The Final Rule
We have been expecting it since 2005. It’s here, and it’s big. The OSHA final rule regarding 29 CFR 1910.269 and 1926 Subpart V was announced April 1, popularly known as April Fools’ Day. The significance couldn’t have been missed by those at the U.S. Department of Labor. Who says they have no sense of humor? The unofficial PDF version published April 1 has 1,607 pages. The official version – published April 11 in the conventional three-column Federal Register format – has a mere 429 pages. The final rule becomes effective July 10.
The first 313 pages of the final rule comprise the preamble. The regulatory standards begin on page 20629. The preamble is important to employers because that is where OSHA explains its rationale for the final form of the rules. For the uninitiated, OSHA issued a notice of proposed rulemaking in 2005, held hearings on the proposed rules for stakeholders and, some nine years later, has published the final result. The Federal Register is the U.S. federal government’s lawful instrument for publication of the actions of the government. The Federal Register is continually updated in page order, so this final rule – entitled “29 CFR Parts 1910 and 1926, Electric Power Generation, Transmission, and Distribution; Electrical Protective Equipment” – begins on page 20315 and ends on page 20743. Throughout this article, where appropriate, we will cite page references by the Federal Register (FR) page number.
Since the introduction of the proposed rule in 2005, much has been said about harmonizing the 1910.269 and 1926 Subpart V standards to eliminate differences or confusion. Much of the discussion in the preamble is about revisions to 1910.269 and additions of rules to 1926 Subpart V so that Subpart V mirrors 1910.269. Many commenters from the industry urged OSHA to create one unified standard for the industry, but OSHA declined and is maintaining two separate standards that, for the most part, do mirror each other.
Much of the language has changed even where the standards have not. OSHA has modified language in many areas both to improve performance language, but also to raise awareness of and emphasize the employer’s responsibility for worker safety. An example is rule 1910.269(q)(2)(vii).
• Old rule: “Pulling lines and accessories shall be repaired or replaced when defective.”
• New rule: “The employer shall repair or replace defective pulling lines and accessories.”
OSHA has widely used this language format in the rules regarding utility and contractor relationships where “utility” is now “host employer” and “contractor” is now “contract employer.”
The final rule is not without controversy, most notably with the new minimum approach distances (MAD). Besides extensive revision to the MAD rules, there are four other major areas that we will discuss here: fall protection systems, new requirements for transferring information between host employers and contract employers, hazards of electric arcs and new training rules.
Minimum Approach Distances
(1926.960(c)(1) and 1910.269(l)(3))
Despite OSHA’s action to simplify language across the final rule, the preamble and the MAD rules are highly technical and bound to create compliance confusion for many. Much of the delay in publishing the final rule seemed to surround the new MAD rules. The rulemaking process was reopened for discussion and comment for this particular topic (FR 20323), and many employers, industry experts and specialists argued against the need for the newly required utility-specific engineered MADs, insisting that the history of MADs and current MAD tables prove sufficient for industry safety. OSHA rejected the arguments, relying on new IEEE data based on lab testing that indicated that the legacy MAD tables are derived from erroneous mathematical models. The final requirements surprised many. Employers can no longer rely on a universal table of approach, which has been the practice from the early days of safety regulations.
OSHA now expects employers to calculate minimum approach according to the risks posed by the circuits that the employee is exposed to (1910.269(k)(3)(ii)). The standard includes engineering formulas (Table R-3, FR 20644) for systems up to 72.5 kV and a formula (and Table R-4) for systems above 72.5 kV. OSHA has provided an alternate method of determining MAD in a very conservative Table R-6 for voltages up to 72.5 kV (FR 20645) and Table R-7 for voltages above 72.5 kV. The new tables have greatly expanded the minimum approach. As an example, the 500-kV phase-to-ground minimum approach in the current OSHA table is 11 feet 3 inches. The MAD for 500-kV phase-to-ground in Table R-7 regarding alternative MADs is 16 feet 8 inches, an increase of more than 5 feet.
