Utility Safety Management Articles

Danny Raines, CUSP

Voice of Experience: OSHA’s MAD Changes and a Missed Opportunity

In the 2014 OSHA update to 29 CFR 1910.269 and 1926 Subpart V, major changes were made regarding apparel and minimum approach distance (MAD) calculations. And yet I believe the agency missed an opportunity related to distribution voltages and gloving of energized conductors and equipment. For all intents and purposes, other than the MAD updates, few changes occurred in 29 CFR 1910.269(l) regarding working position. A new requirement removed any implied obligation that an employer is accountable for ensuring employees do not approach or take any conductive objects within the MADs found in tables 6 to 10 of 1910.269. The standard now clearly and without any doubt requires an employer to calculate and provide MADs to all employees and contractors working on energized systems.

Paragraph 1910.269(l)(3)(i) now states that the “employer shall establish minimum approach distances no less than the distances computed by Table R-3 for ac systems or Table R-8 for dc systems.” And the updated standard also now requires an engineering analysis on voltages greater than 72.5 kV to allow for transient overvoltages that occur due to system operations, breakers, capacitors or lightning. Ironically, the MAD found in the 2002 National Electrical Safety Code for 25-kV systems was 31 inches, 12 years before it was changed in OSHA’s update to 1910.269.

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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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Thomas Arnold, CSP, CUSP, MBA

Optimizing Your Safety Observation Program

Optimizing Your Safety Observation Program

World-class organizations do not achieve sustained safety excellence without a process in place that identifies risk exposure well before an incident or injury occurs. Yet countless companies have established observation programs without measurable success. In the paragraphs that follow, my goal is twofold: to provide readers with a greater understanding of the importance of employing a proactive safety observation strategy in the workplace, and to offer a step-by-step guide to ensure its effectiveness.

Broken Windows
To begin, I want to provide two examples of a topic that has significant influence on the human thought process and is a focal point of Malcolm Gladwell’s book “The Tipping Point,” a must-read for those interested in changing safety culture.

In a March 1982 article published in “The Atlantic” (see www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1982/03/broken-windows/304465/), George L. Kelling and James Q. Wilson introduced what has come to be known as the broken windows theory, which suggests that context plays a material role in how people act. Specifically, if a neighborhood is plagued by buildings with broken windows, people will conclude that no one in the area cares or is in charge, and more windows will be broken. These minor infractions will then lead to major crimes and a steady decline of the neighborhood. Conversely, an orderly neighborhood free of property damage and litter indicates an environment where such things are not tolerated.

The second example dates back to the mid-1980s, when crime was escalating in the New York City subway system. City leadership put the broken windows theory to the test; if a subway train was tagged with graffiti, the graffiti had to be removed within 24 hours. The rationale was that in order to win the battle against crime, the environment has to be changed, especially the environment that people can see. After the graffiti rule was implemented, New York City subway crime fell throughout the 1980s and 1990s. In his analysis of these events in his book, Gladwell stated that the city had reached a “tipping point” that caused crime trends to dramatically reverse.

These examples help to demonstrate that there is a powerful connection between context and behavior, and it is one that applies to all industries. In our work as safety consultants, my colleagues and I have found that when leaders proactively focus on the observable safety aspects of a work site, they will positively influence the decisions of individual workers and ultimately change the organization’s safety culture for the better.

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Dr. Andrew Murro, DC, DABCO

The Causes and Prevention of Shoulder Injuries in the Electric Distribution Field

The Causes and Prevention of Shoulder Injuries in the Electric Distribution Field

It’s 3 a.m. Once again the dull ache stirs you from sleep. The first time was at midnight. Now the ache in your shoulder is telling you it’s time to roll onto your other side. Hopefully this will be the last time this happens tonight.

