten mixed advice from our colleagues at other utilities and can’t decide whether or not civil workers digging a foundation by hand in a hot substation should be required to wear arc protective clothing. They are inside the fence but in a new area approximately 20 feet from the nearest distribution structure. Where do we find the requirements or OSHA guidance? A: That depends. Sometimes it depends on the criteria in the statutes, and sometimes it depends on compliance with company policy. Normally, following the guidelines of OSHA 29 CFR 1910.269(l)(8) – which establish the criteria...

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7 Electrical Theory and Circuitry Myths – Busted

In the electric utility business, we have highly trained employees who are proud that they have learned the skills to be able to safely work around high voltage. However, a phrase we hear too often is “Hey, it’s only secondary,” which implies that secondary is not as hazardous as primary, lightning or fault current. We’re not going to debate that in this article, but we are going to discuss – and bust – some common myths about working with 120-volt circuitry and equipment, as well as myths regarding lightning and fault current exposure. Myth 1: Circuit breakers are better than fuses.If you...

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The Science of Keeping Workers Safe

Ergonomic safety has had a profound impact on the utility industry over the last decade, without many workers even knowing it. Yet as professional tool ergonomists, we have seen many erroneous “ergonomic” product claims over the years, so in this article we want to highlight the importance of knowing how ergonomic products are measured and if the tools you’re using are truly advancing ergonomics at your company. Before we dive into the technical aspects of ergonomic measurements, let’s review some background information. OSHA continues to define line work as a high-risk occupation in terms...

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Voice of Experience: De-Energizing Lines and Equipment for Employee Protection

Lately there has been a rash of incidents involving flashes and contacts with primary voltage. The incidents occurred due to improperly written switching orders or missed switching steps, none of which were recognized by the workers involved with the tasks. These types of errors have long been a problem and continue to result in numerous injuries and fatalities.   In April 2014, OSHA’s revised 29 CFR 1910.269 standard was published. This was the first revision to the standard in 20 years, and one paragraph in particular that was clarified was paragraph (m), “Deenergizing lines and equipment...

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August 2017 Q&A

Q: We are a contractor and were recently working in a manhole with live primary cables running through it. We were cited in an audit by a client’s safety team for not having our people in the manhole tied off to rescue lines. We had a tripod up and a winch ready for the three workers inside. What did we miss? A: This question has come up occasionally, and it’s usually a matter of misunderstanding the OSHA regulations. The latest revision of the rule has modified the language, but following is the relevant regulation. Look for the phrases “safe work practices,” “safe rescue” and “enclosed space.” 1910.269(e)(1) Safe...

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Making Sense of Protection Requirements for Open-Air Arc Flash Hazards

Electric utility workers face complex, high-risk electrical hazards nearly every day. Information about shock hazards – which may come from impressed voltage, residual energy, induction, objectionable current flow in a grounding system or stored energy – has been taught to many of us for quite some time, as have the methods of assessing them. On the other hand, arc flash hazard assessments are still relatively new to us. In the past, most of us knew that an arc flash could potentially occur during the course of performing our tasks, but the level of the flash and the PPE requirements...

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Injury Risks Associated with Climbing in the Wind Energy Generation Industry

The growth of the wind energy generation industry in the U.S. has been phenomenal. According to the American Wind Energy Association, at the end of 2016 there were over 52,000 utility-grade wind turbines operational in more than 40 states, with a total capacity of 83,000 megawatts. The Global Wind Energy Council’s latest report shows that the U.S. has the second-largest wind power capacity, after China, with 16.9 percent of the world total, and employs over 100,000 people directly or indirectly. As the number of wind turbine towers grows, so does the number of people involved in their...

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Train the Trainer 101: Training and Verification Requirements for the Safety of Electric Utility Workers

A number of years ago I investigated a pole-top flash that took place during a transfer. The flash occurred when an improperly installed blanket left a dead-end flange exposed on the backside of the metal pole-top. During untying, the tie-wire contacted the exposed flange. No one was hurt. The issue was the lineman’s selection and installation of the blanket. The foreman assumed the lineman was experienced and competent to perform the three-phase transfer with minimal instruction. The problem was the lineman had spent the last several years on a service truck, had little transfer experience...

