Incident Prevention is on a mission to be a major player in the reduction of job related accidents within utilities and telecommunications. The publication, our iP Safety Conferences and this site are dedicated to providing utility safety and operations professionals the resources to build safety programs and implement processes that lead to reduced work-related incidents.

Kate Wade

Chris Grajek Honored at 2017 USOLN Safety Award Ceremony

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On October 2, the Utility Safety & Ops Leadership Network (www.usoln.org) held its annual award ceremony at the iP Utility Safety Conference & Expo in Louisville, Ky. During the event, USOLN board members presented the John McRae Safety Leadership Award to Chris Grajek, CRSP, CUSP. Grajek currently serves as safety and work methods director for Allteck Line Contractors based in Burnaby, British Columbia.  

The John McRae Safety Leadership Award was created to honor McRae, a fourth-generation lineman who enjoyed a 42-year career before passing away July 27, 2010. He was active in the military reserves for nearly 30 years and instrumental in establishing the Massachusetts Municipal Lineman’s Association. McRae, a member of San Diego’s IBEW Local 465, spoke across the country about electrical training and went on to assist in the launch of Incident Prevention magazine.

“The John McRae award is a great honor, and even more so coming from an industry full of great leaders and professionls,” Grajek said after winning the award. “I never had the opportunity to meet John, but he sounds like an incredible leader and mentor. I take comfort in surrounding myself with those types of people whenever the opportunity presents itself.”

Grajek was selected to receive the award due to his commitment to the USOLN and its work. “Chris has dedicated himself to the Utility Safety & Ops Leadership Network by serving on the CUSP exam development committee and, more recently, the CUSP governing board,” said Carla Housh, USOLN executive director and publisher of Incident Prevention magazine. “He, along with other Canadian CUSP credential-holders, recognizes the benefits of the program and has worked to support and advance CUSP growth for Canadian utilities. Chris’ safety leadership knowledge, along with his passion for advancing the CUSP program, has had a significant impact on the success of the Northern program, and we are sincerely appreciative of his efforts.”

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Steve Willis

Avoiding the Silent Danger: Three Skills for Improving Your Safety Culture

The other day my oldest son cooked himself a batch of steaming hot Rice-A-Roni. He didn't even wait until he’d found a place to sit before the first spoonful hit his mouth. And I’m guessing the deliciousness overpowered his cognitive abilities because he then staggered into the TV room and plopped down on one of the couches – a definite “no Rice-A-Roni zone.” Now here’s where things get interesting.

First of all, my son knows the rule. His mother and I explained it, we demonstrated it, we had a group discussion about why it’s important to obey it, we practiced taking food to acceptable eating areas within the house, we posted warning signs – you get the idea. In other words, he definitely should have known better.

So, here’s the crucial moment: I walked into the TV room that day to find son, bowl and rice exactly where they shouldn’t be. What made this a crucial moment was that I knew what happened next would set the tone for either success or failure in the future. Recognizing that opportunity, my brain kicked into gear with five possible responses:

  1. Get upset and yell.
  2. Give my son the “You know you shouldn’t be doing this” look and wait for him to take corrective action.
  3. Remind him of the rule and ask him to come back into compliance.
  4. None of the above – he’s almost done, no rice has spilled and confronting him won’t make a big difference anyway. In fact, it might even make things worse.
  5. Some of all of the above in just the right combination to come off as passive-aggressive.

When it comes to a situation like this, and you’re removed from the actual event, it’s easy to see the right answer. But in the moment, we often choose poorly and set ourselves up for “Groundhog Day,” reliving the same exact scene over and over again. In other words, what you permit is what you promote.

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Molly Hall

What Changes When You Put a Face on Safety?

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As an experienced lineman, Gary Norland was typical of many workers: big and strong, physically tough, unafraid of any challenge. That was before he came into contact with a 12,500-volt line. That’s when everything changed. He is not alone, as many others also have experienced serious electrical contacts on the job.

The well-known fact is electrical line work can be hazardous and potentially deadly. Based on high fatal work injury rates, the U.S. Department of Labor puts it in the top 10 high-risk occupations.