Some comments noted that the alternative tables sometimes exceed the insulator string lengths used on their systems, while others noted that the alternative tables may prevent workers from climbing towers with energized circuits (FR 20449). In response, OSHA suggested that in those instances you could take an outage or install portable gaps to reduce MAD. Gaps and outages are easy to suggest, but not so easy to accomplish. If gaps are used, they will be calculated against these new transient computations with clearances much more conservative than ever used before. Few reliability engineers we talked with are fine with installing portable gaps, which would risk an outage to protect employees from a transient that seems unlikely based on industry experience with the tables in current use. Still, it is possible the commenter did not understand multiphase exposure and OSHA didn’t point out its own definition to counter the concern.
On FR 20426, OSHA cites a 2005 letter to Edwin Hill in which the agency interprets multiphase exposure. Essentially, they explain that MAD – as held in IEEE 516 – is a combination of the electrical component (insulating air space) and the inadvertent movement component. For 15 kV, the electrical component is 2 inches, raised to the next inch from the decimal foot measure in the standard, and the inadvertent movement component is 2 feet. Multiphase exposure does not consider inadvertent movement – man, tools, structure or wire – as long as there is no risk of movement causing a contact. The multiphase exposure is based solely on the ability of the worker or tools being able to span or encroach into both of the opposite phase electrical components at the same time regardless of the inadvertent movement component. If tools or man cannot encroach on both electrical components of the opposite phases at the same time, there is no multiphase exposure.
OSHA has published a MAD calculator on the final rule website at www.osha.gov/dsg/mad_calculator/mad_calculator.html. Incident Prevention has heard unofficially that OSHA will release a smartphone app that will allow field calculation of MAD. We ran the calculation for 230 kV at 3.5 transient overvoltage, the default value if you don’t have a determined value. The result was 5 feet 9 inches phase to ground (the actual results are in decimal feet). That is 6 inches more than the 5 feet 3 inches of the current tables, and 11 inches less than the 6 feet 8 inches of the new alternative MADs found in Table R-6 for those employers that don’t calculate. Using the calculator with a 1.5 transient overvoltage, the distance was 3 feet 1 inch (up to the nearest inch) – far less than the currently used table. These results using the calculator are a far shorter distance than the tables R-6 and R-7 given for alternative use.
OSHA’s intent is for employers to use their own tables engineered to their system specifications, or to use the alternative tables. In a May 6 EEI webinar with OSHA point man David Wallis, it was made clear that the agency thought it unlikely that anyone would use the new alternative tables for applying MAD. The alternative tables are so conservative that many employers and contractors will have to develop the engineered tables just to keep from having to replace all of their wire tongs and sticks that are now too short to be used under the new alternative tables.
OSHA did expand language on approach and rubber ratings for multiphase exposures and phase-to-ground exposures (FR 20427), clarifying what constitutes multiphase. Many employers consider the intersection of the MAD of two opposite phases at one time as multiphase exposure (FR 20426-20427). OSHA has clarified that multiphase exposure is the intersection of the electrical components of the MAD for different phase potentials at the same time by a conductive object. The purposes of this argument apply to employees covering phases and then working in gloves. An example in the preamble is a 23-kV phase-to-phase circuit in which the phases not being worked are covered with system-rated cover. The phase being worked is isolated from the other phases so that the employee is now only exposed to the phase-to-ground exposure. The net result is that a worker, properly isolated from a 23-kV phase-to-phase exposure, can work the phase-to-ground exposure in Class 2 gloves. The preamble also discusses the importance of approach during cover-up and movement between phases to assure that exposures are controlled and within the protective limits of the cover used.
Fall Protection Systems
(1926.954(b)(3)(iii) and (iv) and 1910.269(g)(2)(iv)(C) and (D))
The preamble discussion of fall protection changes begins on FR 20381. There are two significant changes to the fall protection rules. One is that all workers are covered and 100 percent fall protection is the rule. The language in the rule is the same as the current rule: “[A] qualified employee climbing or changing location on poles, towers, or similar structures need not use fall protection equipment, unless conditions, such as, but not limited to, ice, high winds, the design of the structure (for example, no provision for holding on with hands), or the presence of contaminants on the structure, could cause the employee to lose his or her grip or footing.”
