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Utility Worksite Safety Articles

Roger Crom and Jim Olson, P.E.

Best Practices for Using Your Aerial Device Jib to Handle Transformers

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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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Derek Sang, CSHEP, QSSP

Mother Nature vs. FR/AR Clothing

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The company I work for receives a lot of questions about flame-resistant (FR) and arc-rated (AR) clothing, including inquiries about what should be worn on extremely hot summer days and very cold winter days. We’re always happy to answer those questions because it’s our business and – in the electric utility industry – donning FR/AR apparel often is necessary for workers’ personal safety.

The fact is, extreme weather doesn’t appear to be stabilizing anytime soon. Both NASA and the American Meteorological Society have predicted that we can expect both more intense and more frequent heat and cold events across the country in the coming decades, with implications for both indoor and outdoor workers.

Given that information, it’s important that workers know what heat stress and cold stress are and what those types of stress can do to their bodies. So, let’s discuss some definitions of heat and cold stress, what can contribute to them, and what employers and workers can do to address them – including participating in a strong FR/AR clothing program. 

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Eric M. Fell

Working in Switchgear Cubicles Just Got Safer

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All of us who work with electricity know how hazardous it can be. During a stint with my previous employer, a co-worker and good friend was electrocuted and killed when he made contact with energized switchgear components. Another co-worker at the company also was seriously injured. Safety is always a part of our job; it’s something we talk about and practice every day, but given what happened to my two former co-workers, I felt that more needed to be done to establish a zero-accident workplace – more than just job briefings, using human performance tools and “living safely.” When it came to working with switchgear, it was necessary to develop a tangible safety device that could be paired with work practice improvements.

Several years later, after starting my current employment at Con Edison – a regulated utility that provides electric, gas and steam service to customers in New York City and suburban Westchester County – a simple request to pursue a solution prompted an effort to reform switchgear work practices. The result has made those practices both safer and more efficient – not just at Con Edison, but potentially for the industry.

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Luis Ortega, CUSP

Take Your Time and Follow the Rules – Or Pay the Price

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The last time we met Bob the foreman and his crew, they saved the day when a vehicle hit a utility pole on a busy roadway in Safety County, New York (see https://incident-prevention.com/ip-articles/safety-concerns-when-setting-wooden-utility-poles).

These days, Bob and his crew are still in action, working for Sunshine Electric Co. At Sunshine, following company safety rules and industry best practices is as normal as breathing air. On this particular day, we find Bob prioritizing the unending string of planned field work assigned to his crew. His first priority for Sunshine’s customers is the list of new services and reliability jobs. As a supervisor, he also has priorities for the safety of his crew. But that’s not all. Because of his training, he knows that safety compliance to protect his employer is another one of his responsibilities as a supervisor. That is a lot of responsibility, but Bob and his crew were safely trained by Sunshine, and Bob has communicated his expectations to the crew for their safety.

Bob selects a job from the list that involves installing a new transformer on a replacement pole. The existing pole is too short to accommodate the additional facilities that must be attached, including the new transformer to feed a customer’s premises. A new, taller pole must be installed. Bob gathers his crew and explains what the job is all about. He then releases the paperwork so that the linemen can gather the new pole and all the other materials necessary for the job. He will meet them on-site in a little bit.

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Bill Martin, CUSP, NRP, RN, DIMM

Are You Taxing the Variables?

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Planning is a critical part of our work in the electric utility industry. Inevitably there will be unknowns in each plan we put together; the more variables there are, the less control you have over your intended outcomes. So, it’s worth spending the time to identify and address those unknowns. In the remainder of this article, we will cover how to identify the critical elements and variables in your projects as well as how to weigh the consequences of those variables to help ensure the best possible outcomes for your plans.

A friend of mine who is a psychologist once shared a story from her childhood with me. She said that whenever she had a plan for something that appeared overly complicated, her father would say, “Be careful – you are taxing the variables!”