In the industry, there is continuous lineworker safety training, a heavy focus on OSHA regulations and requirements, and a variety of procedural checklists. With all this emphasis on ensuring safety knowledge, one might think the serious electrical contact and flash rate among lineworkers would be declining. Yet it appears to be moving in the other direction.

One utility insurer reported a 40 percent overall drop in OSHA reportable incidents from 2006 to 2016; however, lineworker electrical contacts, particularly serious injuries and fatal contacts, are increasing. In 2016, the number of lineworker contacts grew 23 percent compared to the previous year. The number of those that were serious incidents, characterized by a fatality or an injury costing more than $100,000 in medical expenses, went up by 50 percent.

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Luis Ortega, CUSP

Safety Concerns When Setting Wooden Utility Poles

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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 the impact splits the pole and damages the van. All wires are hanging low, but they’re not touching the van or the ground. Frank parks on the side of the road and then checks on his family. Thankfully no one is hurt. However, Frank gets a headache just thinking about the deductible he is going to have to pay his car insurance company to fix the vehicle.

Later, police and emergency personnel arrive on the scene. Frank’s family is taken to the nearby hospital for checkups. Everyone is OK. The police summon the local electric utility to the accident site. The utility responds immediately and assigns the emergency to Bob’s crew. Bob is a foreman with many years of experience; he is known to be tough and demanding yet compassionate. Over the years, his co-workers have nicknamed him “By-the-Book Bob” and “S&P Boss” – “S&P” standing for “safety and productivity.”

Bob assembles his crew and instructs them on the situation. He then reminds them of his basic “CSS” rule that applies while any utility employee is behind the wheel. The three components of the rule are as follows:

  • Cellphone use is banned while driving.
  • Seat belts must be worn when the engine is running.
  • Speed limits must be obeyed.
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Jim Vaughn, CUSP

Train the Trainer 101: No Windows

Two U.S. Navy ships recently were involved in collisions at sea. It seemed impossible that one event, involving the USS Fitzgerald, would even occur. Then, a second collision occurred in the same region. In fact, in the last year, the Pacific fleet has experienced four serious navigational awareness errors, which has raised a question: Could the Navy have become so slack in discipline and readiness that these events were destined to happen?

We all know that, just as in the military, frontline leadership in the utility industry has a direct bearing on performance in the field. Yet after-action analysis indicates that when the Navy incidents occurred, the front line performed above expectations, indicating their competency and competency in their training as demonstrated by the actions of sailors. As was expected of the military, a quick response by Command relieved the ships’ leaders of their duties, citing loss of trust. Was Command correct? Did the ships’ leadership lose trust, or was it something else?

Some speculation arose among naval defense analysts that hackers may have caused electronic mayhem. A naval ship’s protection system depends on its electronic eyes and ears. Systems have evolved greatly since the days of the direct-wired blip from the antenna to the screen interpreted by a trained radar man. Early radar sent out a specific frequency wave that was several meters wide. The return wave depended on density of mass to return a reflection of that same frequency wave. The blip was interpreted by a trained observer to differentiate between an enemy bomber and a flock of geese. Today’s electronic radar frequency wave shifts are as small as 1 millimeter. A radar reflection comes back as thousands of bits that are interpreted by a computer. The radar screen now delivers an information-laden message to the radar man, who reads and reports the information displayed to him – by the computer. Some reports suggest that contemporary radar used by the military can detect a suitcase-sized drone that is miles away. The same types of systems scan for other threats, such as missiles and warplanes. If a hostile force wants to disable such protection, hacking a ship’s digital protection capabilities would make it vulnerable.

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Danny Raines, CUSP

Voice of Experience: Electric Utility Accidents and Injuries: Why Are We Regressing?

I travel frequently for work, and everywhere I go, I hear conversations about injuries and accidents that have occurred in the electric utility industry. Many of those conversations have included comments about how dangerous or hazardous our industry is. And in several articles published on Forbes.com based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job title of electrical power-line installer and repairer is consistently listed as one of the 10 deadliest occupations in America.

