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Utility Safety Management Articles

Kathy Ellsworth, CUSP, and Pam Tompkins, CSP, CUSP

Auditing for Safety Improvement

Auditing for Safety Improvement

The mere thought of participating in an audit can be unnerving. Consider IRS audits for a moment – they can never mean good news, right? So why would an organization want to spend time, money and other resources to conduct an audit when it could be painful? The answer is that, regardless of the feelings they evoke, audits – when done right – can be a powerful organizational improvement tool rather than just a way to monitor compliance.

To better understand the importance of auditing for improvement, let’s review an example of a traditional compliance audit. In this example, the audit identified a distribution underground crew whose members did not use insulating cover-up while working inside a single-phase underground transformer. The apparent cause of the violation seemed straightforward – the crew members had simply failed to use appropriate insulating cover-up, so management reviewed the violation and mandated the crew to follow the rules in the future.

The action taken by management in this example seems acceptable, but was it truly enough? Will the apparent cause of this violation be completely remedied through talk and discipline? Although rule compliance is extremely important, audits that focus solely on this type of compliance may neglect to identify major gaps that contribute to an ineffective safety system. What happens if a utility doesn’t have the right people in place to support safety? For instance, it’s possible that workers have not been properly trained and frontline leaders don’t know how to apply the rules on a job site. In the previous example, the crew may not have understood how to use insulating cover-up on underground applications as they were only trained for application of cover-up on overhead lines.

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Jim Vaughn, CUSP

Train the Trainer 101: Safety Cops and the Continuum of Safety

Words have power. We confirm that every day when we examine why people do what they do. Communication is often the root cause of accidents, particularly how the receiver interprets what he or she hears. That communication is not always something said in the moments before an incident; it can occur days, weeks or months in advance. I have discussed this issue with behaviorists on a number of occasions, and I am convinced that some of the words I – and many others – have repeatedly heard over the years have served to limit our success in the quest for a strong, positive safety culture.

The real problem is that what we say to soften our approach and encourage safe work has the exact opposite effect of our intention. Many of us – and yes, I have done it, too – don't want to be criticized or worse when we ask crews to do something differently. Sometimes we think our request is going to sound accusatory or like an insult to their professional skill level. Other times we know from past experience that the issue that needs to be addressed is contentious. Maybe we worry that our message is going to be challenged, or perhaps we are not confident in our delivery. There are any number of reasons, but it boils down to this: Safety professionals are human, and humans don't want to be challenged or rejected. Therein, as they say, lies the problem.

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Recent Comments
Guest — Karen Phelps
This is Karen. Testing the comments.
Friday, 19 February 2016 11:46
Guest — Jim Vaughn
So it does! great Article by the way!
Friday, 19 February 2016 11:57
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Danny Raines, CUSP

Voice of Experience: Hand and Skin Protection for Electric Utility Workers

With the recent changes to the OSHA standard, many employers are working on what rules apply – the arc flash standard or the PPE standard – and how to comply with them. Part of the issue is determining how many types of protection are needed and what types of protection are appropriate.

To begin, OSHA’s requirements for all personal protective equipment can be found in 29 CFR 1910 Subpart I. Rules specific to hand protection can be found in 1910.138. They read as follows:

1910.138(a)
“General requirements. Employers shall select and require employees to use appropriate hand protection when employees' hands are exposed to hazards such as those from skin absorption of harmful substances; severe cuts or lacerations; severe abrasions; punctures; chemical burns; thermal burns; and harmful temperature extremes.”

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Jim Vaughn, CUSP

February 2016 Q&A

Q: I work for a small utility and am new to my safety role. Recently I have been wading through the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) in an attempt to understand my responsibilities with regard to testing CDL drivers. Can you briefly explain these responsibilities?

A: FMCSR 391.31 requires the employer to ensure a driver is competent by means of road testing. The FMCSR allows a valid commercial driver’s license as evidence of competency (see FMCSR 391.33). If the employer accepts the evidence of the driver’s competency, the employer does not have to road test the driver. Rule 391.33(c) allows the employer to conduct a road test if they so choose even if the driver has a current license and certificate of competency. If the employer intends for the driver to haul double or triple trailers, they are required to conduct a road test. The road test criteria are listed in FMCSR 391.31(c).

