Incident Prevention Magazine

Hugh Hoagland and Stacy Klausing, M.S.

Secondary FR Garments: Practical Solutions for Protection

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Cleanup of potentially hazardous materials and flammable contaminants can sometimes be a part of an electrical job. When workers arrive on a scene, they cannot always be sure of the exposures or contaminants they will face. In electrical work, it could be oil that contains a small number of PCBs. This oil, and other contaminants, is flammable and can affect the flame-resistant properties of garments until it is washed from the garments. Working around flammable contaminants, as well as flame and thermal hazards like arc flash potentials and flash fire potentials, often requires a PPE safety system that can be difficult to balance. Some workers may need chemical protection, flame protection or both. Secondary protection used in such circumstances, like disposable garments, can create a fast and effective way to decontaminate and clean a scene – by removal and disposal – without soiling or degrading the primary protection underneath. Because of this, disposables often are useful over daily wear. Many workers and managers assume that a chem suit is a chem suit and use the common polyester/polyethylene suits to cover their arc-rated/flame-resistant (AR/FR) gear. This can be a disaster if one of the suits ignites, melts and continues to burn, or if part of the suit becomes molten and melts onto a worker’s hands or face.

In the AR/FR PPE industry, however, disposable garments are few and far between, and the standards aren’t quite in place to help make the distinction between garments that are truly flame resistant in specific hazards versus marketing. The lightweight, thin materials typically can’t pass some of the harsh requirements set forth for garments to be used as primary materials. And even though most are not intended for primary protection, there are limited standards to guide manufacturers on appropriate tests and claims for these types of products. This is especially true for those needing multihazard protection in the outermost disposable garment. There are disposable garments on the market that boast protection from a variety of hazards, like blood-borne pathogens, dry particulates and chemicals. When flame resistance comes into play, there are even fewer options on the market.

How Far Have We Come?
Disposables have come a long way in the past few years, but we are still lacking in standards on the AR/FR side. Initially, polyester spunlace disposable garments were used for chemical protection, and they revolutionized the industry in providing secondary, fast protection that could be doffed and disposed of without concern of contamination of primary clothing; these products add extra protection to the worker at a low cost. Later, coated and sealed-seam garments on the chemical protection side were made to withstand even higher-level exposures, including chemical warfare, an unlikely scenario in the workplace. Disposables for chemical protection worked well for chemical hazards, but they were not adequate or intended for the risks from flash fires or electric arcs. Flame resistance of disposable garments still hadn’t been adequately addressed from a standards perspective, and there were misunderstandings in the market regarding FR PPE, including PPE intended to be disposable.

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Arthur Seely and Steve Andreas

Understanding Hypothermia in the Outdoor Work Environment

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Outdoor workers – including lineworkers and communications technicians – routinely work in hazardous environments. Most of these hazards are well-recognized and understood by the workers and their management, but that is not always the case with cold-weather injuries, such as hypothermia and frostbite. Until workers receive specific and relevant training from medical professionals with cold-weather experience, they may lack the basic understanding of just how suddenly cold weather can kill.

Although there are numerous types of cold-weather injuries, this article will address the most common one: hypothermia, or the human body’s attempt to manage a drop in its core temperature. The core includes the brain, heart, lungs and neck. When managing body core temperatures, keep in mind that more blood flows closer to the skin in the neck than anywhere else in the human body.

Any drop in the temperature of the core blood will trigger a response from the hypothalamus in the brain, which is responsible for all body thermoregulation. The hypothalamus has three separate and unique methods that it will use, in sequence, to respond to a lowered core temperature, referred to as stage 1, stage 2 and stage 3. Failure to recognize the differences between the stages can immediately be fatal to a hypothermia victim.

The Three Stages
Stage 1 hypothermia occurs when the body’s core blood temperature first drops. The hypothalamus initiates two major responses to this temperature drop, only one of which the victim is aware. The first response is the hypothalamus triggering the major muscle groups – those in the arms, legs and face – to shiver. This is mild at first but then progresses to severe and uncontrollable shivering. The second response, which the victim is unaware of, is the brain triggering the release of larger quantities of sugars and insulin into the bloodstream. This is necessary to support the hard muscular work involved in shivering.