What is helping to keep this title listed as one of the deadliest jobs in the country? Many of us who have worked in the industry for years agree on a theory that it’s the people who are changing – not the job itself. The equipment we use has advanced and improved over time, and now it’s safer than ever before; however, the number of workers in the industry also has increased over the past 10 years.

A project led by the Electric Power Research Institute – known as the Occupational Health and Safety Database program – “enables the electric energy industry to monitor annual injury/illness trends, perform benchmarking, evaluate intervention programs, and investigate occupational health and safety research,” according to the institute’s “Occupational Health and Safety Annual Report 2008” (see www.epri.com/#/pages/product/1015630/). In the 2008 report, 13 years of personnel, injury and claims data – from 1995 through 2007 – from 17 utilities was integrated into a single data system. Findings in that report include the following:

  • More than 60 percent of employees were between 41 to 60 years old. Nearly 35 percent were in the 41-50 age group.
  • Workers aged 21-30 – approximately 10 percent of workers – had the highest observed injury rate.
  • Lineworkers, mechanics and meter readers had the greatest proportions of injuries among electrical energy occupational groups; these three types of workers also had among the highest injury rates.
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Jim Vaughn, CUSP

December 2017 Q&A

Q: I understand OSHA has made a final announcement on minimum approach distances. Can you explain the latest information?

A: On December 22, 2016, OSHA issued a memorandum to regional administrators regarding the enforcement of minimum approach distance requirements in 29 CFR 1910.269 and 1926 Subpart V (see www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=INTERPRETATIONS&p_id=31079). The memorandum had an effective date of July 1, 2017. Readers will recall that concerns about the rising risks of transient over-voltages were the basis for the increased minimum approach distances published by OSHA in 2014. The bottom line is that OSHA has accepted an industry engineering analysis – an IEEE paper titled “Practical Approaches to Reducing Transient Overvoltages Factors for Live Work” that was delivered at IEEE’s 2016 ESMO conference – as a basis for the final guidance of the memorandum. The guidance for enforcement is simple, but it is divided for above and below 72 kV. Following are the choices spelled out in the memorandum.

New Transient Table
The IEEE paper established a new Table A with standard transient multipliers based on voltage. The employer may still calculate their own minimum approach distances utilizing an engineering analysis approved by the standard using transients published in the new Table A.

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David McPeak, CUSP, CET, CHST, CSP, CSSM

Frontline Fundamentals: Human Performance: What Is It and Why Should We Study It?

Please take a few moments to think about the following questions:

  • Should a vice president tell his employees, “I only want new mistakes”?
  • Is telling a 10-year-old baseball pitcher to throw strikes a good way to teach him how to pitch?
  • When is the last time you provided positive reinforcement for safety behavior, or do you consider safe work a part of the job that shouldn’t be praised?
  • How do your frontline workers feel when you say zero injuries is the goal and nothing else is acceptable?
  • Do most of your post-incident corrective actions involve administrative controls such as retraining and targeted observations?
  • Imagine one of your employees rear-ends another vehicle and does $100 in damage to an older-model sedan with high mileage. Another employee does the same thing but hits a new luxury SUV and does $10,000 in damage. Are both vehicle collisions investigated? Do both employees receive the same disciplinary action?
  • Would you spank your child because they spilled their milk? Would that keep them from spilling it again?
  • How does it help someone when you say, “Be safe,” and are you doing it for them or yourself?

Here are two additional questions you should carefully consider, as they are the ultimate test of your safety program’s effectiveness. If your answer to either one is yes, there is room for improvement and an opportunity to add human performance (HP) principles into your program.

  • Do the same kinds of incidents continue to occur at your organization?
  • When incidents happen, are you left in disbelief that they happened, about how they happened and about who they happened to?
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Hugh Hoagland and Stacy Klausing, M.S.