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Voice of Experience: Qualified and Task-Specific Electrical Worker Training

The revised OSHA 29 CFR 1910.269 standard has now been in place for three years. In making the revisions, OSHA replaced older, passive language that left much to be understood with more objective language that clarifies the meaning and intent of the regulation. The standard is now easier to understand and sets the expectations for employers and employees. There were some major changes made to the standard, as we all know. Several more subtle changes also were included and have been discussed much less, but they still have had a significant impact on the regulation. In this installment of “Voice...

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June 2017 Q&A

Q: We have a group reviewing our personal protective grounding procedures, and they are asking if we should be grinding the galvanized coating off towers when we install the phase grounding connections. What are your thoughts? A: In addition to your question, we also recently received another question about connecting to steel for bonding, so we’ll address both questions in this installment of the Q&A. Your question is about the effectiveness of grounding to towers, and the other question is about the effectiveness of EPZs created on steel towers. We’ll discuss the grounding question first...

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Confined Space Training: It Has to Be Done Right the First Time

Entering and working in confined spaces is serious business. In the years I’ve been a safety professional, I’ve been involved with several hundred confined space entries, including overseeing entries into most of the confined space examples listed in the scope of OSHA’s “Confined Spaces in Construction” standard. A number of times I’ve been called to the scene of a confined space entry where the entrants had been evacuated because of alarms from direct-reading portable gas monitors. Some of these alarms were caused by degradation of atmospheric conditions, while others were due to operator...

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Shining a Light on Ventilation Systems and Surveys in the Electric Power Industry

It takes a wide variety of activities – some obvious and others not so obvious – to keep electric utility operations humming along. With maintenance facilities and power plants in particular, there are sometimes unidentified exposures that grow as the facilities grow. In other scenarios, our understanding of exposures or emerging regulations requires the need for a professional hygienist to assess and remediate exposures. Ventilation surveys, which can detect ventilation system failures, are a critical but often overlooked tool that should be used to maintain safe, healthy operations, whether...

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Marking a Safety Milestone at Silicon Valley Power

Clear minds, focused on the task at hand. Strict attention to details and checklists critical to the job. Precise and continual communication among the field, management and control teams. Ongoing training and safety manual review. Looking out for one another. Trust in the workforce’s skills with no micromanagement and with the boss’ door always open. Such are the written – and unwritten – rules governing the field forces of Silicon Valley Power, the City of Santa Clara, Calif.’s municipal electric utility that recently marked a company milestone: 1,000 days without a lost day of work due to...

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Using Thermography for Underground Worker Safety

For more than 100 years, Commonwealth Edison – commonly known as ComEd – has been powering the lives of customers across Northern Illinois, including those in Chicago, a city that has thousands of circuit miles of medium-voltage distribution cables installed in conduit and manhole systems. Over the decades, ComEd’s underground cable splicers have experienced failures of distribution cable system components, including cables, joints and terminations, while employees were working in manholes and vaults. A large number of cable system failures occurred at cable joints in underground manholes....

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Train the Trainer 101: Addressing Common Fall Protection Questions and Concerns

To begin this article, I want to offer a disclaimer. One of the reasons the “Train the Trainer 101” series was created is to examine the practical aspects of compliance as they relate to the utility industry. We do that by reading the statutes, looking at how OSHA interprets and enforces the rules, reviewing what the consensus standards state and then determining practical ways the employer can manage and comply with the rules. Sometimes I raise an eyebrow, but in working with the group of professionals who review every article published in Incident Prevention’s pages, we endeavor to ensure...

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April 2017 Q&A

Q: Our plant safety committee has a longtime rule requiring electrical hazard safety shoes for our electricians. We were recently told by an auditor that we have to pay for those shoes if we require employees to wear them. We found the OSHA rule requiring payment, but now we wonder if we are really required to use the shoes. Can you help us figure it out? A: Sure, we can help. But first, please note that Incident Prevention and the consultants who have reviewed this Q&A are not criticizing a rule or recommending a rule change for any employer. What we do in these pages is explain background,...