For far too many lineworkers, this has become a nightly ritual. In 2004, Business Health Resources conducted a symptom survey of 224 overhead electric employees who worked for one public utility, and it revealed that 56 percent of them experienced shoulder pain a couple times a week or more often. Many experienced shoulder pain on a daily basis. Because shoulder problems are so common, most lineworkers have come to believe they are just part of the job. Are they really, or can they be prevented?

Shoulder conditions can occur as a result of acute trauma injuries like falls or car accidents, or they can occur from cumulative trauma, which is the slow wear and tear that takes place over time, usually due to performing repetitive and physically demanding tasks using stressful working postures. The problem with cumulative trauma is that as the damage accumulates, you always feel pretty good – right up to the moment you are in pain. It’s a sneaky problem.

To understand what leads to cumulative trauma, we first need to cover some basic anatomy of the shoulder joint. It is a loose ball-and-socket joint, making it highly mobile so we can put our hands wherever they are needed. The price we pay for all of this mobility, however, is a loss of structural stability.

If you place your fingers on top of your shoulder, the bony little lump you feel is the acromioclavicular – or AC – joint, which is the joint between the collarbone and your shoulder blade. It is the only bone-to-bone connection between your arm and the rest of your body. The AC joint is about the size of the joint at the base of your thumb, and yet it has to safely transmit all of the stresses from your arms to the rest of your body. This design makes the shoulder far more susceptible to wear-and-tear injuries, especially when it is subjected to abnormal stresses, like those that come from performing line work using stressful techniques.

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Brad Stout and Jesse Gibbon

The Road to an Innovative, Award-Winning Safety Program

The Road to an Innovative, Award-Winning Safety Program

Monday mornings at Coutts Bros. – an electrical line construction and maintenance contractor – begin the same way they have for more than 50 years. The crew meets on the old Coutts family property in Randolph, Maine, before 6 a.m., coffee and lunchboxes in hand, wearing shirts and hats that sport a variety of company logos from the last few decades. Conversations are lighthearted; depending on the season, discussions range from the weekend’s Red Sox, Bruins or Patriots game to embellished fishing and hunting stories, complete with cellphone pictures to prove the tales are mostly true.

This family atmosphere has been at the heart of the company since it was incorporated in 1963 by the first generation of Coutts brothers, Stan and Bill, who initially ran the business out of their family barn – which is still in use as a garage – using a John Deere tractor. The company got their first taste of utility work when the brothers began using the tractor to haul, dig and set poles for the local power company. Eventually the tractor was upgraded to a bulldozer, and today Coutts Bros. manages a fleet of excavators, bucket trucks and assorted equipment used for utility maintenance and construction projects.

Safety Program Evolution
Throughout the years Coutts Bros. has been in business, their processes have evolved considerably, primarily with regard to safety. Those early morning conversations are cut short when a crew member sees that the clock has struck 6 a.m. – this means it’s time to stretch. “Chin tuck!” is shouted from inside the garage, and 30 heads drop with a thumb to their chins. The stretching program is one of many safety initiatives that Coutts Bros. launched three years ago as part of a comprehensive safety-focused effort.

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Jarred O'Dell, CSP, CUSP

Tricks of the Trade to Improve the Trenching Environment

Tricks of the Trade to Improve the Trenching Environment

This is the final installment in a four-part series on trenching and excavation. “Trenching by the Numbers” (http://incident-prevention.com/ip-articles/trenching-by-the-numbers), the first article in the series, presented a simple method for recalling OSHA’s trenching and excavation requirements. The second article focused on soil mechanics (http://incident-prevention.com/ip-articles/soil-mechanics-in-the-excavation-environment), taking an in-depth look at the behavior and characteristics of different soil types and their relationships with water and air. In the June 2016 issue of Incident Prevention, I covered “Protective Systems for Trenching and Excavations” (http://incident-prevention.com/ip-articles/protective-systems-for-trenching-and-excavations). To close out the series, I will present techniques for creating a safer, more productive trenching environment, and then provide some food for thought about how to sell these techniques to management.