Secondary FR Garments: Practical Solutions for Protection

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Cleanup of potentially hazardous materials and flammable contaminants can sometimes be a part of an electrical job. When workers arrive on a scene, they cannot always be sure of the exposures or contaminants they will face. In electrical work, it could be oil that contains a small number of PCBs. This oil, and other contaminants, is flammable and can affect the flame-resistant properties of garments until it is washed from the garments. Working around flammable contaminants, as well as flame and thermal hazards like arc flash potentials and flash fire potentials, often requires a PPE safety system that can be difficult to balance. Some workers may need chemical protection, flame protection or both. Secondary protection used in such circumstances, like disposable garments, can create a fast and effective way to decontaminate and clean a scene – by removal and disposal – without soiling or degrading the primary protection underneath. Because of this, disposables often are useful over daily wear. Many workers and managers assume that a chem suit is a chem suit and use the common polyester/polyethylene suits to cover their arc-rated/flame-resistant (AR/FR) gear. This can be a disaster if one of the suits ignites, melts and continues to burn, or if part of the suit becomes molten and melts onto a worker’s hands or face.

In the AR/FR PPE industry, however, disposable garments are few and far between, and the standards aren’t quite in place to help make the distinction between garments that are truly flame resistant in specific hazards versus marketing. The lightweight, thin materials typically can’t pass some of the harsh requirements set forth for garments to be used as primary materials. And even though most are not intended for primary protection, there are limited standards to guide manufacturers on appropriate tests and claims for these types of products. This is especially true for those needing multihazard protection in the outermost disposable garment. There are disposable garments on the market that boast protection from a variety of hazards, like blood-borne pathogens, dry particulates and chemicals. When flame resistance comes into play, there are even fewer options on the market.

How Far Have We Come?
Disposables have come a long way in the past few years, but we are still lacking in standards on the AR/FR side. Initially, polyester spunlace disposable garments were used for chemical protection, and they revolutionized the industry in providing secondary, fast protection that could be doffed and disposed of without concern of contamination of primary clothing; these products add extra protection to the worker at a low cost. Later, coated and sealed-seam garments on the chemical protection side were made to withstand even higher-level exposures, including chemical warfare, an unlikely scenario in the workplace. Disposables for chemical protection worked well for chemical hazards, but they were not adequate or intended for the risks from flash fires or electric arcs. Flame resistance of disposable garments still hadn’t been adequately addressed from a standards perspective, and there were misunderstandings in the market regarding FR PPE, including PPE intended to be disposable.

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Arthur Seely and Steve Andreas

Understanding Hypothermia in the Outdoor Work Environment

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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 one: hypothermia, or the human body’s attempt to manage a drop in its core temperature. The core includes the brain, heart, lungs and neck. When managing body core temperatures, keep in mind that more blood flows closer to the skin in the neck than anywhere else in the human body.

Any drop in the temperature of the core blood will trigger a response from the hypothalamus in the brain, which is responsible for all body thermoregulation. The hypothalamus has three separate and unique methods that it will use, in sequence, to respond to a lowered core temperature, referred to as stage 1, stage 2 and stage 3. Failure to recognize the differences between the stages can immediately be fatal to a hypothermia victim.

The Three Stages
Stage 1 hypothermia occurs when the body’s core blood temperature first drops. The hypothalamus initiates two major responses to this temperature drop, only one of which the victim is aware. The first response is the hypothalamus triggering the major muscle groups – those in the arms, legs and face – to shiver. This is mild at first but then progresses to severe and uncontrollable shivering. The second response, which the victim is unaware of, is the brain triggering the release of larger quantities of sugars and insulin into the bloodstream. This is necessary to support the hard muscular work involved in shivering.

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Deborah L. Dickinson

Overcoming Barriers to Crane and Rigging Skills Development

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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 are trained and competent without exclusion for any industry. Even while safe crane operation and rigging are critical to utilities, the lack of seat time and skills maintenance is a growing concern among utility safety departments. A strategic approach to developing those skills across business units is essential to maintaining the industry’s above-average safety record.