What did my friend’s father mean by that? To put it simply, taxing the variables occurs when there are too many variables that depend upon the success of other parts of your plan. Let’s say you have to check in for a flight at the airport. The flight leaves at 7:30 a.m. Boarding begins at 6:30 a.m. You live two hours from the airport and want to arrive two hours before departure. Leaving your house at 3:30 a.m. should get you there at 5:30 a.m., so you set the alarm on your cellphone for 2:30 a.m. That plan sounds simple enough, right? But what are some of the unknowns in the situation, those variables that may arise and interfere with your plan? For starters, the battery in your car has been a bit weak lately and it’s going to get very cold later today. Will your car start when you need to leave for the airport? You set the alarm on your cellphone for 2:30 a.m., but did you remember to put the phone on the charger, too, so that the battery doesn’t die? Oh, you just remembered it’s also a holiday weekend. Is two hours still sufficient to make it to the airport, or should you factor in extra driving time because of traffic concerns?

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Dennis Childress

When OSHA Knocks

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Les Prudent was sitting at his desk on a Monday morning, savoring a cup of coffee and reflecting on his solar farm transformer company’s crazy year of growth. From four people three years ago, the company now employs 112. A friend from a local business group recently suggested Les hire a full-time safety coordinator, but he’s been comfortable handling those matters on his own. He just put some of those “Safety First” posters on the fabricating area’s walls. That should do it.

His wife, Linda, who is also the company’s office and accounting manager, just stuck her head in the door and said, “Les, there’s a man here from OSHA. He says there’s been a complaint and he wants to conduct an investigation.”

Shocked, Les wonders who could have complained. He remembers what his buddy Frank told him about OSHA’s visit to his plant. Frank hadn’t done anything wrong, but they still fined him thousands of dollars because one of his employees slipped and fell from a truck bed. Isn’t that why he carries workers’ compensation insurance? Anyway, Frank said he’d never let OSHA back into his plant without a warrant.

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Jim Willis, CMAS, CHS-V

Using Situational Awareness to Enhance Field Security

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Recently I was on a conference call during which a client and I discussed aggression aimed at the client’s line crews and service technicians. As I hung up, I came to the realization that hostility toward utility workers isn’t a passing storm – it’s a bellwether of change in the public attitude. Aggression directed at utility workers is a critical issue that we must deal with effectively before more people are hurt.  

The truth is, a growing number of people no longer see investor-owned, municipal and cooperative utilities as benevolent service providers. Instead, they see adversaries who are blocking access to service entitlements and ruining the environment. Much of this growing animosity is aimed at utility office staff and field crews. In fact, the client that I was speaking with on the conference call I mentioned had seen a significant jump in the number of threats to their field employees, and they were looking for ways to mitigate the hostility and keep the workers from harm. As we talked, the need for sharper skills in identifying and responding to threats became evident. The client and I decided to move toward that goal, starting with awareness and baseline training.

What is Situational Awareness?
Awareness – or more precisely, situational awareness – is the foundation of effective security. Today, there are as many approaches to situational awareness training as there are security trainers. The problem for utilities is determining which training technique and which trainer to use, but we’ll get to that issue a little later. First, we’re going to talk about what situational awareness is and why we need a baseline of what’s normal in our specific working environment.

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Jeff Steiner

The Safe Use of Outrigger Pads for Equipment Stability

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An outrigger pad is a safety tool that can be used with any equipment that has outriggers, down jacks or stabilizers. It is a must for stability when a piece of equipment – such as a crane – lifts loads or personnel aloft. This article will provide an overview of outrigger pads, including how to use them safely and what kinds of pads are available on the market today.

The Basics
Outrigger pads are placed on the ground under the equipment’s outrigger, shoe, float or foot. The size and thickness of the outrigger pads to be used should be selected based upon the type of equipment, soil conditions of the work site and type of lift being performed.

When working with outrigger systems, it’s important to understand that the point of contact between an outrigger and the ground is quite small. Because of the pressure of the outrigger, the ground underneath may shift, be displaced or collapse if an outrigger pad is not used. If any of those things happen, there is the potential for the equipment to shift or tip the load, which could lead to the equipment toppling over. In fact, approximately half of crane lifting accidents are caused by improper use of outriggers.

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Guest — Chris Bluethman
Does anyone make some type of sensor where machine won't operate unless outriggers are completely down?
Thursday, 23 July 2020 15:33
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Mark Werndorf, CUSP

Emergency Response Training for Electric Utility Workers

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In my 40 years of electric utility experience, I have investigated and documented dozens of work-site incidents that required immediate emergency medical response from a crew. One pattern has become clear after debriefing workers who have rendered assistance at a scene: Workers who responded well to rescuing their co-workers used effective communication and competent delivery of job-site first aid, including CPR. Time and again, nearly all workers involved in successful emergency responses said, “I was just doing what I was trained to do.”