The rule allows the same exceptions as currently written where the employer can demonstrate that climbing or changing locations with fall protection is infeasible or creates more of a hazard than climbing without it. However, OSHA’s intention is that workers be 100 percent protected from falls, so the exception is not without limits. The preamble discusses at length the need for the exception beginning on page FR 20399. Ultimately, the limitations are specific: Where there is no practical method for the conditions faced or, as described in the preamble, where a highly congested pole would create increased risks, a climber may free climb (FR 20401). However, once they are clear of the obstructions or congestion, they must use portable fall arrest equipment or work positioning equipment rigged to prevent a fall of more than 2 feet.
The preamble also discusses the limitations of work positioning equipment (FR 20396) as opposed to fall arrest. The existing rules have always limited body belts and safeties rigged for fall arrest. This is because any fall arrest over 2 feet would impress injurious forces at the waist of the worker who was arrested, as opposed to a fall being arrested in a harness. The industry has always recognized the limitations of work positioning equipment as a means of fall arrest. After all, anyone who cuts out with a safety around the pole will fall to the next obstruction, cleaning the pole surface of splinters on the way down. While work positioning equipment can be used under the new rules, it must be rigged so that the user can fall no more than 2 feet. In addition, the rigging for work positioning anchors must be able to withstand 3,000 pounds, so simply driving a screwdriver into the pole does not meet the requirement.
OSHA has also defined fall-restraint systems for use in the industry, adding fall restraint as a viable method of preventing falls (FR 20398). The fall-restraint anchor is not specified, but must be strong enough to restrain the worker from exposure to a fall hazard.
An addition to the current rule for fall protection equipment is ratings for fall protection exposed to electric arcs. The requirement is that the harnesses and/or lanyards exposed to the prescribed test of 40 cal/cm2 must pass the drop test post-exposure to assure that the equipment will not fail after exposure. It is important to note here that the equipment is not required to be arc rated, only that it not fail when subjected to the test. The preamble discusses the requirements for safety straps to be able to pass a flammability test again, specifically noting that there is no requirement to pass an arc rating test (FR 20390).
OSHA has also finally prohibited non-locking snap hooks on lanyards and safeties (FR 20391). While non-locking snaps have not been available for years, the rule as written was recommending locking snaps. They are now prohibited by both 1910.269 and 1926 Subpart V. Though many snaps on the market meet the new ANSI gate strength requirement, OSHA has declined to adopt the 3,600-pound gate side strength requirements, relying on the current drop tests to assure capability of the snaps. OSHA has also clarified that it is permissible to attach more than one snap hook to a D-ring as well to allow snaps to be connected to web loops as long as they are locking snap hooks. These were misunderstood in the past and assumed to be prohibited by the standard even where approved by a manufacturer. The rule now clarifies that unless the snap hook is a locking type and designed specifically for the following connections, snap hooks on work positioning equipment may not be engaged:
• Directly to webbing, rope or wire rope;
• To each other;
• To a D-ring to which another snap hook or other connector is attached;
• To a horizontal lifeline; or
• To any object that is incompatibly shaped or dimensioned in relation to the snap hook.
Host Employers and Contract Employers
(1926.950(c) and 1910.269(a)(3))
Since the rules were proposed, there has been concern about how to deal with the requirements of safety rules between utilities and contractors. OSHA originally proposed that utilities communicate special rules for operating on their systems and that contractors follow them as though they were regulatory. Many were concerned that this would create liabilities for the utility. The proposed rule was not carried over to the final rule, but new communications are required between the two entities as well as communications between contractors and subcontractors.
These communication rules are based on OSHA’s Multi-Employer Citation Policy (CPL 02-00-124, December 10, 1999). That policy is designed to leverage relationships between employers to ensure all workers are protected from hazards in the workplace. OSHA has somewhat modified the proposed provisions, but has clearly described the means, methods and expectations of the newly required communications (FR 20351). In the preamble, OSHA defends the authority to establish these new communication rules against commenters’ objections, citing both federal law and court decisions (FR 20353).