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Frontline Fundamentals: Risk Tolerance

A fundamental premise of working safely is that hazards must be identified and then controlled. Too many incidents occur because hazards are not identified, or worse, they are identified but ignored or tolerated. One of my favorite ways to introduce the concept of risk tolerance is to ask a Frontline class this simple question: “What are some things you might hear someone say before something really bad happens?” It always amazes me – and scares me – how open participants are when I ask this question. Typical responses I have heard include:• “We’ve done this a thousand times and no one has ever...

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Equipotential Grounding: Lessons Learned in the Field

When the earliest linemen first began to ground lines for worker protection, they attached a small chain – known as a ground chain – to the conductors, with the end dropped to the ground. When I began to work on a line crew, I’m sad to say that my grounding practices weren’t much better than those used in the early days. I wish someone had better explained to me then the situations that could arise, the ways grounding could protect me and the best methods to accomplish it. So, in an effort to help out other lineworkers in the electric utility industry, I want to share in the following pages...

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Understanding and Preventing Lower Back Pain in the Electric Utility Industry

“I don’t know what I did to cause this injury, Doc. I’ve had lower back pain on and off for the past five years, but it’s never been like this before. All I did was reach under the boom for a roll of cable on the truck when I felt something give in my back and then felt shooting pain down both legs. What the heck happened?” This is not an unusual story. When I used to practice as a chiropractic orthopedist, I heard similar accounts on a daily basis. Lower back pain affects utility workers in epidemic proportions. In 2004, my company surveyed 224 employees of a public electric utility, and the...

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Maximizing Your Arc-Rated Gear

When designing your PPE program, how do you know which option will work best for your application? How can you get the most for your money? How can you get no-cheating compliance from your workers? With so many arc-rated (AR) and flame-resistant (FR) PPE products on the market, it can be difficult for a utility or utility contractor to make a sound decision. To start, complete an analysis to determine hazard levels, as well as the workers who will be exposed. Application, comfort and cost should be considered when deciding on the best product to purchase. In this article, we will help you see...

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Train the Trainer 101: The New Walking-Working Surfaces Final Rule

OSHA’s final rule on 29 CFR 1910 Subpart D, “Walking-Working Surfaces,” is finally here. It’s 26 pages of nine-point font equaling 21,675 words, and I read them all. It’s big, and if you include the preamble in your analysis, it is also complicated. It was just as hard to write about as it was to read. I guess that shouldn’t be unexpected for a final rule that has been in the works since 1983. The original 1910 Subpart D was published in 1971. The first update was proposed in 1983, but it was never ratified. Proposals were again considered in either the Construction standard or the General Industry...

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Voice of Experience: Inspection, Maintenance and Fall Protection Guidance for Bucket Truck Use

OSHA 29 CFR 1910.67 is the performance-based standard that covers requirements when using vehicle-mounted elevating and rotating work platforms, including the bucket trucks we use in the electric utility industry. There are many types of buckets, and the task to be performed will determine what type of bucket is required. This standard even covers noninsulated work platforms, sometimes referred to as JLGs, used in civil construction. For clarification, a mobile platform covered under 1910.68, “Manlifts,” is not covered under the 1910.67 standard. Mobile platforms are considered mobile scaffolding...

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February 2017 Q&A

Q: We are a small, distribution-only municipal utility that has been looking into human performance. We are having some trouble understanding it all and how it could benefit us. Most of the training resources are pretty expensive. Can you help us sort it out? A: We can. Human performance management (HPM) has been around in various forms and focuses since before the 1950s. Throughout the ’50s and ’60s, it seems the focus was on companies performing functional analysis and correcting issues that created losses, thereby promoting more efficient and error-resistant operations. In the ’60s and ’70s,...

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New Updates to the National Electrical Safety Code

The National Electrical Safety Code is a referenced standard to OSHA 29 CFR 1910.269. A referenced standard means it is a voluntary consensus standard that OSHA recognizes as a means to help the employer meet the requirements of the OSHA rules. OSHA will not cite an employer on the basis of an NESC provision, but the agency may use the NESC as evidence the employer knew a hazard existed and may have been prevented using the provisions of the NESC. The 2017 edition of the NESC was released earlier this year. It has been reorganized for easier use and includes a number of changes and exceptions...