Dewatering Using Well Points
It’s no secret that water can greatly contribute to the success or failure of any trenching and excavation activity. OSHA requires that employers take steps to keep workers from being exposed to standing water conditions. One of the more proactive approaches to dewatering a site is to install well points. A hole is augured into the ground, and a perforated pipe is inserted into it. Then, a submersible pump is placed inside the pipe. This technique can be especially effective in sandy soils.

However, there are two caveats to keep in mind with this technique. First, it works best when performed three to five days before excavating begins. This is because water is self-leveling; thus, when a void is created by the pump, the water in nearby soil leeches into the work area. If excavation activity takes place too soon after the well point is installed, one could misguidedly conclude that well points make conditions worse when, in reality, poor planning and a misunderstanding of the process are to blame.

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Jim Vaughn, CUSP

Train the Trainer 101: Practical Personal Grounding in Underground Work

Incident Prevention has been covering personal protective grounding (PPG) for many years. Most of the emphasis has been on overhead applications for transmission and distribution. Lately, however, iP and many consultants associated with the publication have been receiving more and more inquiries from utilities seeking to understand the issues related to PPG applications in underground.

Part of the issue with PPG is that, as I mentioned, most training and rules seem to coalesce around overhead applications. The majority of the written standards – both OSHA and consensus – are found in sections dealing with overhead scenarios. It’s anecdotal, but it seems that most of the injuries or accidents discussed in the industry are also related to overhead. Still, the OSHA standard has requirements for PPG that do not specify or exempt underground applications, such as 29 CFR 1910.269(n), “Grounding for the protection of employees.” Employers have recognized that the risks we are discovering related to current flowing in grounded systems exist in underground, too. As responsible employers, they are seeking information, and not all of the information out there is good.

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Danny Raines, CUSP

Voice of Experience: OSHA Requirements for Step Potential Protection

When OSHA updated 29 CFR 1910.269 and merged almost all of its requirements with 1926 Subpart V, the requirement to protect employees from step potential was enhanced. In the months following the publication of the final rule, this change was rarely mentioned in the major webinars conducted by several prominent utility industry groups, so I want to take this opportunity to cover what you need to know.

First, let’s talk a bit about the basic fundamentals of Ohm’s law and Kirchoff’s law of current division in order to ensure you understand the seriousness of step potential hazards. Ohm’s law states that electricity will take any and all conductive paths, and Kirchoff’s law of current division states that the amount of current flow is dependent on the resistance and impedance in the current path.

As I travel around and conduct training, I find that many electric utility employees – much like me in the 1970s – do not understand these and other basic laws of physics that determine the number of hazards we face. The human body is not much more than a 1,000-ohm resistor when put into an electrical circuit. If a human body is placed in an electrical path/circuit, the amount of electricity that enters the body is about 50 volts AC. During this type of occurrence, the soles of normal work boots and shoes will provide an employee a small amount of protection, but if the employee were to kneel down and touch a vehicle grounded to a system neutral, or place a hand on a grounded object, the amount of protection would be significantly reduced.

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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 www.osha.gov/OshDoc/Directive_pdf/CPL_02-00-159.pdf). 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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Thomas Ray, CSP, CUSP

10 Tips for Better Incident Investigations

10 Tips for Better Incident Investigations

Several years ago, when I was serving as chief investigator for the NIOSH-funded Missouri Occupational Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation Program, I was called to a scene where a 39-year-old journeyman lineman had been electrocuted while working for an electrical contractor. At the time of the incident, the lineman, his co-worker and the foreman had been working at an electrical substation. The city that owned the substation was in the process of switching their electrical service from a three-phase 4-kV system to a 12-kV system. There were several feeders on the structure, but only one was energized to provide service to the city. The lineman and his co-worker were on the steel framework of the substation when the lineman proceeded to work his way over to the incident point. He sat down on the structure next to the energized feeder and energized lightning arrestor and began to climb down the steel latticework. Typically the contractors accessed the structure with a ladder, but for one reason or another, the lineman chose to climb down using the corner latticework of the structure. At that point, the lineman contacted the energized arrestor with his forearm. His co-workers responded immediately and began CPR, and emergency personnel were summoned to the scene. Unfortunately, the lineman did not survive.

