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Utility Safety Equipment Operations

Roger Crom and Jim Olson, P.E.

Best Practices for Using Your Aerial Device Jib to Handle Transformers


When it comes to lifting transformers, aerial devices equipped with jibs are one of the handiest tools available to lineworkers. Compared to old methods for transformer replacement – which required workers to climb the pole and use a pulley to manually lift the transformer – using a jib is safer, easier and more productive.

Most aerial devices sold to companies in the utility industry are equipped with jibs. However, not all jibs are the same, and the user should evaluate the type of work to be done when choosing the equipment for the job. Consider whether the tasks are construction or maintenance work on distribution or transmission lines. Before dispatching to the job, workers should know how the lines are situated relative to where the vehicle can be located. In addition, the weight of the load will determine the capacity of the aerial device and jib needed.

In the remainder of this article, we will provide an overview of the four key areas that inform good practice for using jibs: knowing your equipment, inspecting your equipment, knowing the load and understanding proper setup.

Know Your Equipment
There are many different styles of jibs with varying capacities available on different boom and platform configurations, including side mount, underslung, end mount and jibs that rotate with the platform. There also are fixed-length jibs, jibs that can be manually re-pinned to provide various extensions, and jibs with one or more sections that are hydraulically extendable. Some units are designed with the load line above the jib boom and some are below. Other jibs are equipped with sheaves that allow only non-overcenter lifting, while some can do either overcenter or non-overcenter lifting.

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Eric Lumberg

Aerial Equipment Innovations Aim to Protect Your Workers


Aerial devices have improved exponentially over the last 20 years. Many purchasers and users of the devices, however, are not fully aware of the options now available to them. Technology and innovation – driven by ANSI standards and user collaboration with manufacturers – have resulted in aerial equipment that provides greater functionality and improved safety mechanisms for utilities and operators.

In the U.S. and Canadian utility industries, aerial equipment must meet the requirements found in ANSI/SAIA A92.2, “American National Standard for Vehicle-Mounted Elevating and Rotating Aerial Devices.” The most recent version of the standard was published in 2015. For their part, manufacturers work hard to design and produce aerial equipment that meets utilities’ needs and adheres to or exceeds the A92.2 requirements.

In this article, we will review some of the aerial equipment technology and innovations now available in the market. We’ll also discuss pertinent ANSI safety standards for aerial equipment used in the utility industry.

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David Clark

Using Simulators to Standardize Utility Operator Training


The Missouri Valley Line Constructors Apprenticeship and Training Program has supplied a steady stream of qualified workers to the electrical industry of the American Midwest since the mid-1960s.

Operating out of seven locations in Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin, Missouri Valley Line Constructors has approximately 600 apprentices enrolled in the lineman, traffic signal technician and substation technician programs at any given time.

“We offer a four-year, 7,000-hour apprenticeship program for the power-line industry,” said Robbie Foxen, executive director for the Missouri Valley Line Constructors Apprenticeship and Training Program. “We start from scratch, teaching apprentices how to climb poles, work on transformers, build high-voltage power lines and maintain electrical grids.”

The training center owns two digger derrick trucks, a bucket truck, a skid-steer loader and a boom truck. In the past, with dozens of apprentices vying for time on the machines, scheduling was difficult. “We just hoped they got some hours on the equipment,” Foxen said.

So, to standardize equipment operator training, as well as expand seat time for apprentices, Missouri Valley Line Constructors decided to turn to simulation-based training.

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Rob D. Adams, CLCP, CUSP, and Pete Prast, P.E.

Enhancing Safety for Line Patrol Technicians


Sunflower Electric Power Corp. is a generation and transmission cooperative located in Western Kansas. We have approximately 2,600 miles of overhead transmission lines, which we patrol annually using vehicles. While you may have heard stories about Kansas being flat as a pancake, they are not true. Several areas of our service territory feature deep ravines, water crossings, washouts and rock outcroppings that make line patrols challenging and hazardous. In the past, patrol vehicles used by our line technicians were either pickup trucks or standard-equipped side-by-side all-terrain vehicles (ATVs). After enduring a few ATV-related accidents that caused damage to both workers and equipment, we knew it was time to evaluate our line patrol program to see what we could do to make it safer.