Looking back on the history of the electric utility industry, competent emergency responses have not always occurred. In the late 1970s through the early 1990s, the utility I worked for suffered a series of fatal and serious accidents. Most were electrical contacts, but the list also included arc thermal exposures, falls from poles and traffic accidents. With each incident, we learned about the value of providing appropriate emergency training for the work performed as well as the value of refining our annual emergency response training drills.

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Chip Darius, CUSP, OHST, CET, CSHO

Investigating and Documenting Slips, Trips and Falls

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People are affected by gravity at every moment of their existence. There is an ongoing struggle between this planet, which never stops trying to pull things to its center, and humans who are trying not to be overcome by the pull. In the battle against gravity, humans rely on balance, coordination, traction and decision-making. In work environments, employers are responsible for managing hazards; reducing or eliminating hazards that could cause slips, trips and falls; training employees; and investigating incidents to prevent recurrence. The remainder of this article will focus on the investigation and documentation of slips, trips and falls in the utility work environment.

Terminology and Goal
Clear definitions help guide us to clear outcomes, improved safety and reduced risk. People may refer to “slipstripsandfalls” as a single thing, but they are each distinctly different. Slips, trips and falls can occur alone or in combination.

The employer’s goal is to reduce risk of injuries and incidents by maintaining clean, dry, well-lit workplace walking surfaces with appropriate traction that matches the user’s expectations; managing footwear; eliminating trip hazards; avoiding slippery contamination; and training workers. 

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Jeremy Verrillo, ATC, CEAS III, CWcHP, CMMSS

Strength and Conditioning Strategies to Prepare the Next-Generation Utility Worker

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Apprenticeships in the utility and construction fields often serve as a transition point for individuals from sedentary or light work to heavy or very heavy jobs. As more individuals seek jobs in the trades, many may have little to no experience with regular physical activity. Injury-free performance of heavy or very heavy job tasks strongly corresponds to an individual’s physical abilities and health habits. While the electrical utility industry strives to engineer the risk out of jobs, many tasks still require a minimum amount of strength, endurance and flexibility.

Strength and conditioning principles have long been used in sports to ensure that would-be players achieve the specific demands of their desired position while also optimizing performance. Similarly, hiring managers, training specialists and safety professionals can implement these same principles into apprenticeships to enable new employees to achieve the physical ability needed to perform their work safely. This creates a win-win scenario that helps to prevent workplace injuries and increase the health and wellness of employees.

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Jesse Hardy, CSP, CIT, CUSP

Overcoming Conflict on the Right-of-Way

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A news helicopter circled overhead as the two ambulances left the job site. The deputy sheriff looked at the superintendent and said, “Tell me again, how did this happen?” The superintendent removed his safety glasses with a sigh as he surveyed the devastation left behind by the 345-kV contact. “Well, we had to set up for work directly under these lines because some local environmentalists wanted the wildflowers protected,” he said. “So, we did what we were asked. If you notice over there, those flowers are still looking beautiful, but it seems that the now-deceased landowner still didn’t like us being here, so he ran onto the right-of-way and tried to climb up onto the boom truck to stop our work. This must have caught our groundhand off guard, because instead of just stopping the work and notifying his supervisor, he attempted to intercept the man. All this commotion distracted the operator, causing him to contact the line. Once that happened, 345 kilovolts of electricity killed the landowner instantly, and our ground worker was severely shocked by what we call step potential.”

Although the preceding paragraph is an extreme worst-case example of how right-of-way (ROW) distractions and conflicts can impact our job sites, it’s not unrealistic. In this article, we will look at how members of the public and our own workers can create distractions and conflicts that jeopardize our ability to do our jobs well, and we will also consider safe ways to handle these types of distractions and conflict.

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Stacey Simmons

The Hard Hat Celebrates 100 Years

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When you think of people who have changed our lives with their inventions, you may think about Thomas Edison and his lightbulb or Alexander Graham Bell and his telephone. Not many of us would think to include Edward W. Bullard on that list, but 100 years ago – in 1919 – he invented the hard hat, which today is one of the most recognized safety products in the world and is responsible for saving thousands of lives over the past century.