As always, it is imperative that employers read the notes to the rules. There are many in this final rule since OSHA uses notes to define its intent under the new rules. Notes to the rules require the host employer to obtain information regarding existing characteristics and conditions of electric lines and equipment that are related to the safety of the work, and to then share that information with the contract employer prior to the start of the work. This includes information about the nominal voltages of lines and equipment, the maximum switching-transient voltages, the presence of hazardous induced voltages, the presence of protective grounds and equipment grounding conductors, and the locations of circuits and equipment, including electric supply lines, communication lines and fire-protective signaling circuits.
Notes also require the host employer to obtain information about the design and operation of its installation that contract employers need to make required assessments, such as fault current ratings, and the information necessary to assess for arc hazards. OSHA included Table 2 (FR 20361), which lists the types of information that the host employer must provide to the contract employer so that the contractor can perform the analysis required of the standard.
The new relationship also has expectations for the contractor, including informing the host employer within two days of any unanticipated hazardous conditions found during the contract employer’s work that the host employer did not mention. Additionally, the contract employer and the host employer are required to coordinate their work rules and procedures so that each employee of the contract employer and the host employer is protected. This provision is in lieu of the proposed rule to require the contract employer to follow the rules of the host employer (FR 20635).
In the preamble discussion, OSHA promotes a new philosophy in rulemaking that has been the underlying purpose of the Multi-Employer Citation Policy. As stated, when OSHA promulgates new safety and health standards, it does so against this background principle that employers share responsibility for working conditions, and thus for OSHA compliance, at multiemployer work sites. Therefore, when OSHA issues a new safety or health standard, it is with the intention that creating, exposing and controlling employers at multiemployer work sites will exercise their respective responsibilities to ensure that affected employees are protected as required by the standard (FR 20354).
Hazards of Electric Arcs
(1926.960(g) and 1910.269(l)(8))
Until now, the rule for protection of employees from the hazards of electric arcs was to not wear clothing that would increase the severity of a burn (FR 20460). As the arc protective clothing industry evolved and consensus standards developed, OSHA began citing employers, including utility industry employers, under the General Duty Clause. The justification under the clause was that the hazards of electric arcs, as well as the means to protect employees from electric arcs, were well recognized. The final rule clearly establishes requirements for protection of electrical workers from the hazards of electrical arcs. As with all PPE analysis, the protection requirements and level of protection are based on the analyzed risk. Employees required to be protected from exposures exceeding 2 cal/cm2 must wear arc protective equipment to prevent burns.
The protection rules also require the employer to establish arc hazard risk categories for the workplace and to provide protection for the whole body. The final rule does provide a table for employers based on voltage level, fault current and clearing time. Table 6 in Appendix C provides pre-calculated exposure ratings for various combinations of time and current for 4, 5, 8 and 12 cal/cm2.
Final paragraph 1926.960(g)(5)(iv) permits the employer to protect the employee’s head using a face shield with a minimum arc rating of 8 cal/cm2 if the employee is wearing a Type E electrically rated hard hat and the exposure is less than 13 cal/cm2 for single phase or 9 cal/cm2 for other exposures. Paragraph (g)(5)(v) permits a reduction of 4 cal/cm2 in the arc rating of head and face protection for single-phase arcs in open air. For example, if the estimated incident energy for an exposure involving a single-phase arc in open air is 13 cal/cm2, the head protection provided to the employee must have an arc rating of at least 9 cal/cm2 (FR 20489).