Our most recent injury, which occurred in 2016, resulted in facial injuries that required reconstructive surgery after an employee hit his face on the steering wheel of the side-by-side ATV he was operating. Following is a summary of the accident.

A line technician was patrolling by himself and came upon an area of grass that was close to 4 feet tall. He did not see the depression in the ground in front of him and dropped the front end of the ATV he was driving into a washed-out area that was approximately 4 feet deep and 6 feet wide. Upon entering the depression, the ATV came to an abrupt stop and the line technician’s face made contact with the steering wheel. This caused multiple fractures of his nose. The line technician was wearing the standard seat belt, which consisted of a lap belt and shoulder strap, but it didn’t lock up fast enough on impact to prevent injury. Fortunately, the technician was able to get himself out of the ATV and walk approximately one-eighth of a mile back to the main road, where his pickup was parked. He then called other crew members for assistance; they transported him to the local hospital, where he was treated for his injuries. Unfortunately, the technician had to have follow-up surgery to repair his broken nose.

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Carl Cormier

Are You Driving on Autopilot?


Vehicles have been evolving and manufacturers have been adding safety features to them since the first combustion-engine automobiles were manufactured in the late 1800s. By 1968, all vehicles were required by law to have seat belts, and since 1995, all passengers – adults and minors – have been required to wear them. Anti-lock braking systems became widespread in the 1970s, and the advent of airbags occurred in the 1980s.

Today, technology continues to constantly shape and change our world. It is integrated into our daily lives at work and in our homes, from personal electronic devices such as smartphones to features in our vehicles that are truly remarkable. In fact, we continue to see new and dedicated areas for testing and improvement in the automobile industry, including utility fleets. In addition, universities are devoting time and resources to studying and developing technology with the hope of educating drivers and ultimately providing safer vehicles.

The auto industry is now producing, testing and using semiautonomous and autonomous vehicles at a rapid pace. The mining industry is currently using autonomous vehicles in Australia. Even construction machinery and equipment companies have developed and are using autonomous vehicles with high rates of success. The desire for self-driving vehicles has been underwritten by the hope that they will save lives by reducing accidents, resulting in fewer injuries and deaths than human-driven vehicles and ultimately improving overall safety.

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Joe Cisneros

When Insulating Booms Fail Dielectric Testing


Insulating boom aerial devices and insulating boom digger derricks are designed to provide secondary protection to help prevent workers from being electrocuted. Maintenance and dielectric testing are critical and required by law to verify that the insulating portion of the machine is functioning as designed.

A new boom is dielectrically tested at the factory following ANSI requirements for a qualification test to verify the insulating rating. Additional tests are performed to confirm the insulating value after units are finished and operational. Once insulating equipment is placed in service, maintenance tests are required to be performed for a variety of reasons. Periodic testing in accordance with the ANSI A92.2 or A10.31 standard is required. If the equipment has not had a dielectric test performed within the last 12 months, as required by ANSI and OSHA, it cannot be considered insulating. Dielectric testing also should take place after repairs or replacement of components in the insulating sections, when a problem is suspected or after incidents of contact with energized power lines.

Environmental factors can affect the results of a dielectric test. The environment of use, exposure to sunlight, surface condition, damage, and cleanliness of the boom and internal components could lead to dielectric test failure. Following are some of the procedures a boom test technician performs when booms don’t pass a periodic test. Periodic testing usually is conducted annually, but many owners perform tests more frequently when weather or harsh conditions warrant them.

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Recent comment in this post
Guest — nick koch
why do I get a failed dielectric test when I put the leads on a nonconductive hose?
Friday, 07 August 2020 18:02
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Steve Andreas

When Utilities Leave the Pavement: Off-Road Driving Safety Challenges


The need to safely access hard-to-reach areas continues to be a struggle in numerous industries, including utilities. Historically, people have pushed the limits of machinery and designed better tools in attempts to access such areas. In the early days of automobiles, for instance, enthusiasts modified and improved the designs of their vehicles, enabling them to travel farther across terrain on which the vehicles were never originally designed to travel. As technology and industry continued to progress, manufacturers began to design vehicles specifically intended for off-road applications, which led to the development of a new vehicle category: the all-terrain vehicle (ATV). Over time, the ATV label – which originally applied to Jeeps – became synonymous with four-wheelers, or quads. As even more time passed, ATVs eventually became useful not only as recreational vehicles but as staples of off-road transportation for industrial uses as well.