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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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Matt Edmonds, CHST, and Pam Tompkins, CSP, CUSP

Understanding Safety Culture Through Perception Surveys

Understanding Safety Culture Through Perception Surveys

If you asked workers at your company who is responsible for their safety, how do you think they would answer that question? Would they say the safety director is responsible, or would they tell you they’re personally responsible for their own safety? You might be surprised by the answers you receive. While the reality is that we are all responsible for our own safety, some employees may perceive that the safety director bears that responsibility.

What if you asked them about your safety program in general? Do employees think it’s strong or weak? Again, you may receive answers that widely vary. For example, management may perceive the company’s safety program to be among the best in the industry because very few accidents have occurred. On the other hand, field employees may feel like no one cares about them or their safety.

In a nutshell, an employee’s perceptions often dictate his or her attitude toward on-the-job safety. And if perceptions about safety in your organization differ greatly from employee to employee, this can indicate that your company’s safety culture isn’t as strong as it needs to be.

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Miranda Allen

RF Safety for Utility Workers

RF Safety for Utility Workers

Utility workers could be exposed to radiofrequency (RF) radiation every day and not even be aware of it. With today’s telecommunications explosion, even utility poles are housing cellular systems such as antennas and distributed antenna systems. And yet, the rapid growth rate of RF technology does not change the fact that we are still obligated to follow the laws and comply with OSHA and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requirements, especially when dealing with RF radiation exposure limits.

Required Training
Not surprisingly, training is the best route to both RF safety and rule compliance. Anyone who enters a telecom tower site, or who works around antennas located on or near utility poles and building rooftops, must have received training that meets the requirements of OSHA 29 CFR 1910.268(c), and they must also be properly protected from any RF radiation emitted from antennas. Appropriate RF safety training will teach workers to recognize RF radiation hazards and control their exposure.

Unfortunately, many utility workers have not yet been fully trained in RF safety because their employers do not realize the training requirements nor the true dangers of RF radiation. Whatever the case, now is the best time to ensure workers complete training. They must know what they could be potentially exposed to and how to protect themselves. In fact, in the FCC’s June 4, 2013 final rule (see www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2013-06-04/pdf/2013-12716.pdf), the commission states that individuals “must receive written and/or verbal information and notification (for example, using signs) concerning their exposure potential and appropriate means available to mitigate their exposure.” Additionally, the FCC stated, individuals exposed as a consequence of their employment must have appropriate training regarding work practices that will ensure that that they are “fully aware of the potential for exposure and can exercise control over their exposure.” The update goes on to note that education is the key to a successful RF compliance program.

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Kate Wade

2015 USOLN Safety Award Winners Announced

2015 USOLN Safety Award Winners Announced

On September 28, the Utility Safety & Ops Leadership Network held its annual awards 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 Robert “Bo” Maryyanek, CSP, CUSP, MBA, and the Carolyn Alkire Safety Advocate Award to David McPeak, CET, CHST, CSP, CSSM, CUSP. Maryyanek currently serves as eastern regional safety manager for Asplundh Construction Corp. McPeak is director of corporate safety programs at Pike Enterprises LLC, as well as director of Stay Safe Solutions LLC.

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.

Maryyanek was chosen to receive this award because of his commitment to workplace safety and heavy investment of time and energy in industry safety organizations including the USOLN. “To personally know Bo is to understand his passion for safety,” said Carla Housh, USOLN executive director and publisher of Incident Prevention magazine. “His intensity and dedication to building a safer utility work environment come straight from the heart. Bo is a tremendous supporter of the Certified Utility Safety Professional program, and he also had the pleasure of knowing John McRae as a member of IUOTA. I know John would be extremely pleased that Bo is the 2015 recipient of his namesake award.”

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Jim Vaughn, CUSP

Train the Trainer 101: Practical Underground Safety: Handling Neutrals and Rescue

Over the years I spent as a lineman, I did my share of underground installation and maintenance work. During my years in safety, I have seen the expansion of safety processes associated with underground, especially in response to the most recent OSHA changes. Not all of the changes have been effective, and that’s why we’re now going to spend some time addressing several underground safety questions Incident Prevention frequently receives. We’ll look at the rules and practices and what works from a practical perspective.

