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Incident Prevention Magazine

Chip Darius, CUSP, OHST, CET, CSHO

Controlling Struck-By Hazards in Utility Work Zones


Struck-by hazards are one of the greatest threats to workers employed in the utility and construction industries, and thus are hazards every utility and construction company should be focused on mitigating. Typical examples of struck-by hazards include traffic passing through a work zone; vehicle and equipment movement within a work zone or construction area; rotating or swinging equipment, such as an excavator; and falling loads and tools.

Worker fatalities in work zones dropped due to the last recession, hovering around 100 fatalities per year from 2007 to 2013, but numbers are rising again as the economy strengthens and roadway work projects increase. More than 140 worker fatalities in work zones were recorded in 2016.

OSHA is the Minimum
OSHA standards establish minimum legal standards for safety programs, and many employers rely on OSHA when creating company safety plans and policies. In this particular area, it is essential to emphasize the word “minimum” because OSHA standards lag far behind current consensus standards and recognized industry safety practices. Employers committed to protecting workers from struck-by hazards must set their sights higher than the OSHA minimums, looking to ANSI consensus standards and industry practices for guidance. This article explains the current federal OSHA and industry safety practices.

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Lee Marchessault, CUSP

Are Your Substations Safe?


Electrical power is a critical service that profoundly affects our daily lives. Without it, we would lose cellphone service, safety on city streets would be compromised because lights would not work, and the quality of life as we know it would diminish significantly. We would have to close schools and hospitals, and most jobs would be eliminated. Much of our food supply also would be critically impacted.

To continue living the life we are accustomed to – and have come to expect – we must have a reliable source of electricity, which starts with generation. Outside the generation station, power typically is stepped up to a higher voltage and usually ends up at a transmission system voltage (i.e., 115 to 550 kV). Transmission substations provide a means to transmit and protect the high-voltage transmission systems throughout the U.S. To distribute the power to homes and businesses, the transmission voltage is stepped down to lower voltages in distribution substations. Both transmission and distribution substations have breakers and fuses to provide system protection, along with many other parts and pieces that provide protection for equipment, personnel and the public, as well as reliability.

To ensure that power is always available, utilities must be diligent – engaging in regular inspections and National Electrical Safety Code (NESC) audits – in identifying conditions that may impact reliability and safety. The NESC has been around for approximately 100 years. Initially created as a guide to help electrical professionals understand safe design and work practices for generation, transmission and distribution systems, it is a culmination of many other standards, some of which will be referenced in this writing. Substations – or “supply stations,” as they are referred to in the NESC – are an integral part of our transmission and distribution infrastructure and have inherent hazards that must be considered.

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Chris Court, CSP

Why Employees are Silent When Near Misses Occur


What is a near miss? For those of you who are new to occupational safety, it’s typically defined as an event in which no workers were injured and no equipment or other property was damaged, but – had things gone just a little differently – injury or damage could have occurred.

Let me give you an example. A group of employees were digging a trench with an excavator so they could install some underground piping. At one point, the bucket came in contact with an old, abandoned 480-volt temporary power line that was not supposed to be in the area. Fortunately, the line was not energized, so no employees were injured, nor was the line damaged. Because the trench was already deep enough to set the pipe, the crew chose to re-cover the 480 line and continue working. This event should be considered a near miss, but it also is exactly the type of event that some workers may choose not to report to their company. The fact that the circuit was not energized in this case is not the most important issue. The crew did not know the circuit was there and did not identify it in the utility locates that should have preceded the excavation. Those issues indicate defects in the planning process, records and archives, and execution of the project. A near-miss report has the value of helping to ensure those defects are identified and corrected. Just because this line wasn’t energized doesn’t mean the next one won’t be.

The topic of near misses and the lack of employee reporting has been an interest of mine since I started working in the industrial sector. At first, I thought employees perhaps didn’t know what a near miss was and that reporting would increase if they were properly trained on the subject. I learned that wasn’t the case after I invested a good deal of time in training as well as talking to employees about what defines a near miss. After making those efforts, I only witnessed a slight increase in employee reporting that eventually slowed to a stop. I did find that lack of knowledge about near misses was true for newer employees, but that didn’t explain why older, seasoned employees were still keeping quiet. I also learned that the lack of near-miss reporting happens just about everywhere, whether it’s an established chemical plant with tenured employees, a new construction site with a diverse workforce, or even a remote oil and gas site.

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David Spooner

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 the electric utility that serves the island of Hawaii, the biggest of all the Hawaiian Islands. Of the five volcanoes on the island, the three that are considered active are Hualalai, which last erupted in 1801; Mauna Loa, which last erupted in 1984; and Kilauea, which has been continuously erupting since 1983 and was the volcano that erupted in May.

In the Hawaiian culture, Kilauea is the home to Madame Pele, the goddess of fire and volcanoes. As the legend goes, from her home in Halema’uma’u Crater at the summit of Kilauea, Madame Pele determines when and where the lava flows. She is the goddess who shapes the sacred land. Hawaiians say that she has a reputation for being as fickle as she is fervent. She proved many times during the May 2018 eruption that she was indeed in charge.