While ATVs were first produced specifically for utility use in the early 1980s, the utility task vehicle (UTV) – also known as a side-by-side – was initially launched by Kawasaki in 1988 as the MULE, an acronym for multi-use light equipment. The UTV provides features that cater better to industrial applications, such as more seating and cargo capacity. ATV-type vehicles existed long before the 1980s, but they were designed and used almost exclusively by the recreational market. Since utility use of ATVs and UTVs did not exist before the 1980s and became more commonplace in the 1990s, the market and technology are still relatively new from a regulatory standpoint. However, due to significant advancements in the functionality and reliability of these vehicles, industrial use has grown dramatically in recent years. That has prompted an increase in the need to identify proper use of these machines as transportation to access job sites or as tools to aid workers in performing tasks.

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Guest — Darrien Hansen
It makes sense that having years of experience will help you properly operate your UTV while avoiding potential accidents. My uncl... Read More
Monday, 09 December 2019 09:33
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Jim Vaughn, CUSP

Train the Trainer 101: Enforcement of Vehicle Weight and Load Securement Rules

In the past few months, I have received comments and inquiries from all over the U.S. regarding what appears to be stepped-up enforcement of both load securement and vehicle weight rules. It’s not unusual that these topics garner attention from the U.S. Department of Transportation when it comes to carriers, but this recent uptick seems to be for smaller commercial vehicles, mechanics trucks, pressure diggers, and bucket and digger derrick trucks.

Not all utility safety professionals may be up to date on this topic because DOT issues are not front-burner issues. Typically, the human resources department handles a driver’s qualification file and drug testing for the DOT. Drivers at utilities only spend a few hours a week on the road between calls and jobs, idling most of the workday. We recognize that there are utilities with rigorous DOT management programs for equipment and drivers, but generally we find a more lax daily inspection protocol among utilities and contractors than you would find with a carrier. That might be justified considering the time a utility truck spends in transit compared to a carrier that is preparing to put a rig on the road with two drivers for 20 hours a day over the next two weeks. But it’s not the rule, and mistakes or latitude over trucks can suddenly become a serious liability when one of those overlooked trucks loses a steering link as it is driven through a school zone full of first-graders.

Craft Worker Compliance
Recently there have not been any changes of note in the rules for vehicle weight and load securement; however, it appears that some of the latitude taken by utilities, if not given by the DOT, has caught the attention of those responsible for enforcement of the rules. 

In the last couple of years, state enforcement agencies used local media to inform local commercial businesses – that are not carriers – that they would be stopped if they did not appear to comply with loading and marking standards for their class of vehicles. In Arizona, New Mexico, Washington and Colorado, my colleagues and I began to hear of roadside stops involving lawn maintenance companies and small construction concerns that were pulling dual-axle, 5-ton trailers behind a Ford F-350, carrying loaders, backhoes and super lawn machines. That soon extended to power company trucks, especially those loaded with large wire reels. I even heard of one instance in which state enforcement set up scales in a shopping center parking lot on a well-known route out of a power company service center. Within 40 minutes they cited 22 vehicles for being overweight. You would think drivers would have warned others, but the DOT waved them into the parking area before they started weighing and inspecting the vehicles, so no one knew what to expect. It shouldn’t have been – but it was – a big surprise for that utility’s fleet management to learn what kind of loads lineworkers were putting on those trailers.