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Emergency Preparedness for Remote Winter Work Locations

When utility employees travel to remote backcountry job sites, things can turn bad quickly if they are not prepared to deal with hazards. And a bad situation can become exponentially worse during the winter months, when over-the-snow travel may be involved and additional factors – such as limited or failed communications, difficult terrain, winter storms, avalanche hazards and the potential for cold weather injuries – can potentially wreak havoc. If employees are to understand how to safely handle these types of emergency situations, employers must diligently train and equip employees well...

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Rope Access for Live-Line Work

As a third-generation lineman in the high-voltage utility industry, I can say based on experience that the industry has changed slowly at certain times and radically at others. And yet one thing that has not changed much over the years is the process of performing live-line work on extra-high-voltage (EHV) transmission lines. It still requires the use of live-line tools; it still requires linemen to maintain minimum approach distances; it still requires that linemen possess the knowledge and ability to use tools properly depending on the application, whether it be steel or wood construction;...

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Train the Trainer 101: Understanding Canine Behavior for the Protection of Utility Workers: Part Two

In the last installment of “Train the Trainer 101” (see http://incident-prevention.com/blog/train-the-trainer-101-understanding-canine-behavior-for-the-protection-of-utility-workers), I provided information to help utility personnel understand, in part, why dogs do what they do. In particular, I addressed the pack mentality, dominant and submissive behaviors, and when and why a dog may feel threatened and try to attack. In the conclusion to this two-part article, I will explain how best to respond to unfamiliar dogs and what to do if you are attacked, as well as discuss breeds that are more...

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Voice of Experience: Switching and Working on UD Systems

I was recently asked to provide information about the challenges and opportunities found when working on direct-buried underground distribution (UD) systems. In light of that request, I’ll address those topics in this installment of “Voice of Experience.” My first opportunity to work on UD systems was as a truck driver operating a trencher in the late 1960s. UD systems were fairly new at the time; lineworkers were learning new techniques, using different types of tools to terminate cables and installing switchable elbows. In that day, some elbows were non-load-break. Back then the work was all...

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December 2016 Q&A

Q: We hear lots of opinions on whether a lineworker can lift a hot-line clamp that has a load on it. There is a rule that says disconnects must be rated for the load they are to break. We’ve been doing it forever. Are we breaking an OSHA rule or not? A: Incident Prevention has answered this question before, but it won’t hurt to revisit it and use the opportunity to explain how OSHA analyzes a scenario to see if it’s a violation. Most objections to operating a hot-line clamp (HLC) under load are based on OSHA 29 CFR 1910.269(l)(12)(i), which states that the “employer shall ensure that devices...

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Safety Best Practices for Outage Season

Football season is here, and hunting season is right around the corner. That means it’s also outage season for the electric power industry. Planned outages allow utilities to take equipment out of service for maintenance, replacement or new construction. The timing is dictated by the utility owners and the regional transmission organizations that oversee the power grid. Planned outages can last from 15 minutes to months, and they can be continuous or intermittent. Most occur late in the year because loads are lower than during the peak summer and winter months. In addition, utilities need to...

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Assimilating Short-Service Employees Into Your Safety Culture

Culture is one of the most significant drivers of an organization’s safety performance. It can take time to build a safety culture, and it also takes time for employees to assimilate into an existing culture after beginning work for an organization. This poses a serious challenge for organizations that regularly scale to meet project demands. An influx of short-service employees (SSEs) often coincides with an increase in incidents. While there are a number of reasons for this – such as poor hazard recognition – one significant reason is that SSEs have not yet assimilated into the existing culture’s...

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Underground Electrical Vaults: Safety Concerns and Controls

There are hundreds of thousands of man-accessible vaults in North America, with potentially tens of thousands of utility worker entries into those vaults each year. And it’s likely that every worker who enters a vault appreciates the safety procedures that govern the work. The combination of high-voltage electrical cables and aging infrastructure can exponentially complicate even the most routine vault-related task. In addition, many utilities across North America continue to report electrical vault failures, some of which lead to violent explosions. For the most part, utility owners have a...

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Train the Trainer 101: Understanding Canine Behavior for the Protection of Utility Workers

Utility personnel are going to find themselves in confrontations with dogs. It is the nature of our work. How a worker responds during that type of engagement will have consequences that can be good or bad. The best consequence is when the parties go their separate ways and no one is left bleeding. Frankly, bleeding is not the worst outcome of these situations. People sometimes die as a result of confrontations with dogs, and the dogs can be hurt or killed, too. As a dog person, I would choose to see everyone walk away if at all possible. While there is no magic formula that can be used to prevent...