However, utilities, like most large, complex organizations, battle the 5 C’s: complex corporate culture causing complications. Different groups within the utility may, out of necessity or for other reasons, operate as silos, with little shared knowledge or resources. Construction groups, T&D and emergency response crews have different needs when it comes to crane operation skill levels. The differences between operating boom trucks or digger derricks and large telescopic or lattice boom cranes must be recognized when training individuals for typical or emergency response work environments. Yet the reality of maintaining skill levels may require staff and budget that conflict on the surface with corporate cultures that thrive on efficiencies.

To maintain qualifications in the various areas of responsibilities, utilities need to plan for and schedule practice time with cranes and rigging to reinforce and verify skill ability. Relying on a weeklong refresher training course once every five years is not sufficient for retaining competent crane operation skills.

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Michael Stremel, CUSP

Safety Concerns When Working In and Around Manholes and Vaults

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Some utilities – including electric, cable and communications providers – have had both underground and overhead applications for many years. However, more and more of these utilities now are either primarily installing their services underground or relocating overhead services underground, for a variety of reasons. These include reliability and protection from weather conditions, as well as minimizing exposure to equipment, vehicular traffic and farming operations. In addition to these safety concerns, utilities are installing services underground due to customer requests to improve the general appearance of the communities served by the utilities.

There are many beneficial reasons to install services underground, but there also are some downsides. Among them is the risk of personnel exposure to hazards when improper excavation practices are used. It is critical to adhere to OSHA 29 CFR 1926 Subpart P excavation practices as well as 811 and Dig Safe procedures. Another risk associated with underground facilities is that they often incorporate vaults or manholes that may be classified either as confined spaces or permit-required confined spaces. In either case, there are a number of safety concerns for which OSHA has implemented specific regulations that must be enforced to keep employees safe while working in these areas.

Safety should always be No. 1 on any job site. OSHA 1910.269(a)(2) states that all employees shall be trained in and familiar with the safety-related work practices, safety procedures and other safety requirements that pertain to their respective job duties. The agency goes on to say that employees who work in and around manholes must be trained on manhole rescue each year in order to demonstrate task proficiency. Proper documentation should be completed for the manhole training, as with any other training. The standard also states that the employee in charge shall conduct a job briefing or tailgate with all employees involved before the start of each job. At a minimum, the briefing should address the five areas required by the OSHA standard: hazards associated with the job, special precautions, energy-source controls, work procedures involved and personal protective equipment requirements.

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Jim Vaughn, CUSP

Train the Trainer 101: Practical Aviation for Power-Line Applications

It was a little over 40 years ago that a Vietnam veteran helicopter pilot in Florida made the first live-line contact with a live transmission circuit, bringing a quantum leap for power-line applications using helicopter methods. The FAA regulates what they call “rotorcraft” work with specific qualifications for pilots, flight crews and the airships and auxiliary equipment used.

Many utilities and contractors think helicopters – or HCs, in flyers’ lingo – are for use on difficult projects because of the expense. But I have been working with contractors for the last 15 years who recognize the value of HCs in construction and use them as often as possible. An hour of HC time may cost the same as the monthly rental of a bucket truck, but when you can clip, space, dame and ball 20 times the structures in a day over bucket access, the expense really makes sense. I also am aware that some contractors and utilities think HC use raises risk. I know that some utility clients prohibit HCs on their properties while others actively assist their contractors by prequalifying HC companies.

The primary use of HCs has been to string rope or, in some cases, hard-line for pulling wire in transmission construction using HC blocks. These blocks are equipped with a spring-loaded gate at the top of the frame. The gate has extensions that guide the rope into the sheave, provided the pilot is good enough. It looks easier than it is. Since Mike Kurtgis of USA Airmobile put his ship on a hot line in Florida, skid and rope-suspended work, inspection and insulator washing have continued to advance as accepted work practices. The FAA refers to working from a skid or rope (short haul) as “human external load,” or HEL. By some it is called the most dangerous work method in the line industry. In fact, even the FAA has a sense of humor about it, as noted in their wording of a safety requirement in the HEL rules. In guidance document FSIMS 8900.1, Vol. 3, Ch. 51, the FAA provides examples of the types of persons that can be carried on an HC skid – they include movie camera operators and clowns as two of those examples. We always assumed that the lineman with the nerve to work from the skid was not the camera operator.