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Recent Comments
Guest — Sawake
am interested in some of this training especially on hot sticks
Tuesday, 17 July 2018 23:35
Guest — Michael Well
Hi Jim, a great resource on Enforcement of Vehicle Weight and Load Securement Rules. Well, vehicle weight needs to be figured out ... Read More
Wednesday, 05 December 2018 07:30
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Dan Brenden

Using Technology to Eliminate Aerial Device Overloads


Knowing bucket capacity and understanding how to read a jib load chart are two critical elements of aerial device operation. While both tasks are fairly straightforward, it is crucial to stay within the allowable capacity of the unit. The platform capacity and material-handling capacity provided by the manufacturer are not recommendations – they are absolute maximum capacities that ensure the machine is not overloaded. Overloading equipment can result in overturning or boom failure. Equipment damage also may occur, resulting in costly repairs and a shortened usable life for the aerial device.

A fully equipped lineworker with PPE plus tools and materials for typical line maintenance can quickly add up to 700 pounds or more for distribution work, and upward of 1,000 pounds for transmission work. Bucket capacity is identified on the ID plate and inside of the basket on most aerial devices. In addition, be aware of dual-rated buckets with different capacities based on configuration and use as a material handler; these types of buckets are available from some manufacturers. Before climbing in, lineworkers should verify that their weight – in addition to the platform liner, if used, and all of their tools and equipment – doesn’t exceed the bucket’s capacity.

“Don’t forget to account for boots, harness, tools and any components you may add to the bucket once you are elevated,” said Kyle Wiesner, aerial products engineering manager for Terex Utilities. “Tools such as phase lifters, crimpers, hydraulic drills or chain saws all add up. Weight of personal clothing can change with the weather, so don’t forget to recalculate come winter. If a component is in the bucket while work is being performed, that weight needs to be factored in as well.”

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Debbie Dickinson

Overcoming Barriers to Crane and Rigging Skills Development


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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Brian Bourquin

Rope Access Work in Today’s Line Trade


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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Jim Vaughn, CUSP

June 2017 Q&A

Q: We have a group reviewing our personal protective grounding procedures, and they are asking if we should be grinding the galvanized coating off towers when we install the phase grounding connections. What are your thoughts?

A: In addition to your question, we also recently received another question about connecting to steel for bonding, so we’ll address both questions in this installment of the Q&A. Your question is about the effectiveness of grounding to towers, and the other question is about the effectiveness of EPZs created on steel towers. We’ll discuss the grounding question first and then move on to the EPZ question.

As to grounding effectiveness, we have two thoughts here – one simple and one that likely will raise more questions than we can resolve in these pages.

The simple thought is this: Consider grounding to the circuit static. It’s difficult to reach but doing so makes it easier to create an electrical connection. Using the system static shares current with adjacent structures and reduces current on the structure being worked. Dividing current among adjacent structures also reduces ground potential’s risks to workers at the foot of the tower. See the following Q&A regarding EPZ if you are grounding to the static.

As to connecting to the tower, grinding off the galvanized coating opens the underlying steel to corrosion and would need to be replaced after the operation. We have asked how utilities make connections and found that most use a flat clamp to a brushed plate or insulator bracket, or a C-clamp to a brushed bolt or step. Either method is a good one. Others follow one of the recommendations in IEEE 1048, “IEEE Guide for Protective Grounding of Power Lines,” for lattice using a ground cluster. The cluster serves two purposes: providing a clamping connection and keeping the clamps close together.

Fortunately, the structure connection can be installed by hand, making the cleaning and mechanical security of the connection pretty reliable. There are several considerations to discuss that should be part of the training provided to lineworkers who make these connections.

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Danny Raines, CUSP

Voice of Experience: Inspection, Maintenance and Fall Protection Guidance for Bucket Truck Use

OSHA 29 CFR 1910.67 is the performance-based standard that covers requirements when using vehicle-mounted elevating and rotating work platforms, including the bucket trucks we use in the electric utility industry. There are many types of buckets, and the task to be performed will determine what type of bucket is required. This standard even covers noninsulated work platforms, sometimes referred to as JLGs, used in civil construction. For clarification, a mobile platform covered under 1910.68, “Manlifts,” is not covered under the 1910.67 standard. Mobile platforms are considered mobile scaffolding and require standard guardrail protection. Additional fall restraint normally is employed depending on the type of work and availability of fall protection attachment points.