The rules don’t require arc-rated gloves when workers are in rubber gloves with leather protectors, or arc-rated foot covers when workers are wearing leather boots. As to compliance dates for arc flash protection, OSHA did give extensions for both the arc hazard analysis and arc flash protection program. There has been some issue with whether employers have new arc flash protection obligations beginning July 10 because of a statement in the preamble, in particular because of the addition of the words “and continue to burn.” The issue here is 1926, where OSHA has added the original prohibited fabrics rule. Some have read the first part of the preamble paragraph referring to no delay in implementation. However, the final part of the paragraph explains how OSHA will enforce the new rules: “… OSHA is not setting a delayed compliance date for final §§ 1926.960(g)(3) and 1910.269(l)(8)(iii) beyond the effective date for the final rule. Until the employer completes the estimates required by final §§ 1926.960(g)(2) and 1910.269(l)(8)(ii), OSHA will enforce §§ 1926.960(g)(3) and 1910.269(l)(8)(iii) as it does existing § 1910.269(l)(6)(iii); that is, the clothing must not ignite and continue to burn when exposed to electric arcs the employee may encounter” (FR 20628).
That existing 1910.269(l)(6)(iii) rule states, “The employer shall ensure that each employee who is exposed to the hazards of flames or electric arcs does not wear clothing that, when exposed to flames or electric arcs, could increase the extent of injury that would be sustained by the employee.”
The existing rule that OSHA will enforce until the employer completes its January 1 arc hazard analysis does not state “continue to burn.” It appears that the instruction means that if the employer currently allows employees to wear the prohibited fabrics, the practice must end by the effective date of July 10, 2014. OSHA will enforce the outer layer (g)(3) and (l)(8) rule after the employer finishes the analysis no later than January 1, 2015.
Lastly, arc protective clothing is PPE and as with all PPE, the employer does have to pay for it. In addition, when the weather gets cold or wet, the employer will have to provide arc-rated outerwear and, as with all PPE, the employer is required to provide it at no cost to the employee.
1910.269(a)(2) and 1926.950(b)
For all the new rules and obligations OSHA has placed on the employer, it has reduced record-keeping requirements for employer safety training. Records have been a concern, especially for contractors who may turn over hundreds of personnel a year as projects end. There was also a wide disparity in how employers complied with the documentation rule that was burdensome for everyone. What is important here for employers is what has actually happened. What has changed is that employers no longer have to keep records to comply with an OSHA rule. That does not necessarily mean that you should not keep records. Employers still have to assure that workers have safety training with respect to the work that they do. They must have a plan to be able to show how they assure that training has been completed, and training records are a good way to do that.
OSHA did expand the requirements for training of line-clearance tree trimmers (FR 20342), but they clarified the level of safety training required to be considered a qualified person (FR 20345). OSHA has clarified training by stating that “[t]he degree of training shall be determined by the risk to the employee for the hazard involved.” In addition, OSHA has removed the requirement to keep detailed records for employee safety training (FR 20349). The new requirement is that the employer ensure that each employee has demonstrated proficiency in the work practices involved before that employee is considered to have completed the required training. For those utilities that hate to give up the records process, OSHA notes that although they are not required by this paragraph, employment records that indicate that an employee has successfully completed the required training are one way of keeping track of when an employee has demonstrated proficiency.
For newly hired craft persons, OSHA also clarified the acceptance of previous training, making recommendations of what would constitute due diligence on the part of the employer. OSHA states that an employer may determine that the employee has demonstrated the proficiencies required by confirming that the employee has the required training, using an examination or interview to make an initial determination that the employee understands the relevant safety-related work practices before he or she performs any work, and closely supervising the employee until that employee has demonstrated the required proficiencies.
There are many other changes that we simply don’t have room to cover here. As readers work their way through the details of the standard, we will be doing so, too. Over the next few installments of Incident Prevention, we expect to address the issues and compliance strategies being mounted across the industry. In addition, the magazine’s Q&A section will deal with the rules as readers write to us with their questions.
Arc Flash Hazard Analyses
Must be complete by January 1, 2015.
Arc Flash Protection Programs
Must be in place by April 1, 2015.
Newly Calculated MAD Tables or the Alternative Tables
Must be in place by April 1, 2015.
Fall Protection Systems
Must be in place by April 1, 2015.
About the Author: After 25 years as a transmission distribution lineman and foreman, Jim Vaughn has devoted the last 16 years to safety and training. A noted author, trainer and lecturer, he is director of safety for Atkinson Power. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.