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Danny Raines, CUSP

Voice of Experience: Distribution Cover-Up: Why Wouldn’t You Use It?

Over the next few installments of “Voice of Experience,” I’ll be reviewing some accidents that have taken place in the electric utility industry. I’ve had many requests for information about incident investigations and would like to share some details in hopes of preventing similar accidents in the future. Distribution cover-up will be the focus for this issue’s column.

Approximately half – or even more – of accidents that result in flashes and electrical contacts are the result of poor cover-up or total lack of rated protective cover. Why would a lineworker not take the time to install protective cover that would assure a safe work area? According to statistics and accident reports, the industry suffers an average of one contact or flash every week. That needs to stop.

Investigations into many accidents, some of which involved fatal contact with system or source voltages, have revealed that failure to cover up all differences of potential in the immediate work area was the common denominator in most flashes and contacts. If you are or your company is following the minimum requirements found in OSHA 29 CFR 1910.269(l), “Working on or near exposed energized parts,” it is simply not enough to ensure an employee is totally protected from differences of potential in the work area.

The human body essentially is a 1,000-ohm resistor in an electrical circuit. When a lineworker fails to cover energized parts as well as differences of potential in the immediate work area, as little as a 50-volt AC electrical source may enter the body. If the current path crosses the heart, as few as 40 to 50 milliamps can induce atrial fibrillation, cause the heart to stop sinus rhythm and electrocute the worker. The industry is quite familiar with medium-voltage contacts but many times lacks respect for low-voltage contacts that can be just as fatal.

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Jim Vaughn, CUSP

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 for arc flash protection – excavation in a substation would not produce the type of work exposure you described that could create an arc flash. The location of the work and the type of work would not bring a worker within any distance of an energized bus or apparatus that would be a threat. If that’s the case, there would not be a requirement for arc-rated clothing for civil workers in a substation.

We are aware that there are utilities that require all workers, no matter what their craft or task is, to wear arc flash protective shirts while in a substation because it’s a company policy. But in regard to your question, it’s all about exposure. No exposure, no requirement for shirts. It is obvious that it’s not quite that simple for policymakers and risk analysts, who often are the people who make these decisions. Utilities must decide how to protect employees, protect the company and comply with the standards. That goal sometimes results in a blanket requirement as opposed to writing detailed criteria for when workers must suit up. The rules held by some utilities raise this question: If workers must wear arc-rated shirts, why don’t they have to wear arc-rated face protection? In fact, most of the inquiries we’ve made would seem to indicate the decision to require arc protective clothing in substations is more about gut response to the spirit of arc flash protection for contractors and employees than the result of arc flash analysis. Processes and knowledge are still expanding in the industry. As most would say, it doesn’t hurt for civil workers to wear arc protective shirts unless there is an unacceptable heat stress factor involved. In fact, there are some pretty lightweight pullover tees in Cat 2 that may help relieve both arc flash and heat stress.

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David McPeak, CUSP, CET, CHST, CSP, CSSM

Frontline Fundamentals: Measure What You Want

Imagine this scenario: A worker seriously cuts his nose on the job. The laceration causes part of his nose, at the base of the nostril, to partially separate from his face. The worker glues his nose back together with super glue to prevent going to the doctor and having an OSHA-recordable injury. He then receives two rewards through the company’s safety incentive program. The first is an immediate reward when his supervisor recommends him for safety excellence because he prevented a recordable injury. This is followed by a financial incentive at the end of the year, when his work group is given a bonus for not having a recordable injury during the calendar year.

Here’s another scenario to consider: An employee is stopped at an intersection and gets rear-ended by another vehicle hard enough that he is taken to the emergency room and receives medical treatment. Pursuant to 29 CFR 1904, “Recording and Reporting Occupational Injuries and Illness,” this is determined to be a new, work-related case that meets the general recording criteria and therefore is a recordable injury. Because he had a recordable injury, this employee is not invited to attend the company’s annual safety awards dinner, where prizes such as televisions and all-expenses-paid vacations are raffled and given away. Note: OSHA prohibits employer retaliation for reporting an injury (see 1904.35 and 1904.36) and will not allow employers that offer financial incentive programs to participate in their Voluntary Protection Programs.

