Editor’s Note: This installment of “Q&A” addresses some common questions Incident Prevention receives throughout the year. Most are misunderstandings of the wording or intent of OSHA standards. From time to time iP has addressed the following scenarios – or similar ones – because they never seem to go away. In the following answers, the research or interpretation methods employed have been summarized to help readers become more familiar with interpretation and construction of the standards.
Q: Does OSHA 29 CFR 1910.269(l)(12), “Opening and closing circuits under load,” prohibit the use of non-load-break dropout fused switches or lifting of hot-line clamps to break loads? The rule reads as follows: “(i) The employer shall ensure that devices used by employees to open circuits under load conditions are designed to interrupt the current involved. (ii) The employer shall ensure that devices used by employees to close circuits under load conditions are designed to safely carry the current involved.”
A: This rule often is mischaracterized as prohibiting opening or closing under load using a non-load-break switch or a bare hot-line clamp. The rule does prohibit opening or closing a switch or hot-line clamp (“device”) under load if the employee performing the task could be injured by the act. If the employee can safely perform the act, there is no violation. To explain, there are two keys to properly interpreting this rule. One is the location of the rule; it is found in 1910.269(l), “Working on or near exposed energized parts.” The purpose of the paragraph is protection of employees, as stated in the section following the title: “This paragraph applies to work on exposed live parts, or near enough to them to expose the employee to any hazard they present.”
When OSHA reviews potential violations of the standard, they typically consider three issues: if there was a rule in place, if the employer knew about the rule and if an employee was exposed to danger by violating the rule. OSHA also will review consensus standards and best practices, as well as unadopted consensus standards, which sometimes are used in de minimis conditions and General Duty Clause violations. We know this because when we read public notice citations, we find unadopted consensus standard language used in the notice of violation without reference to the unadopted standard.