Handling URD Neutrals
This will not come as news to most of you, but for more than 60 years we have been splicing URD concentric neutrals during underground repairs without isolating the neutral or bonding across the open neutral in the ditch. That is something no lineworker would do on an overhead neutral, yet hardly any readers will be able to recall a time when someone was injured making neutrals in URD. Now, as OSHA’s language and expectations are more defined regarding grounding for personal protection, industry better recognizes current flowing in grounded systems, and employers are looking for ways to create equipotential and grounding during underground maintenance. For the most part, it’s not going well. The two questions I hear most are, why should we ground and how do we do it?

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Danny Raines, CUSP

Voice of Experience: PPE Regulatory and Consensus Standard Requirements

OSHA 29 CFR 1910 Subpart I and 1926 Subpart E cover the requirements of personal protective and lifesaving equipment. With the publication of OSHA’s final rule in April 2014, the general industry and construction standards are now essentially the same for electric utilities, and there are few if any differences in the PPE required by each standard.

In addition to OSHA’s regulatory standards, there are ANSI/ASTM and other consensus standards that govern the manufacturing, type and ratings for all PPE. These consensus standards change as the industry evolves and PPE improves. All PPE should meet the most recent standard requirements. In the remainder of this article, we will examine OSHA’s PPE requirements for electric utility workers, as well as some of the latest consensus standard requirements.

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Jim Vaughn, CUSP

December 2015 Q&A

Q: I’ve been reading ASTM 855, IEEE 1048 and the National Electrical Code, and I’m a little confused by the practice of grounding through a switch. Can you help me better understand this?

A: In transmission/distribution applications, there is no issue with grounding through a switch. To explain, we always have to ask whether the issue is grounding through (in the path) a switch or grounding (by way of closing) a switch. The application may sound the same, but it depends on which standard you read. Our subject matter experts think the confusion lies in the well-known NEC rules, which require permanent installations to have a connection-free path for the ground electrode conductor at the service entrance of an electrical system. According to the code, grounds – except in some specialty connections – cannot be disconnected through operation of a switch or breaker contact. ASTM 855 is an equipment manufacturer's standard that has no application to utility practices in the field other than being used as a guide for shop construction, sizing, rating and assembly of personal protective grounds. IEEE 1048 does address the value of having the grounding switches closed when de-energizing a system for work; that ground switch is a very low-resistance path to earth at the feeder or transmission bus source that will lower fault current in an accidental or inadvertent energizing of the source. The ground switch in the station is also a path to ground that will divide and help reduce the amount of induction current on a circuit. Closing the switch can help reduce induction current at a work location, depending on how far apart the work location and the ground switch are.

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Recent Comments
Guest — Brian Ergga
I believe the question relates to grounding through a switch. Another words, working on one side of a switch when the other side i... Read More
Friday, 01 January 2016 17:16
Guest — Jim Vaughn
I think we agree, we certainly agree with your observation. Grounding is for the purpose of tripping a protective device. Equipo... Read More
Monday, 04 January 2016 09:52
Guest — Brian Erga
Question on OSHA's requirements for leather gloves. OSHA 1910.269(l)(8)(v)(A) state: "Arc-rated protection is not necessary for th... Read More
Friday, 01 January 2016 17:32
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R. Scott Young, CUSP

Fundamentals of Substation Rescue Plans

Fundamentals of Substation Rescue Plans

I’ve worked in substations for most of my adult life, and I’ve picked up a few things along the way. Some were the result of good experiences, while others I learned through less than ideal circumstances. In this article, I want to share with you what I learned from my first experience with confined space rescue in a substation.

It was mid-August of 1983 in Florida and the outside temperature was in the high 90s. Inside the 69/13-kV transformer, the temperature was well over 100 degrees. Two journeymen were conducting an inspection inside the transformer when they discovered a problem in the winding. They called the lead man in to take a look. One of the journeymen climbed out of the transformer and the lead man climbed down to the bottom. He was in there for about 20 minutes, and as he began to climb out, his leg got stuck and he soon became claustrophobic and panicky.