Despite our best efforts to protect workers in the field, incidents like these still occur and, as a result, you may find yourself leading an incident investigation. One of the primary goals of any investigation is to find out exactly what happened so that future occurrences can be prevented. With that in mind, I put together the following 10 tips designed to help you obtain quality information about each incident you investigate, put your interview subjects at ease, and determine an accurate account of what occurred before, during and immediately after each incident.

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Jarred O'Dell, CSP, CUSP

Protective Systems for Trenching and Excavations

Protective Systems for Trenching and Excavations

This is the third installment of a four-part series on trenching principles. “Trenching by the Numbers” (http://incident-prevention.com/ip-articles/trenching-by-the-numbers), the first article in the series, presented a simple method for recalling OSHA’s trenching and excavation requirements. The second article focused on soil mechanics (http://incident-prevention.com/ip-articles/soil-mechanics-in-the-excavation-environment), taking an in-depth look at the behavior and characteristics of different soil types and their relationships with water and air. In this article, we will discuss the four different protective systems described in OSHA 29 CFR 1926 Subpart P, “Excavations”: engineered design, timber shoring, shield systems, and sloping and benching. Each system has its own unique strengths and weaknesses. Thus, depending on the environment and the circumstances of the work to be done, one system may be a better fit than the others. Let’s take a closer look at all four systems.

Engineered Design
Engineer-designed protective systems typically are not used in utility operations. Instead, this type of system is more likely to be seen on large-scale building foundation work, and it may also be used on complex construction projects, such as around waterways. In any case, some activities – like those that involve deep, poured-in-place vaults or occasions when a duct bank has to pass beneath water and sewer – may benefit from an engineer-designed system customized for the situation. The need for engineered design may be rare, but knowing what it is and why it is used is necessary information for project and safety planners.

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Michael Burnham, CSP, CUSP

The Job Brief’s Hidden Influence on Utility Safety

The Job Brief’s Hidden Influence on Utility Safety

On your way to work today, how many dashed lines in the middle of the road did you pass? What ornaments decorate your dentist’s office? How many people wearing glasses did you see last month?

If you’re like most people, you don’t know the answers to these questions, and that’s a good thing. In his book “The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload,” author Daniel J. Levitin states that the processing capacity of the conscious mind is estimated to be about 120 bits per second, barely enough to listen to two people talking to you at the same time, yet in our waking lives most of us are exposed to more than 11 million bits of information per second, according to Leonard Mlodinow’s “Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior.” Without what psychologists call an attentional filter, we’d be able to recall the minutiae around us, but left without the mental capacity to draw reasonable conclusions about what we perceive, and therefore left without the ability to lead normal lives.

The problem with an attentional filter, however, is that it occurs on the subconscious level. Our brains decide what we notice without any conscious input from us. Of course, we can always force ourselves to notice small details by applying mental resources to count and memorize them, but that only happens with concerted effort.

In a utility setting, our attentional filter can create a conflict between what we do perceive and what we should perceive. Fortunately, the utility industry has an effective solution to our cognitive limitations: the job brief.

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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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Jim Vaughn, CUSP