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Debbie Dickinson

Overcoming Barriers to Crane and Rigging Skills Development

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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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Michael Stremel, CUSP

Safety Concerns When Working In and Around Manholes and Vaults

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Some utilities – including electric, cable and communications providers – have had both underground and overhead applications for many years. However, more and more of these utilities now are either primarily installing their services underground or relocating overhead services underground, for a variety of reasons. These include reliability and protection from weather conditions, as well as minimizing exposure to equipment, vehicular traffic and farming operations. In addition to these safety concerns, utilities are installing services underground due to customer requests to improve the general appearance of the communities served by the utilities.

There are many beneficial reasons to install services underground, but there also are some downsides. Among them is the risk of personnel exposure to hazards when improper excavation practices are used. It is critical to adhere to OSHA 29 CFR 1926 Subpart P excavation practices as well as 811 and Dig Safe procedures. Another risk associated with underground facilities is that they often incorporate vaults or manholes that may be classified either as confined spaces or permit-required confined spaces. In either case, there are a number of safety concerns for which OSHA has implemented specific regulations that must be enforced to keep employees safe while working in these areas.

Safety should always be No. 1 on any job site. OSHA 1910.269(a)(2) states that all employees shall be trained in and familiar with the safety-related work practices, safety procedures and other safety requirements that pertain to their respective job duties. The agency goes on to say that employees who work in and around manholes must be trained on manhole rescue each year in order to demonstrate task proficiency. Proper documentation should be completed for the manhole training, as with any other training. The standard also states that the employee in charge shall conduct a job briefing or tailgate with all employees involved before the start of each job. At a minimum, the briefing should address the five areas required by the OSHA standard: hazards associated with the job, special precautions, energy-source controls, work procedures involved and personal protective equipment requirements.

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Jim Vaughn, CUSP

Train the Trainer 101: Practical Aviation for Power-Line Applications

It was a little over 40 years ago that a Vietnam veteran helicopter pilot in Florida made the first live-line contact with a live transmission circuit, bringing a quantum leap for power-line applications using helicopter methods. The FAA regulates what they call “rotorcraft” work with specific qualifications for pilots, flight crews and the airships and auxiliary equipment used.

Many utilities and contractors think helicopters – or HCs, in flyers’ lingo – are for use on difficult projects because of the expense. But I have been working with contractors for the last 15 years who recognize the value of HCs in construction and use them as often as possible. An hour of HC time may cost the same as the monthly rental of a bucket truck, but when you can clip, space, dame and ball 20 times the structures in a day over bucket access, the expense really makes sense. I also am aware that some contractors and utilities think HC use raises risk. I know that some utility clients prohibit HCs on their properties while others actively assist their contractors by prequalifying HC companies.

The primary use of HCs has been to string rope or, in some cases, hard-line for pulling wire in transmission construction using HC blocks. These blocks are equipped with a spring-loaded gate at the top of the frame. The gate has extensions that guide the rope into the sheave, provided the pilot is good enough. It looks easier than it is. Since Mike Kurtgis of USA Airmobile put his ship on a hot line in Florida, skid and rope-suspended work, inspection and insulator washing have continued to advance as accepted work practices. The FAA refers to working from a skid or rope (short haul) as “human external load,” or HEL. By some it is called the most dangerous work method in the line industry. In fact, even the FAA has a sense of humor about it, as noted in their wording of a safety requirement in the HEL rules. In guidance document FSIMS 8900.1, Vol. 3, Ch. 51, the FAA provides examples of the types of persons that can be carried on an HC skid – they include movie camera operators and clowns as two of those examples. We always assumed that the lineman with the nerve to work from the skid was not the camera operator.

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Danny Raines, CUSP

Voice of Experience: Distribution Cover-Up: Why Wouldn’t You Use It?

Over the next few installments of “Voice of Experience,” I’ll be reviewing some accidents that have taken place in the electric utility industry. I’ve had many requests for information about incident investigations and would like to share some details in hopes of preventing similar accidents in the future. Distribution cover-up will be the focus for this issue’s column.

Approximately half – or even more – of accidents that result in flashes and electrical contacts are the result of poor cover-up or total lack of rated protective cover. Why would a lineworker not take the time to install protective cover that would assure a safe work area? According to statistics and accident reports, the industry suffers an average of one contact or flash every week. That needs to stop.