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Voice of Experience: OSHA’s MAD Changes and a Missed Opportunity

In the 2014 OSHA update to 29 CFR 1910.269 and 1926 Subpart V, major changes were made regarding apparel and minimum approach distance (MAD) calculations. And yet I believe the agency missed an opportunity related to distribution voltages and gloving of energized conductors and equipment. For all intents and purposes, other than the MAD updates, few changes occurred in 29 CFR 1910.269(l) regarding working position. A new requirement removed any implied obligation that an employer is accountable for ensuring employees do not approach or take any conductive objects within the MADs found in tables...

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October 2016 Q&A

Q: What is meant by the phrase “circulating current” as it pertains to transmission towers? Does it have something to do with the fact that there is no neutral? A: We’re glad you asked the question because it gives us an opportunity to discuss one of the basic principles of the hazard of induction. More and more trainers are teaching with a focus on principles instead of procedures, and we often overlook some of these basic definitions. The concept of circulation is associated with what happens in any interconnected electrical system. Refer to the basic definition for parallel paths: Current...

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The Causes and Prevention of Shoulder Injuries in the Electric Distribution Field

It’s 3 a.m. Once again the dull ache stirs you from sleep. The first time was at midnight. Now the ache in your shoulder is telling you it’s time to roll onto your other side. Hopefully this will be the last time this happens tonight. For far too many lineworkers, this has become a nightly ritual. In 2004, Business Health Resources conducted a symptom survey of 224 overhead electric employees who worked for one public utility, and it revealed that 56 percent of them experienced shoulder pain a couple times a week or more often. Many experienced shoulder pain on a daily basis. Because shoulder...

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The Road to an Innovative, Award-Winning Safety Program

Monday mornings at Coutts Bros. – an electrical line construction and maintenance contractor – begin the same way they have for more than 50 years. The crew meets on the old Coutts family property in Randolph, Maine, before 6 a.m., coffee and lunchboxes in hand, wearing shirts and hats that sport a variety of company logos from the last few decades. Conversations are lighthearted; depending on the season, discussions range from the weekend’s Red Sox, Bruins or Patriots game to embellished fishing and hunting stories, complete with cellphone pictures to prove the tales are mostly true. This...

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Tricks of the Trade to Improve the Trenching Environment

This is the final installment in a four-part series on trenching and excavation. “Trenching by the Numbers” (http://incident-prevention.com/blog/trenching-by-the-numbers), the first article in the series, presented a simple method for recalling OSHA’s trenching and excavation requirements. The second article focused on soil mechanics (http://incident-prevention.com/blog/soil-mechanics-in-the-excavation-environment), taking an in-depth look at the behavior and characteristics of different soil types and their relationships with water and air. In the June 2016 issue of Incident Prevention, I...

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Train the Trainer 101: Practical Personal Grounding in Underground Work

Incident Prevention has been covering personal protective grounding (PPG) for many years. Most of the emphasis has been on overhead applications for transmission and distribution. Lately, however, iP and many consultants associated with the publication have been receiving more and more inquiries from utilities seeking to understand the issues related to PPG applications in underground. Part of the issue with PPG is that, as I mentioned, most training and rules seem to coalesce around overhead applications. The majority of the written standards – both OSHA and consensus – are found in sections...

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Voice of Experience: OSHA Requirements for Step Potential Protection

When OSHA updated 29 CFR 1910.269 and merged almost all of its requirements with 1926 Subpart V, the requirement to protect employees from step potential was enhanced. In the months following the publication of the final rule, this change was rarely mentioned in the major webinars conducted by several prominent utility industry groups, so I want to take this opportunity to cover what you need to know. First, let’s talk a bit about the basic fundamentals of Ohm’s law and Kirchoff’s law of current division in order to ensure you understand the seriousness of step potential hazards. Ohm’s law states...