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Jim Vaughn, CUSP

Train the Trainer 101: Solving PPG – Without Electrical Math

This installation of “Train the Trainer 101” may have an odd title, but it was inspired by some recent conversations I’ve had. I’ve learned a lot about personal protective grounding (PPG) in the past 20 years, and I continually learn even more as others share their research and experiences. Some time ago I learned that much of the fundamental electrical math upon which electrical circuit theory is based does not adequately explain the risk from high currents imposed on grounded systems. That does not mean there are not theoretical explanations for all of the results in high-current fault testing. But the simple circuit math of Ohm’s law cannot explain the complex electrical physics that occur in a high-current fault, and that is partly what confuses the issue concerning EPZ.

What is simple is this fundamental of worker protection: It takes 50 volts to break the electrical resistance of a worker’s skin. If you can break the electrical resistance of the skin, current can flow, and the worker can be injured. However, if voltage cannot penetrate the skin, current cannot flow. You cannot eliminate system current by grounding; you can only divide it (i.e., send most of it through a different path) and hope for the best. But you can eliminate voltage in the worker exposure. You eliminate voltage potential by bonding. Once you’ve eliminated the voltage potential hazard, current no longer matters and thereby the risk is altogether eliminated.

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Danny Raines, CUSP

Voice of Experience: How Was Your 2018?

I would like to ask those of you reading this article to reflect on your professional life in 2018. What was different from previous years? Was safety at your company better, worse or about the same? As I sit and write this article during the first week of October 2018, I know that so far this year, the electric utility industry has suffered more than 20 fatal accidents and over 30 serious flashes and contacts. I don’t know what’s going to happen between now and the end of the year, but I pray no one else gets hurt.

The fact is, our industry has suffered extremely high numbers of fatalities since around 2013. The last I heard, in 2017 we had 45 fatalities between investor-owned utilities, cooperatives, contractors and municipals. NIOSH and EPRI started doing research in the mid-1990s through approximately 2006, and they found that the electric utility industry recorded 24 to 28 fatalities each year. The causes of those fatalities included contacts, falls and vehicle accidents.

What continues to amaze me is that our industry has the investigation and root cause analysis measures to identify why accidents keep happening, but we fail to implement the measures available to us to prevent recurrences of these types of accidents. The majority of fatalities occur during energized line work, yet they keep happening. Why? On one hand, while it’s true that lineworkers are some of the best trained craft workers out there, even the most seasoned lineman is human and can make an error in a moment of stress, or if his mind wanders or for any number of other reasons. 

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Jim Vaughn, CUSP

December 2018-January 2019 Q&A

Q: With all the talk about grounding, cover-up, EPZ and minimum approach distances, we have been debating the best practice for setting steel poles in energized 138 kV. A big question is, what class gloves should ground personnel wear while handling the pole? How can Class 3 or 4 gloves protect against 138 kV?

A: The short answer is that a Class 4 glove won’t protect against 138 kV. However, if you do it right, there is a very good chance you won’t be exposed to 138 kV even if you do get the pole in the 138. Here is how and why. At transmission voltages, we rely on planning, equipment setup, and precise/predictable control of the equipment and airspace to prevent contacts. We then take additional equipotential bonding actions to protect against a worst-case scenario like loss of control and pole contact with a circuit.

Here are some recommendations for those additional actions. Grade the work area. Grading the area flat around the pole hole gives the crew space for equipotential mats or grids. In best-case planning, it is ideal to stand the pole up with little hands-on contact until you get to the grabbers. If you are using portable mats, the prime location is at the stand-up/grabber location. During handling, the crew members on the pole butt will be in an EPZ. The pole then gets swung to the hole without crew contact. At the hole, mats are used to line the hole for crew who will handle the pole setting. Many crews are now using cattle panels as grids to create equipotential mats in the pole-setting areas. The panels are available at feed stores, constructed of welded #4 steel wire and bonded to the ground rod to create a large walking area around the pole-handling area that will be at equal potential with the pole.

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Frontline Fundamentals: Human Performance Implementation

jan 2019 webinar

For all of 2018, this column and its associated webinars have focused on human performance (HP). I have thoroughly enjoyed and learned a lot from the guest speakers who participated in the webinars, as well as the readers and webinar participants (you) who have been engaged, shared their experiences, and asked intelligent and challenging questions.

In this article, I will wrap up the HP series by reviewing key points, outlining proven strategies about HP implementation and inviting you to our next webinar – scheduled for January 16 – that I am really excited about because we will have a panel of experts gathered to explain HP implementation, address your concerns and answer your questions.

HP Review: Principles and Key Points

Principle One: People are fallible, and even the best make mistakes.
People screw up. We make mistakes, and often we are not aware of them. That is a real problem, especially with regard to safety. Rarely are our errors and their undesired consequences intentional, and most errors have no immediate negative consequences. Because of this, your safety program must acknowledge that people will make mistakes. With that acknowledgement, we can use HP tools to reduce errors and manage controls.

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