Incentivize Desired Performance
Both scenarios are unfortunate and too common in the workplace. Organizations need to be aware that the absence of injury does not necessarily indicate the presence of safety. With that in mind, they must stop programs that incentivize results and instead focus on performance, which is the combination of behaviors and results. The guiding principle behind any incentive program, coaching or feedback should be to never reward results or punish someone without understanding the behavior driving the results. Get the desired behaviors and the results will take care of themselves.

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Jesse Hardy, CET, CSP, CUSP

Overcoming the Effects of Rapid Growth

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Once upon a time, there was a construction company that did great work. The employees delivered their projects on time without change orders, and they completed them without harming people or the environment. All their happy clients gave them more and more work, which the company gladly accepted, believing that surely the fairy tale would continue. But then the company discovered that this rapid growth had spread them so thin that their production, safety and environmental quality had faded away. This moved them from best to worst in the eyes of their clients, and the company almost went bankrupt due to injuries, lawsuits and loss of contracts. The end.  

Not all stories have a happy ending. And many of you well know that the current project-load reality in the utility construction industry certainly isn’t a fairy tale. However, there still can be a positive outcome for your company – even in extreme growth cycles – if you and your leaders master the skills of operational assessment and communication.

Earlier this year I ran Supreme Industries’ numbers and found that our work hours were up 56 percent over the same period last year (January-May). I was shocked – not because of the rapid growth, but because I didn’t receive any warning signals from our safety scoreboard. Don’t get me wrong, I knew things were busy, but other than the fact that I was ordering a lot more health, safety and environmental (HSE) supplies than last year, I didn’t see the magnitude of our growth in my daily life. But why didn’t I?

Flashback three years: I’m sitting with Nate Boucher, Supreme Industries’ vice president of civil and drilling, and Gavin Boucher, vice president of clearing and operations, and Nate says, “Jesse, our field leadership wants more professional development. We’ve done ‘StrengthsFinder 2.0’ and ‘Emotional Intelligence,’ but what’s next? We believe our divisions are going to be growing for the foreseeable future. Gavin and I are taking care of equipment and infrastructure planning, but we want you to prepare our field leaders professionally for what’s coming.” After that conversation, I took some time to outline what we needed to do in terms of future professional development.

Getting back to the present day, I believe the conversation I had with Nate and Gavin three years ago plus the actions we took after the conversation was over are the reasons why I didn’t notice a rapid growth cycle on our safety scoreboard earlier this year.

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Dave Johnson, CUSP, and Mack Turner, CUSP

7 Electrical Theory and Circuitry Myths – Busted

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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 utter this statement and are merely talking about convenience, you may have a cogent argument, but convenience does not outweigh safety. If you are merely talking about cost, you may again have a cogent argument, but the cost argument doesn’t win when it comes to safety because how do you put a price on a human life?

So, why might a fuse be better than a circuit breaker? All fuse manufacturer representatives will assure you that fuses in general operate faster than breakers. They may operate in less than a quarter of a cycle compared to three to four cycles for many circuit breakers. If you are in series or parallel with fault current flow, you literally are being cooked from the inside out. Reducing the amount of time the circuit is allowed to operate is a better protection strategy than allowing current flow to go on longer. Additionally, fuses typically are better at interrupting an avalanche of fault current from an incoming service. Breakers and fuses have maximum amp interruption capacity ratings, meaning if a breaker or fuse is installed on a circuit with a higher fault current capability than the breaker, the breaker or fuse can simply melt or arc across and fail to operate. The least-protective fuse interrupts 10,000 amperes of incoming energy, while a typical branch circuit breaker interrupts 5,000 amperes.