Although today our industry is better trained than ever, it wasn’t so long ago that one of the most violated standards was the requirement to fly the booms every day before employee use. According to paragraph 1910.67(c)(2)(i), “Lift controls shall be tested each day prior to use to determine that such controls are in safe working condition.”

The fall protection requirements for utility bucket trucks are currently covered under 1910.269(g), “Personal protective equipment.” The users of bucket trucks now have options for fall protection, including a personal fall arrest system, fall prevention or a retractable lanyard. Fall protection equipment is much more user-friendly and lightweight than ever before.

In the remainder of this article, I want to focus on bucket truck inspections and maintenance required by OSHA, manufacturers and others. This information is critical but sometimes is not followed by employers or employees, which has led to a number of catastrophes.

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Jim Vaughn, CUSP

February 2017 Q&A

Q: We are a small, distribution-only municipal utility that has been looking into human performance. We are having some trouble understanding it all and how it could benefit us. Most of the training resources are pretty expensive. Can you help us sort it out?

A: We can. Human performance management (HPM) has been around in various forms and focuses since before the 1950s. Throughout the ’50s and ’60s, it seems the focus was on companies performing functional analysis and correcting issues that created losses, thereby promoting more efficient and error-resistant operations. In the ’60s and ’70s, much of the literature on HPM seemed to surround the nuclear power industry, and indeed the introduction of HPM into the transmission/distribution side of the utility industry appears to have come through the generation side. In the ’70s, researchers began to experiment and write about more closely analyzing the knowledge and skills of the performer. It took a while to sink in, but the safety industry began to research HPM as a culture analysis and risk prevention tool. It makes sense. Human performance – in particular knowledge, skills modes, decision-making modes and performance – affects all of every enterprise whether you have an HPM program or not. Organizations are made of people. HPM has identified and categorized commonalities in types of personalities that predict how people make decisions and perform tasks. Studying human performance also can help identify safety culture issues and risk behaviors. It’s not a big or expensive step to train your workforce on problem-solving and decision-making characteristics of the human mind. Soon they will understand their own processes and the limitations of the way they naturally think, allowing them to make adjustments toward better performance. So if we can take advantage of HPM to prevent incidents, why not do it? Most organizations start small. Pick a few key people to begin training on the basics of HPM, and then look at your organization to see where the initial undertakings can do the most good. There are several experts associated with Incident Prevention who will be glad to help should you need it. Additionally, on the iP website ( you can find numerous HPM articles in the iP archives as well as information and training sessions from past iP Utility Safety Conferences. HPM works. We hope you will pursue it.

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Eduardo Suarez

Creating a Safe Driving Culture

Creating a Safe Driving Culture

At ComEd, as with any other electric utility, keeping the lights on is important. However, no job is so important that it cannot be done safely, and that includes driving to and from the job site. Over the past few years, ComEd – a unit of Chicago-based Exelon Corp. and the largest electric utility in Illinois – has worked diligently to educate its drivers about safe driving practices, help them develop skills and learn techniques to avoid accidents, and raise awareness about the many distractions that can occur on the road today. Drivers are encouraged to “treat driving with the respect it deserves,” whether at a reporting location, on the road or at a customer’s property.

ComEd’s Safe Driving Initiatives
Defensive driving, according to the National Safety Council, is defined as “driving to save lives, time and money in spite of the conditions around [the driver] and the actions of others.” In order to set clear expectations for its driving force, ComEd has adopted a driver safety program to help its drivers improve their defensive driving skills. Following are descriptions of a number of safe driving initiatives included in the driver safety program that have worked for the utility.

Smith Driving System
This is the foundation of ComEd’s safe driving program. All employees who drive company vehicles are trained on the Smith Driving System, which is based on five key principles:
1. Aim high in steering. Make sure you’re looking far enough ahead of your vehicle so you have time to react to any hazardous situation that may present itself.
2. Get the big picture. Keep the acronym G.O.A.L. – Get Out And Look – in mind, and search for hazards all around your vehicle.
3. Keep your eyes moving. Don’t stare in any one direction while driving; use your peripheral vision and continuously scan the entire area.
4. Leave yourself an out. Always have an identified escape plan for you and your vehicle.
5. Make sure they see you. Help other drivers be aware of your presence by using the tools at your disposal, including the vehicle’s turn signals, brake lights, headlights and horn.