Train the Trainer 101: Practical Recommendations for Wire Stringing

In the last installment of “Train the Trainer 101,” we discussed grounding when stringing in energized environments (see http://incident-prevention.com/ip-articles/train-the-trainer-101-grounding-for-stringing-in-energized-environments). Many readers responded with questions regarding the myriad issues they have faced during stringing. I learned a lot about this type of work during my first 25 years in the trade. In stringing hundreds of miles of conductor, I am proud to say I never dropped wire. I also have to say it’s most likely I have that record because I learned a great deal from other workers’ accidents. In fact, I am seriously afraid of dropping wire. Stringing incidents are some of the most dangerous in the trade, not only risking the lives and limbs of line personnel, but creating a serious risk to the public. Over the years I have heard of or investigated every kind of incident, including one in which a phase dropped during clipping, shearing off 26 side-post insulators before the carnage ended. Wire ended up across school driveways, shopping center parking lots and intersections. More than 40 cars suffered damage and dozens of people reported injuries. I’ve seen wire dropped across interstates and rivers, and it always happens at the worst time. You’d be surprised how much damage 1272 can do to a luxury boat. So, the remainder of this installment of “Train the Trainer 101” will focus on some recognized issues and tips that might help prevent future disasters when stringing goes bad.

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Danny Raines, CUSP

Confined Spaces in Construction

Last May, OSHA published its final rule regarding confined spaces in construction. Since that time, there have been many questions about the differences between the new construction standard and 29 CFR 1910.146, “Permit-required confined spaces.” In this installment of “Voice of Experience,” we will take a closer look at both standards in an effort to clear up any remaining confusion.

“Confined Spaces in Construction” is the title of 1926 Subpart AA, the recently released construction standard. Before Subpart AA was published, 1910.146 was the only OSHA standard that addressed permit-required confined spaces, and 1910.146 assumes that the host employer and the controlling employer are one and the same. But over time OSHA realized that because construction activities may involve more than one employer on a job site – which is not usually the case with general industry jobs – the controlling employer is not always the host employer. In fact, there may be a variety of contractors working on or in a space, building the space or entering the space. There was clearly a need for these issues to be addressed by OSHA, and the agency has now done so in 1926 Subpart AA.

Given the subject matter of the new construction standard and 1910.146, it is no surprise that there are a number of similarities between the two. However, Subpart AA is much more detailed than 1910.146. This is particularly apparent in 1926.1209, “Duties of attendants,” and 1926.1210, “Duties of entry supervisors,” which explicitly address accountability and responsibility for protection of workers on job sites.

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Jim Vaughn, CUSP

June 2016 Q&A

Q: Is a transmission tower leg considered a lower level? And is there an exception for hitting a lower level when someone is ascending in the bucket truck to the work area? Our concern is that the shock cord and lanyard could be long enough that the person could hit the truck if they fell out of the bucket prior to it being above 15 feet.

A: The February 2015 settlement agreement between EEI and OSHA addresses both of your questions, which, by the way, were contentious for several years until this agreement. The settlement agreement includes Exhibit B (see www.osha.gov/dsg/power_generation/SubpartV-Fall-protection.html), which explains how the new fall protection rules will be enforced or cited by OSHA. Employers should review the entire document.

Section A of Exhibit B states that no citation will be issued because a fall arrest system could permit the employee to contact a lower level while the bucket is ascending from the cradle or to the cradle position, provided that the fall protection is compliant in all other respects, the bucket is parked with brakes set and outriggers extended, and there are no other ejection hazards present.

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Dave Sowers

Don’t Leave Employees to Fill in the Blanks

Don’t Leave Employees to Fill in the Blanks

Early in my marriage, my wife asked me to pick up some groceries on my way home. This task seemed easy enough; after all, I had been feeding myself for years. How hard could it be? We needed food and the grocery store had food for sale. The path to success appeared to be pretty well laid out. All I needed was a method of payment and a shopping cart with four functioning wheels.

As I negotiated my way up and down the aisles of the grocery store, I put great thought into what I added to my cart. I made sure to get the basics, including bread, milk and eggs, and I rounded out the cart with some other reasonable dining options. Mission accomplished – or so I thought. When I returned home and we began to unload bags full of bachelor staples, such as chicken wings and Cap’n Crunch, my wife came to realize that my future trips to the grocery store would require more specific guidance. It was clear that my idea of “mission accomplished” was vastly different from hers.