Investigations into many accidents, some of which involved fatal contact with system or source voltages, have revealed that failure to cover up all differences of potential in the immediate work area was the common denominator in most flashes and contacts. If you are or your company is following the minimum requirements found in OSHA 29 CFR 1910.269(l), “Working on or near exposed energized parts,” it is simply not enough to ensure an employee is totally protected from differences of potential in the work area.

The human body essentially is a 1,000-ohm resistor in an electrical circuit. When a lineworker fails to cover energized parts as well as differences of potential in the immediate work area, as little as a 50-volt AC electrical source may enter the body. If the current path crosses the heart, as few as 40 to 50 milliamps can induce atrial fibrillation, cause the heart to stop sinus rhythm and electrocute the worker. The industry is quite familiar with medium-voltage contacts but many times lacks respect for low-voltage contacts that can be just as fatal.

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Jim Vaughn, CUSP

October 2017 Q&A

Q: We have gotten mixed advice from our colleagues at other utilities and can’t decide whether or not civil workers digging a foundation by hand in a hot substation should be required to wear arc protective clothing. They are inside the fence but in a new area approximately 20 feet from the nearest distribution structure. Where do we find the requirements or OSHA guidance?

A: That depends. Sometimes it depends on the criteria in the statutes, and sometimes it depends on compliance with company policy. Normally, following the guidelines of OSHA 29 CFR 1910.269(l)(8) – which establish the criteria for arc flash protection – excavation in a substation would not produce the type of work exposure you described that could create an arc flash. The location of the work and the type of work would not bring a worker within any distance of an energized bus or apparatus that would be a threat. If that’s the case, there would not be a requirement for arc-rated clothing for civil workers in a substation.

We are aware that there are utilities that require all workers, no matter what their craft or task is, to wear arc flash protective shirts while in a substation because it’s a company policy. But in regard to your question, it’s all about exposure. No exposure, no requirement for shirts. It is obvious that it’s not quite that simple for policymakers and risk analysts, who often are the people who make these decisions. Utilities must decide how to protect employees, protect the company and comply with the standards. That goal sometimes results in a blanket requirement as opposed to writing detailed criteria for when workers must suit up. The rules held by some utilities raise this question: If workers must wear arc-rated shirts, why don’t they have to wear arc-rated face protection? In fact, most of the inquiries we’ve made would seem to indicate the decision to require arc protective clothing in substations is more about gut response to the spirit of arc flash protection for contractors and employees than the result of arc flash analysis. Processes and knowledge are still expanding in the industry. As most would say, it doesn’t hurt for civil workers to wear arc protective shirts unless there is an unacceptable heat stress factor involved. In fact, there are some pretty lightweight pullover tees in Cat 2 that may help relieve both arc flash and heat stress.

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David McPeak, CUSP, CET, CHST, CSP, CSSM

Frontline Fundamentals: Measure What You Want

Imagine this scenario: A worker seriously cuts his nose on the job. The laceration causes part of his nose, at the base of the nostril, to partially separate from his face. The worker glues his nose back together with super glue to prevent going to the doctor and having an OSHA-recordable injury. He then receives two rewards through the company’s safety incentive program. The first is an immediate reward when his supervisor recommends him for safety excellence because he prevented a recordable injury. This is followed by a financial incentive at the end of the year, when his work group is given a bonus for not having a recordable injury during the calendar year.

Here’s another scenario to consider: An employee is stopped at an intersection and gets rear-ended by another vehicle hard enough that he is taken to the emergency room and receives medical treatment. Pursuant to 29 CFR 1904, “Recording and Reporting Occupational Injuries and Illness,” this is determined to be a new, work-related case that meets the general recording criteria and therefore is a recordable injury. Because he had a recordable injury, this employee is not invited to attend the company’s annual safety awards dinner, where prizes such as televisions and all-expenses-paid vacations are raffled and given away. Note: OSHA prohibits employer retaliation for reporting an injury (see 1904.35 and 1904.36) and will not allow employers that offer financial incentive programs to participate in their Voluntary Protection Programs.

Incentivize Desired Performance
Both scenarios are unfortunate and too common in the workplace. Organizations need to be aware that the absence of injury does not necessarily indicate the presence of safety. With that in mind, they must stop programs that incentivize results and instead focus on performance, which is the combination of behaviors and results. The guiding principle behind any incentive program, coaching or feedback should be to never reward results or punish someone without understanding the behavior driving the results. Get the desired behaviors and the results will take care of themselves.

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