Incident Prevention Magazine

Chris Grajek, CRSP, CUSP, has been Allteck’s director of health and safety since 2006. He leads a team of trades trainers and field safety coordinators for local and international construction and maintenance activities. Grajek is also involved with a number of transmission and distribution partnership task teams and provides instruction on a...

Chris Grajek, CRSP, CUSP, has been Allteck’s director of health and safety since 2006. He leads a team of trades trainers and field safety coordinators for local and international construction and maintenance activities. Grajek is also involved with a number of transmission and distribution partnership task teams and provides instruction on a wide range of utility-driven training initiatives. He can be reached at [email protected].

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Chris Grajek, CRSP, CUSP

Underground Electrical Vaults: Safety Concerns and Controls

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 good understanding of the risks of entering man-accessible vaults and conducting work inside of them. There are many stories and equally as many opinions as to the safety and stability of the underground electrical network. The intent of this article is to summarize some known conditions your employees may face during execution of work in underground vaults. Although explosions may constitute the bulk of catastrophic events, thorough consideration of all hazards should be included in risk analyses.

The Vault
There is no uniform standard pertaining to vault configurations, but utilities regularly have an engineering standard. Man-accessible spaces can be as shallow as 8 feet deep with 340 cubic feet to approximately 30 feet deep with 3,000 cubic feet. Each vault is connected to others in the underground system through ducts and can have one to several high-voltage cable circuits passing through it. Some cables pass through directly while others contain splices, connections, transitions and some high-voltage switchgear or similar equipment. Most common cables are cross-linked polyethylene – often referred to as XLPE – or lead cable circuits. There is the potential for other systems to be present in spaces associated with lower voltages and communication cables. Some vaults have standard manhole lids while others have latch plates. The number of combinations is endless, but hazard exposure in these spaces is similar and can be categorized into exposure tables. When conducting your risk assessments, it is generally accepted in most jurisdictions to group your spaces by similar configurations of space and type. This will help organize information, reduce the volume of documentation and provide your field crews with clear data to safely perform their work.

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Chris Grajek, CRSP, CUSP

Fire Restoration Best Practices for Utilities

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 their campsites on foot and head toward the river. Area livestock were turned loose by their owners in hopes they would head for safer ground. In the immediate aftermath of the fire, the bulk of the damage could be found a stone’s throw away from the center of Rock Creek. An estimated 4,500 hectares were ravaged.

Crews from Allteck – a utility contractor headquartered in Langley, British Columbia – were alerted to respond several hours after the fire passed through Rock Creek. One of the main feeder lines, KET1, had been destroyed, leaving residents without services. Telecommunications and radio towers also were disrupted, leaving few options for communications. Most residents and visitors affected by the fire had been transported to the local community of Midway, southeast of Rock Creek, where shelters had been established and the BC Wildfire Service had set up their central response. The fire was still burning to the northeast, with prevailing winds from the southwest. After consultation with FortisBC, the local utility, it was decided that power restoration would soon commence, although it would prove to be a challenge: Highway 33 – which provided access to the restoration area – was blocked by the authorities, and local fire crews continued to battle flare-ups in the area with helicopter support in the nearby hills.

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Chris Grajek, CRSP, CUSP

Stringing Best Practices: Mesh Grips vs. Preforms

Stringing Best Practices: Mesh Grips vs. Preforms

When you ask lineworkers what differentiates their work from general construction, it’s not surprising that they will typically say they work with big lines at high voltages. Lineworkers take pride in keeping lines up and fixing them when they come down. We know that lines do come down inadvertently, and we also know that the losses resulting from such incidents can be substantial. No amount of regulation will combat these problems, so that’s where best practices come into play. Best practices establish the most common methods to achieve operational success within the parameters of regulations, provide work techniques inclusive of the collective trade experience and debunk field-level work practices that counter those efforts.

Each year thousands of miles are strung, and many lineworkers have likely wondered how many lines have dropped due to misaligned or misapplied practices. In fact, we asked this same question at Allteck, which prompted research into the matter; our goal was to compile the best working knowledge about some stringing problems commonly encountered by workers in the field. The prevention strategies regarding this topic appeared limited, and most stringing information related to post-incident countermeasures, such as the bonded and grounded stringing site.

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