How did a task that seemed so simple go so wrong? Why was it that my wife’s job-specific expectations did not align with my understanding of how I should successfully complete the task? Was this misalignment a failure on my part or was poor communication to blame? When I was given every option in the grocery store to choose from, could my wife truly be upset when I filled in the blanks and chose the options that looked right to me?

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Jarred O'Dell, CSP, CUSP

Soil Mechanics in the Excavation Environment

Soil Mechanics in the Excavation Environment

The February 2016 issue of Incident Prevention featured “Trenching by the Numbers” (see http://incident-prevention.com/ip-articles/trenching-by-the-numbers), the first installment in this series on advanced trenching and shoring principles. In that article, I reviewed the OSHA excavations standard found at 29 CFR 1926 Subpart P. The purpose of reviewing the rules was to give readers a starting point upon which to build more advanced concepts. In this article, I will continue the series with an in-depth discussion about the principles of soil mechanics.

Throughout the years I have worked in the utility industry, I have observed a systemic deficiency when it comes to training and educating the workforce about soil mechanics. This deficiency impacts nearly everyone, from employees in the field to civil engineers who design the work to be done. In practice, what I tend to see is training that begins with teaching enforceable standards and concludes with an overview of some methods for classifying soils. This is problematic because employers may end up with employees who merely understand how to classify soil in order to comply with a standard, instead of having comprehensive knowledge about how to harness the naturally occurring characteristics of soil to keep workers safe and make jobs run more smoothly.

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Mike Caro, CUSP

Field-Level Hazard Recognition Training That Works

Field-Level Hazard Recognition Training That Works

As a safety professional or operations leader in your organization, one of your primary responsibilities is to ensure your employees can and do complete their work safely. People don’t want to get hurt and you don’t want them to. With that as a given, the question then becomes, how do you accomplish this? You can’t be everywhere watching everything all the time. You can’t point out every hazard on every job site for every worker. So, how do you rest easy in the belief that your employees are recognizing and mitigating hazards and working as safely as possible when you are not around?

I’m going to assume – not always a wise choice, but I’m comfortable with it in this case – that if you are reading this article, you have a system in place for conducting pre-job briefings to discuss the known and expected hazards on your jobs. That is standard procedure in the utility industry. And since many of the jobs utility workers perform each day are very similar, these job briefings can become mundane and lifeless. A briefing becomes a rote process that is almost copy-and-paste from work site to work site. The danger in this is the complacency it can breed. The examination of the job site and the communication and mutual discussion of the hazards present are meant to be the primary preparation for safely completing the assigned tasks. If the process becomes mundane, what are the chances that some of the hazards – especially ones that aren’t typical of the work – will go undiscovered until it’s too late?

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Raffi Elchemmas, AEP, MBA

The Future of Ergonomics

The Future of Ergonomics

Over the last decade, our industry has done a great job of reducing work-related injuries as a whole, but musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) – also known as ergonomic injuries – are on the rise.

From 2008 to 2012, work-related injuries decreased steadily each year. During that same period, however, ergonomic injuries increased by approximately 15 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

As we know, OSHA sets standards and precise thresholds, such as those for vibration and noise exposure, in an effort to improve work site safety and prevent injuries. But there are no specific federal guidelines for ergonomics, and thus very few repercussions for employers if employees sustain ergonomic injuries, some of which can cause irreversible damage. According to a September 2015 article written by Jeff Sanford (see www.humantech.com/our-incidence-rate-is-down-so-why-are-our-msds-lingering), director and ergonomics engineer for Humantech, “OSHA can only fine your company for an ergonomics violation through the General Duty Clause (which is not specific to ergonomics).”

Sanford then goes on to say that “[m]any companies have a very good handle on lowering the risks associated with fatalities, amputations, and other life-altering injuries, but have not yet focused on eliminating MSD risk factors. The incidents associated with poor ergonomic design have always been on the OSHA log, they are just now rising to the top of your priority list with the decrease in safety-related incidents.”

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