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Thomas Penner

Rope Access for Live-Line Work

Rope Access for Live-Line Work

As a third-generation lineman in the high-voltage utility industry, I can say based on experience that the industry has changed slowly at certain times and radically at others. And yet one thing that has not changed much over the years is the process of performing live-line work on extra-high-voltage (EHV) transmission lines. It still requires the use of live-line tools; it still requires linemen to maintain minimum approach distances; it still requires that linemen possess the knowledge and ability to use tools properly depending on the application, whether it be steel or wood construction; and it still requires access to the energized end of the insulator string or conductor. For many years the method of accessing the “hot end,” as we call it, required the use of live-line-rated aerial lifts, horizontal or vertical live-line insulated ladders or, in some instances, helicopters. Each access method has its own set of intricacies that can be time consuming, labor intensive and costly, but all of the methods have the same end result when the procedure involves the bare-hand method for conducting the maintenance work. Live-line maintenance using the hot-stick method is another topic entirely, so for the purposes of this article, I am only going to address live-line bare-hand work.

Creating a New Tool
Well before OSHA’s final rule regarding 29 CFR 1910.269 and 1926 Subpart V was published in 2014, ushering in new fall protection standards, the live-line bare-hand committee within the company I work for – Tri-State Generation and Transmission, headquartered in Westminster, Colo. – began to think a great deal about providing our linemen with a new tool for performing traditional live-line work. Ongoing environmental and related job site concerns also impacted our thought process at the time. Those concerns included a lack of rights-of-way; earth disturbances caused by the need to access structures and set up aerial lift equipment; the possible need to re-vegetate earth that we disturbed during a job; lack of ability to de-energize transmission lines requiring live-line work; and the costs associated with the use of helicopters for routine live-line EHV maintenance.

The time the committee spent thinking about creating this new tool for live-line work was the beginning of developing Tri-State’s rope access and rescue program for live-line bare-hand work. Basic work methods did exist at the time, but we wanted a rope access program that provided greater training and direction and could include rescue at a level that hadn’t existed before but that we as linemen had always wanted. As time went on, we began to develop a comprehensive process for performing live-line transmission maintenance just as we had always done with ladders, trucks and helicopters, and it was – and continues to be – every bit as efficient, cost effective, rescue enabled and, most importantly, safe.

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Danny Raines, CUSP

Voice of Experience: Switching and Working on UD Systems

I was recently asked to provide information about the challenges and opportunities found when working on direct-buried underground distribution (UD) systems. In light of that request, I’ll address those topics in this installment of “Voice of Experience.”

My first opportunity to work on UD systems was as a truck driver operating a trencher in the late 1960s. UD systems were fairly new at the time; lineworkers were learning new techniques, using different types of tools to terminate cables and installing switchable elbows. In that day, some elbows were non-load-break. Back then the work was all about proper use of tools, identifying equipment and following the minimum rules. There were no OSHA regulations. We learned many techniques and work practices the old-fashioned way: through the school of hard knocks.

The challenges that workers faced back then are much the same as they are today, with two exceptions: The industry has more experience installing and operating UD systems, and equipment is now much more technically sophisticated and reliable. For many years, maintenance of UD systems was nonexistent. The common approach was to dig a ditch and put cable in the ground, and industry workers believed everything would last forever. That belief was short-lived; within a few years, external concentric neutrals began oxidizing, and radial and loop-fed systems suddenly became single-conductor, earthen-ground return systems. Driven ground rods at transformers split coil for secondary voltages. There was no neutral conductor for return currents or fault current flow.

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Jim Vaughn, CUSP

December 2016 Q&A

Q: We hear lots of opinions on whether a lineworker can lift a hot-line clamp that has a load on it. There is a rule that says disconnects must be rated for the load they are to break. We’ve been doing it forever. Are we breaking an OSHA rule or not?