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Phillip Ragain

Shifting Your Organizational Safety Culture

Shifting Your Organizational Safety Culture

In one way or another, culture helps to shape nearly everything that happens within an organization, from shortcuts taken by shift workers to budget cuts made by managers. As important as it is, though, it can seem equally as confusing and hard to control. Culture appears to emerge as an unexpected byproduct of organizational minutiae: A brief comment made by a manager, misinterpreted by direct reports, propagated during water cooler conversations and compounded with otherwise unrelated management decisions to downsize, outsource, reassign, promote, terminate and so on.

Culture can either grow wild and unmanaged – unpredictably influencing employee performance and elevating risk – or it can be understood and deliberately shaped to ensure that employees uphold the organization’s safety values.

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Randi Korte, CUSP

Investigating Industrial Hygiene at Salt River Project

Investigating Industrial Hygiene at Salt River Project

At Salt River Project, a large utility based in metropolitan Phoenix, there are a great variety of jobs, situations, risks and exposures that must be addressed, assessed and controlled. Journeymen lineworkers labor in heat approaching 120 degrees on the desert floor, while hydrologists trudge around in near-zero-degree weather to examine snowpack on the mountainous Mogollon Rim. A pressman needs a hearing assessment to judge the impacts of a six-color press, while electronics technicians must be evaluated for radio-frequency exposure from telecommunications equipment. A warehouseman at a power plant in the high desert prairie requires education about hantavirus exposure from deer mice, while a call center representative needs an ergonomic evaluation to guard against back and joint issues.

So, while the term “industrial hygienist” may conjure visions of a W. Edwards Deming-like technician scrutinizing manufacturing processes, nothing could be further from the truth at SRP. Industrial hygiene encompasses scores of jobs within the water, power and telecommunications utility that serves much of central Arizona. Employees work in and around dams, irrigation ditches, power plants, high-voltage lines, state-of-the-art facilities and legacy buildings dating back to the Truman administration. Industrial hygienists assess risks for jobs that didn’t exist a year ago as well as occupations that have been in existence since SRP was founded in 1903.

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Jim Vaughn, CUSP

Train the Trainer 101: Practical MAD and Arc Flash Protection

Author’s Note: Before we get to the article, I want to thank the members of Incident Prevention’s editorial advisory board for their help in assembling this installment of “Train the Trainer 101.” They help me keep my head on straight, especially when I have ideas that are way outside the box. Even though I am also on the board, they still hold me to high standards of accountability and accuracy. These folks are a great asset to iP and make better writers of everyone who contributes to the publication.

Over the past year, iP subject matter experts have fielded many questions about how to meet the minimum approach distance (MAD) and arc flash (AF) rules published by OSHA in the 2014 final rule regarding 29 CFR 1910.269 and 1926 Subpart V. The questions about MAD came from a variety of perspectives, but they were primarily submitted by contractors trying to facilitate the information transfer now required by 1910.269(a)(3) and 1926.950(c). Without information about a system’s fault characteristics, the contractor cannot determine MAD, either by calculation or via the tables in 1910.269 Appendix B and Appendix B to 1926 Subpart V. That means the contractors must fall back on the sometimes absurd provisions of alternative tables R-7 through R-9. In my work for a contractor, we have found that those alternative tables can make some work – particularly transmission work – very difficult, if not impossible, especially when faced with compact lattice structures or old construction standards on wood poles. For AF programs, that lack of information may be overcome effectively by experienced guesswork, but compliance by guesswork cannot be defended when the compliance safety and health officer asks how you determined the AF compliance requirements.

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Danny Raines, CUSP

Voice of Experience: Clearing Up Confusion About 1910.269

It’s now been 18 months since OSHA’s final rule regarding 29 CFR 1910.269 and 1926 Subpart V was published. For the most part, the dust has settled and the industry has started to adjust to the requirements of the new standard. However, questions still abound regarding certain issues, and I’d like to address two of them – employee training and host-contractor information transfer – in this installment of “Voice of Experience.”

