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Writing Utility Work and Safety Procedures

With the great number of potential hazards in the industry, high-voltage transmission and distribution line work can be risky business. That’s a considerable part of why the T&D industry is rife with regulations, policies, procedures and work practices that electrical workers must adhere to.

Work and safety procedures should be written so that there is a clear set of steps to follow in order to perform every task safely and in compliance with existing regulations. It is critical that training is in place for new procedures, and that information about the procedures is shared with affected work groups via meetings, tailboards and other methods to ensure understanding.

Engineers often are the primary developers and writers of a utility’s work procedures. If you’re fortunate enough to have a safety department, someone within that department likely will be tasked with writing safety procedures. The best scenario is to form procedures committees staffed with individuals from relevant departments who have different job skills and essential functions; these people can bring subject matter expertise to the table when procedures are being crafted. For example, the safety department can provide information about current regulations and compliance issues. Engineering can provide expertise about any new system equipment or devices that require either a new policy or procedure or a modification to an existing policy or procedure. The training department can develop, facilitate and deliver training on any new procedures, as well as develop related guidelines, job aids and other tools for affected workers.

Be aware, however, that assembling these committees can present challenges. Some workers may not want to spend time working on a committee. Others may have supervisors who do not enable them to participate. It’s important to address these challenges because without the expertise of craftworkers, development of work and safety procedures will be difficult.

During the procedure-writing process, it’s necessary to ask and answer relevant questions, including:

  • What is the purpose of this procedure?
  • Who will be using the procedure?
  • Are there other departments in the company that have a similar procedure? If so, who within that department needs to be contacted to discuss any changes?

Formatting and Content Considerations
Once you’ve assembled a committee and answered the appropriate questions, how exactly do you write the procedures, and what format/template is used? While there isn’t one correct way to write procedures or one specific template to use, it has been my experience that there are some generally accepted formats for writing procedures. Following are some brief recommendations to help you get started.

Font, Spacing and Alignment

  • Font: Use Arial, Calibri or Helvetica – these sans serif fonts are easy to read.
  • Font size: The body of the text should be standard 12-point font.
  • Line spacing: Spacing of 1.5 lines to double-spaced is better than single spacing in terms of easy readability.
  • Alignment: Use either left alignment or full justification. Left alignment means the text aligns to the left of the document. Full justification occurs when the text is aligned like a block, with even text alignment on both sides.

Headers and Footers

  • Each page header should contain your company’s name, the procedure title and the date the document was last updated.
  • Footers should include the document’s page number, file name and path. 

From there, begin to add content, including an introduction, the purpose of the document and its scope. Following are examples of how to begin writing these sections:

  • Introduction: “These work procedures are intended to ensure consistent and practical policies for grounding de-energized conductors and equipment as required by …”
  • Purpose: “Grounding is required for the protection of the worker and for system protection when working on de-energized high-voltage lines or equipment.”
  • Scope: “These procedures can be used for overhead transmission conductors, equipment and devices.”

Next, begin numbering and writing each step. If you’re using Microsoft Word, you can either use its numbering feature or manually number the steps. I typically recommend going the manual route, as the numbering feature will sometimes make formatting changes you don’t want and lead to frustration. Here’s an example of numbering:

  1. Requirements for Overhead Grounding
    1.1 General Requirements
              1.1.1 Applying for clearance
              1.1.2 Switching
              1.1.3 Testing de-energized
              1.1.4 Signing on the clearance
              1.1.5 Installing grounds
    1.2 Step and Touch Potential
              1.2.1 Step potential
              1.2.2 Touch potential

As you can see, there is an orderly method for procedure development that you can use in your organization. While you work on the procedures, keep in mind that there also are additional considerations – such as approval processes and archiving – that are necessary to address for worker safety and system reliability.

About the Author: Max Fuentes is a retired grid assets line supervisor who started his career with the Sacramento Municipal Utility District in 1984. He earned a bachelor’s degree in business management. Since his retirement in 2015, Fuentes has worked as a utility consultant, writing safety and work policies and procedures and serving as an expert witness for attorneys and utility companies. He is a member of ASSP, IEEE, NFPA and the USOLN.

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