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August 2016 Q&A

Q: We have heard that OSHA can cite an employer for violation of their own safety rules. How does that work? A: OSHA’s charge under the Occupational Safety and Health Act is the protection of employees in the workplace. The agency’s methodology has always assumed the employer knows – or should know – the hazards associated with the work being performed in the employer’s workplace because that work is the specialty of the employer. OSHA’s legal authority to use the employer’s own safety rules as a reason to cite the employer is found in CPL 02-00-159, the Field Operations Manual (FOM), which...

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10 Tips for Better Incident Investigations

Several years ago, when I was serving as chief investigator for the NIOSH-funded Missouri Occupational Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation Program, I was called to a scene where a 39-year-old journeyman lineman had been electrocuted while working for an electrical contractor. At the time of the incident, the lineman, his co-worker and the foreman had been working at an electrical substation. The city that owned the substation was in the process of switching their electrical service from a three-phase 4-kV system to a 12-kV system. There were several feeders on the structure, but only...

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Protective Systems for Trenching and Excavations

This is the third installment of a four-part series on trenching principles. “Trenching by the Numbers” (http://incident-prevention.com/blog/trenching-by-the-numbers), the first article in the series, presented a simple method for recalling OSHA’s trenching and excavation requirements. The second article focused on soil mechanics (http://incident-prevention.com/blog/soil-mechanics-in-the-excavation-environment), taking an in-depth look at the behavior and characteristics of different soil types and their relationships with water and air. In this article, we will discuss the four different protective...

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The Job Brief’s Hidden Influence on Utility Safety

On your way to work today, how many dashed lines in the middle of the road did you pass? What ornaments decorate your dentist’s office? How many people wearing glasses did you see last month? If you’re like most people, you don’t know the answers to these questions, and that’s a good thing. In his book “The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload,” author Daniel J. Levitin states that the processing capacity of the conscious mind is estimated to be about 120 bits per second, barely enough to listen to two people talking to you at the same time, yet in our waking...

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Fire Restoration Best Practices for Utilities

When the residents of Rock Creek – a small town in British Columbia just north of the Canadian-U.S. border – awoke to smoke on August 13, 2015, they quickly realized that danger was approaching. Fed by westerly winds, the Rock Creek fire spread from the west side of town to the east side, and then to surrounding communities. In total, it took just 45 minutes for the fire to make its way through the Rock Creek community, passing over Highway 33 and the Kettle River before heading northeast. Visitors staying at Kettle River Provincial Park’s campground, located in Rock Creek, were forced to flee...

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Train the Trainer 101: Practical Recommendations for Wire Stringing

In the last installment of “Train the Trainer 101,” we discussed grounding when stringing in energized environments (see http://incident-prevention.com/blog/train-the-trainer-101-grounding-for-stringing-in-energized-environments). Many readers responded with questions regarding the myriad issues they have faced during stringing. I learned a lot about this type of work during my first 25 years in the trade. In stringing hundreds of miles of conductor, I am proud to say I never dropped wire. I also have to say it’s most likely I have that record because I learned a great deal from other workers’...

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Confined Spaces in Construction

Last May, OSHA published its final rule regarding confined spaces in construction. Since that time, there have been many questions about the differences between the new construction standard and 29 CFR 1910.146, “Permit-required confined spaces.” In this installment of “Voice of Experience,” we will take a closer look at both standards in an effort to clear up any remaining confusion. “Confined Spaces in Construction” is the title of 1926 Subpart AA, the recently released construction standard. Before Subpart AA was published, 1910.146 was the only OSHA standard that addressed permit-required...

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June 2016 Q&A

Q: Is a transmission tower leg considered a lower level? And is there an exception for hitting a lower level when someone is ascending in the bucket truck to the work area? Our concern is that the shock cord and lanyard could be long enough that the person could hit the truck if they fell out of the bucket prior to it being above 15 feet. A: The February 2015 settlement agreement between EEI and OSHA addresses both of your questions, which, by the way, were contentious for several years until this agreement. The settlement agreement includes Exhibit B (see www.osha.gov/dsg/power_generation/SubpartV-Fall-protection.html),...

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Don’t Leave Employees to Fill in the Blanks

Early in my marriage, my wife asked me to pick up some groceries on my way home. This task seemed easy enough; after all, I had been feeding myself for years. How hard could it be? We needed food and the grocery store had food for sale. The path to success appeared to be pretty well laid out. All I needed was a method of payment and a shopping cart with four functioning wheels. As I negotiated my way up and down the aisles of the grocery store, I put great thought into what I added to my cart. I made sure to get the basics, including bread, milk and eggs, and I rounded out the cart with some...