Myth 2: If you turn on a light switch with wet hands, you will get electrocuted.
While there is a possibility you might get electrocuted, you probably will not. That’s not to say you won’t get shocked; you must understand the difference between shock and electrocution. A shock occurs anytime current flows through your body, via any path, for any duration and at any magnitude. Electrocution is a shock that kills you by interfering with bodily processes. It only takes as little as 50 milliamps to send an adult heart into ventricular fibrillation; death is imminent within four to six minutes of ventricular fibrillation.

Another definition also is useful here: Fault current is current flowing anywhere you don’t want it to flow, especially through you. Fault current can flow in parallel or in series with normal current flow, or with the load. You don’t want to be in the path of fault current. Fortunately, the likelihood of being in a fault current path while operating a modern plastic switch, even with wet hands, is very low. Even lower is the likelihood of electrocution from the event.

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Raffi Elchemmas, MBA, AEP, and Sarah Hall

The Science of Keeping Workers Safe

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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 of the risks of electrocution, falls and human error, but also in terms of risks for musculoskeletal disorders and ergonomic injuries. The agency has gone so far as to say that one in three injuries is an ergonomic injury. Examples of these injuries include carpal tunnel syndrome, rotator cuff tendinitis, elbow epicondylitis (tennis elbow) and trigger finger tendinitis.

These injuries translate into an incredible number of dollars spent by employers. According to the 2017 Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index, U.S. businesses spend more than a billion dollars a week on serious, nonfatal workplace injuries. Of the billion dollars a week, over 20 percent of the injuries – which account for nearly $14 billion a year – are directly attributed to overexertion involving outside sources.

Objectively Measuring Ergonomics
Based on the information presented above, it’s clear that quality workplace ergonomics are good for both employee health and an employer’s bottom line. But while almost every tool manufacturer talks about ergonomics, are their claims about ergonomics true or just a marketing stunt? It’s important to understand how a company tests their products prior to purchasing them. The truth is that some tool manufacturers have not measured ergonomics at all, some outsource the measurement process and some do partial measurements but don’t perform the complete process. At Milwaukee Tool, not only do we conduct measurements in-house, but we also have teams of subject matter experts who implement ergonomic designs into the tools utilities use every day.

Objectively measuring ergonomics is a very precise task. Some ergonomic risk factors to look for in your tools are high levels of noise, vibration and required force. While some exposure to these risk factors isn’t necessarily hazardous, exposure to high thresholds of these categories puts workers at serious risk for eardrum damage, vibration-induced white fingers, trigger finger tendinitis and carpal tunnel syndrome, among others. 

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Brian Bourquin

Rope Access Work in Today’s Line Trade

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Rope has always been at the core of many operations and is the principal means of removing an injured person from a structure or manhole. In recent years, labor laws have revised and expanded expectations, particularly for worker fall protection on towers. The quest for methods to accommodate these rules has created opportunities for new applications of rope techniques, introducing wider use of rope access and rope descent technologies into the line industry.

Rope access describes rope-use techniques that have evolved from centuries-old rope applications incorporating maritime, construction and, in particular, mountain climbing or controlled descent methods. In the firefighting world, rescue using rope is referred to as “high-angle” or “technical” rescue. Rope access has been used for centuries in construction, and most readers today are familiar with scenes of lumberjacks, wind energy blade inspections, and dam and bridge inspectors suspended over the sides of structures.

In the line trade, we traditionally think of rope in terms of its use as a handline, which, in the event of an emergency, doubles as a rescue line. This rescue technique is still as relevant now as it was in the late 19th century, as the idea to plan your rescues is not a new one. Any differences between rope rescue today and rope rescue in the early days of power lines are primarily due to technological advances. One example of these advances is Buckingham Manufacturing Co.’s OX BLOCK, which is used for hurt-man rescue and self-rescue, as well as lowering, raising and snubbing loads.

To the employer researching rope access and controlled descent techniques for workers, it is important that line personnel be involved in the research process so that the techniques, tools and training that are adopted effectively match the needs of the workplace. Keep in mind that rope access is not a substitute for all work tasks – it is simply another tool. Both training and research are critical for employers and employees considering rope access techniques; this includes the review and assessment of tools and other items currently available on the market, including rescue-rated blocks and property-rated handlines.

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