A: Incident Prevention has answered this question before, but it won’t hurt to revisit it and use the opportunity to explain how OSHA analyzes a scenario to see if it’s a violation. Most objections to operating a hot-line clamp (HLC) under load are based on OSHA 29 CFR 1910.269(l)(12)(i), which states that the “employer shall ensure that devices used by employees to open circuits under load conditions are designed to interrupt the current involved.” There are some utilities that prohibit operating HLCs energized, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Our purpose at iP is not to judge an employer’s operational rules but to enlighten and educate the industry.

On its face, the rule seems to prohibit use of an HLC to break load. Anybody could also argue, then, that any operation of an HLC must be dead-break since HLC manufacturers offer no load-break value at all. However, there are several facets to analyze in this scenario. First, if a non-rated HLC cannot be lifted under load, how about a drop-out switch? We operate those thousands of times a day without injury to the employee, although sometimes an ill-advised operation does smoke a pole top. There is nothing in the rules that prohibits an employer from making an engineering-based decision establishing criteria or protocols for operating HLCs or drop-outs under certain load conditions. Primarily, the employer’s determination would be based on risk to the employee and risk to the equipment. For OSHA, the primary consideration would be risk to the employee. Just as in the working alone rule, if the device is operated by a hot stick from a position that prevented injury to the employee, there would be no violation. Second, what would be the solution in the scenario? If the solution required installing a mechanical jumper and installing a load-break switch, would such an operation add risk exposure to the crew, and would adding the switch really enhance the safety of the operation? At the very worst case, the scenario – operating the HLC under load – could be ruled a de minimis violation. De minimis is the level of violation where OSHA recognizes that a direct rule was violated, but there was no other way, or no safer way, of executing the required task, and there was no risk to the employee.

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Jim Vaughn, CUSP

October 2016 Q&A

Q: What is meant by the phrase “circulating current” as it pertains to transmission towers? Does it have something to do with the fact that there is no neutral?

A: We’re glad you asked the question because it gives us an opportunity to discuss one of the basic principles of the hazard of induction. More and more trainers are teaching with a focus on principles instead of procedures, and we often overlook some of these basic definitions. The concept of circulation is associated with what happens in any interconnected electrical system. Refer to the basic definition for parallel paths: Current flows in every available path inversely proportional to the resistance of the path. That means that current flows through every path, and the path with the least resistance has the most current flowing in it. Inversely, the path with the most resistance has the least current flowing in it.

When you ground a circuit to the structure, you are making an electrical connection to the tower. Current will flow in every available path. If there is any source for current, including induction, there will be current flow. The greater part of the current will flow in the lower-resistance pathways. If the tower is well grounded, the majority of the current will flow in the tower to ground. In a distribution system, the majority of the neutral current flows in the neutral. Pole bonds to ground rods have much higher resistance and therefore lower current that usually can’t be measured by a typical clamp current meter, so some people think there is no current flowing in them. There is, and under the right conditions – such as a fault or open in the neutral – the level of current flowing in a pole bond can be deadly.

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Jim Vaughn, CUSP

August 2016 Q&A

Q: We have heard that OSHA can cite an employer for violation of their own safety rules. How does that work?

A: OSHA’s charge under the Occupational Safety and Health Act is the protection of employees in the workplace. The agency’s methodology has always assumed the employer knows – or should know – the hazards associated with the work being performed in the employer’s workplace because that work is the specialty of the employer.

OSHA’s legal authority to use the employer’s own safety rules as a reason to cite the employer is found in CPL 02-00-159, the Field Operations Manual (FOM), which is published by the agency for compliance officers (see The explanation is in the FOM section about the elements required for a citation under the General Duty Clause, in particular Chapter 4, Part III, Section B, Entry 6(a). This part covers the required element of employer recognition. If there was no reasonable expectation that the employer could recognize the hazard to the employee, the employer cannot be cited for a violation. The FOM specifically states that employer awareness of a hazard “may also be demonstrated by a review of company memorandums, safety work rules that specifically identify a hazard, operations manuals, standard operating procedures, and collective bargaining agreements. In addition, prior accidents/incidents, near misses known to the employer, injury and illness reports, or workers' compensation data, may also show employer knowledge of a hazard.”

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