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Soil Mechanics in the Excavation Environment

The February 2016 issue of Incident Prevention featured “Trenching by the Numbers” (see http://incident-prevention.com/ip-articles/trenching-by-the-numbers), the first installment in this series on advanced trenching and shoring principles. In that article, I reviewed the OSHA excavations standard found at 29 CFR 1926 Subpart P. The purpose of reviewing the rules was to give readers a starting point upon which to build more advanced concepts. In this article, I will continue the series with an in-depth discussion about the principles of soil mechanics. Throughout the years I have worked in...

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Field-Level Hazard Recognition Training That Works

As a safety professional or operations leader in your organization, one of your primary responsibilities is to ensure your employees can and do complete their work safely. People don’t want to get hurt and you don’t want them to. With that as a given, the question then becomes, how do you accomplish this? You can’t be everywhere watching everything all the time. You can’t point out every hazard on every job site for every worker. So, how do you rest easy in the belief that your employees are recognizing and mitigating hazards and working as safely as possible when you are not around? I’m going...

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The Future of Ergonomics

Over the last decade, our industry has done a great job of reducing work-related injuries as a whole, but musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) – also known as ergonomic injuries – are on the rise. From 2008 to 2012, work-related injuries decreased steadily each year. During that same period, however, ergonomic injuries increased by approximately 15 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. As we know, OSHA sets standards and precise thresholds, such as those for vibration and noise exposure, in an effort to improve work site safety and prevent injuries. But there are no specific...

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Train the Trainer 101: Grounding for Stringing in Energized Environments

A few years ago I came upon a crew using 6-inch chocks to hold back a 38-ton crane truck. I told the crew I was happy that they were making an effort at compliance, but I had to ask them, “Why do we place chocks under a truck’s wheels? Is it to comply with our safety rules or to keep the crane from running away?” It was obvious to me that the short chocks would not hold the crane. The driver proved my assumption true a few minutes later. From the cab, with the transmission in neutral, he released the parking brake. The crane easily bounced over the chocks and, unfortunately, hit my pickup truck. Sometimes...

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Voice of Experience: OSHA Citations and Informal Conferences

OSHA fines will increase for the first time in 25 years under a provision in the recently signed U.S. congressional budget deal. The Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act of 1990 exempted OSHA from increasing its penalties to keep pace with inflation. But a section of the new budget signed in November by President Barack Obama – referred to as the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act Improvements Act of 2015 – strikes the 1990 exemption. Now, OSHA is directed to issue an interim final rule adjusting its penalties to account for current inflation levels, which would raise...

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April 2016 Q&A

Q: What is an employer’s affirmative defense relative to an OSHA charge and how does it work? A: In simplified legal terms, an affirmative defense is the act of an accused party putting forth a set of alternative claims or facts. The purpose of the accused party doing this is to mitigate the claim against him, or at least the consequences of the claim, even if the facts of the claim are true. Following is an example of a fairly common scenario in which an affirmative defense is claimed by an employer. OSHA investigates an incident that resulted in an injury to an employee and finds the employer...

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Trenching by the Numbers

By and large, organizations directly provide the training and other resources needed for the development of their foremen and crew chiefs. Such training tends to be built around two components: following the standards set forth by OSHA and other regulatory agencies, and adhering to organizational policies and procedures. This is a great approach but perhaps an incomplete one. Truly impactful safety training typically includes a third component: sharing of personal experience. For instance, I once observed a training session in which the instructor drew from his experiences during a discussion...

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Understanding Your Safety DNA

Last summer my extended family planned and hosted a long-overdue family reunion. This one was particularly special because my Uncle Roy, who is now in his 80s, was there, and it was the first time in many years that I had the opportunity to see and spend time with him. Prior to his retirement, Uncle Roy was a railroad engineer in charge of and responsible for driving a freight train engine. From a safety perspective, I should explain a few details about trains before I continue. First, a typical freight train can be 120 to 140 cars or approximately one-and-one-half miles in length. Second,...

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