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Jim Vaughn, CUSP

October 2015 Q&A

Q: Is equipotential grounding now a personal protective grounding method required by OSHA?

A: The answer is yes, even though OSHA doesn’t specifically say so in terms we easily understand. The terminology isn't OSHA's fault. As an industry, we adopt certain familiar ways of describing or discussing things and simply don't recognize what OSHA is trying to communicate unless we do some diligent research. In 29 CFR 1910.269(n)(3), OSHA requires arrangement of grounds to protect employees without using the word “equipotential.” The title of the rule, however, is “Equipotential zone.”

The full text of 1910.269(n)(3) states, “Temporary protective grounds shall be placed at such locations and arranged in such a manner that the employer can demonstrate will prevent each employee from being exposed to hazardous differences in electric potential.” By definition, that is equipotential grounding.

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Jarred O'Dell, CSP, CUSP

N95 Filtering Face Pieces: Where Does Your Organization Stand?

N95 Filtering Face Pieces: Where Does Your Organization Stand?

When it comes to following health and safety standards, nearly every worker tries to do the right thing. And when workers deviate from standards and best practices, it is typically due to lack of knowledge and proper training. One industry topic that is not yet fully understood and continues to be heavily debated is the N95 filtering face piece, in particular its uses and program requirements. In response, this article seeks to assist those who are involved with the development and enforcement of their organization’s voluntary respiratory protection policy.

To begin, there are two reasons why N95 face pieces are especially relevant to readers right now.

First, OSHA is currently in the process of revising the standard on crystalline silica dust, which is a common utility and construction industry hazard that is oftentimes mitigated by N95 face pieces. OSHA’s fact sheet on crystalline silica (see www.osha.gov/OshDoc/data_General_Facts/crystalline-factsheet.pdf) describes the substance as “a basic component of soil, sand, granite, and many other minerals” that workers may encounter when sandblasting, jackhammering, drilling rock or working with concrete. Clearly, many utility industry workers are exposed to most of these activities – if not all of them – on a recurring basis.

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Keith Lindemulder

Stepping Up Steel Safety Education

Stepping Up Steel Safety Education

It’s estimated that between 2 million and 4 million utility poles are replaced annually in the U.S., and in almost every region of the country, many of those replacement poles are now made of steel. In fact, more than 1 million steel distribution poles have been installed by electric utilities across the country in the last decade. That number is expected to rise considerably as utilities strive to keep up with the need for new lines, replace aging and damaged poles and harden existing lines.

The increased use of steel utility poles in distribution lines has created a need for new training and coursework for student, apprentice and journeyman lineworker programs nationwide. For years, the Steel Market Development Institute (SMDI) has developed training standards and guidelines, and in 2013 it teamed with several respected leaders in utility safety and line work training to update and bring new materials to the trade. Among the organizations SMDI collaborated with are the Institute for Safety in Powerline Construction (ISPC), based in Alexandria, La., and Metropolitan Community College (MCC) in Omaha, Neb., which offers a leading utility line technician program. Through these partnerships, steel pole training programs have become well-established, and both coursework and program participation continue to evolve.

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Brian S. Hope, ASP, CSP, CUSA

Rigging Fundamentals for Utilities

Rigging Fundamentals for Utilities

Over the past 20 years I have had the great opportunity to travel the country observing everyday safety practices in the utility industry. During this time it has become clear to me that, more often than not, employees are practicing inadequate rigging techniques that put them and their co-workers at risk on a daily basis. These poor practices are being perpetuated from one generation of riggers to the next. Employees who learned improperly from previous trainers go on to train new employees in the same fashion. It seems that a number of workers have bought into the dangerous idea that unsafe practices are acceptable as long as they don’t result in a serious accident. This cycle of carelessness and endangerment is unacceptable and can only be stopped through adequate training and reinforcement of proper rigging techniques. We must revisit the most fundamental principles of rigging safety to build the foundation necessary to change our current culture. In this article I will discuss three of the most basic aspects of rigging – equipment selection, inspection and proper use – and I look forward to continuing the conversation when I present “Basic Rigging Fundamentals” on September 30 at the iP Utility Safety Conference at ICUEE.

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