To truly trace the heritage of the hard hat, we have to go back even further to 1898, when Edward Dickinson Bullard founded E.D. Bullard Co. in San Francisco. The company originally supplied carbide lamps and other mining equipment to gold and copper miners in California, Nevada and Arizona. Then, when Bullard’s son, Edward W. Bullard, returned from serving in World War I, he went to work for Bullard Co., combining his understanding of customer needs with his experiences with his doughboy army helmet to design protective headgear for miners.

The young Bullard called his protective headgear design the Hard Boiled Hat because of the steam used in its manufacturing process. The original Hard Boiled Hat was made of steamed canvas, glue, a leather brim and black paint. This invention revolutionized mine and construction worker safety. Edward W. Bullard then took his Hard Boiled design one step further by building a suspension device into the hat, and that became the world’s first commercially available industrial head-protection device.

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David Spooner

How Hawaii Electric Light Co. Protected Employees During a Lava Flow

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On May 3, 2018, Hawaii Electric Light Co., the company I work for, discovered we had a problem. Lava flows were popping up in the middle of a residential neighborhood in our service territory. This wasn’t the first time Hawaii Electric Light had experienced a volcanic eruption, but it was the first time one had begun in the middle of a densely populated area. We wondered, how would we keep our employees safe during this event? How would we keep the lights on in the affected area? These were the questions that had to be answered very quickly given the circumstances.

Hawaii Electric Light is the electric utility that serves the island of Hawaii, the biggest of all the Hawaiian Islands. Of the five volcanoes on the island, the three that are considered active are Hualalai, which last erupted in 1801; Mauna Loa, which last erupted in 1984; and Kilauea, which has been continuously erupting since 1983 and was the volcano that erupted in May.

In the Hawaiian culture, Kilauea is the home to Madame Pele, the goddess of fire and volcanoes. As the legend goes, from her home in Halema’uma’u Crater at the summit of Kilauea, Madame Pele determines when and where the lava flows. She is the goddess who shapes the sacred land. Hawaiians say that she has a reputation for being as fickle as she is fervent. She proved many times during the May 2018 eruption that she was indeed in charge.

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Debbie Dickinson

Using Task-Based Work Assignments to Create Proficient Crews

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Preventing accidents in utility work, where safety is paramount, starts with establishing protocols for personnel and equipment. Creating task-based and specific work assignments is an affordable way to establish realistic parameters for work to be performed. Using this method enables crew leaders to develop consistency and reliability in assigning tasks by distinguishing between trainees and qualified personnel. Work is assigned based on skill proficiency, which in turn leads to risk mitigation and accident prevention.

The concept of grouping teams of workers by specific work assignment is nothing new. Success stories outside of the utility industry include military and police forces trained to respond to emergencies, trauma surgery teams, astronauts in space, NASCAR pit crews and the University of Alabama football team. Whether you are an Alabama fan or not, Coach Nick Saban’s formula for a championship team involves drilling and honing skills of individual players. The result is a team that works together cohesively for outstanding performance.

In the same way, utility workers with the same job title and general responsibilities – lineworkers – come to the job with different years of experience, types of training and skills. Supervisors who recognize these differences can create outstanding crews by establishing parameters for skills that each person on the crew must have in common, as well as knowing who possesses task-specific talent.

To create a proficient team that performs as a cohesive unit, it’s critical to first determine the skill, knowledge and ability of each individual crew member. These measurements define a baseline of strengths, weaknesses and gaps to fill. Not everyone on the crew needs to have the exact same skill level, but the crew’s collective ability should instill confidence that the crew can work under pressure in adverse conditions without injury. If there are gaps in the collective ability, then you must plan to train and practice so that skills, techniques and technology meet your previously established protocols.

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

Enhancing Safety for Line Patrol Technicians

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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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Jim Vaughn, CUSP

Train the Trainer 101: The Value of a Site-Specific Health and Safety Plan

If you follow OSHA’s guidelines, you train your workers to perform hazard analysis. You probably have a tailboard process as well, although your company might have a different name for it. Tailboards and crew hazard analysis are fundamental leading indicators of a good safety program. But hazard analysis and tailboards are only two elements of what really makes a difference in a safe approach to work. A health and safety site-specific plan (HASSSP) and the HASSSP process bring with them innumerable benefits – not just prevention of unwanted incidents.

When I was a contractor safety manager, I wrote a site-specific plan for every project. I started doing so about 15 years ago, after a series of preventable incidents and conditions that wouldn’t have occurred if I had provided prevention information to the supervisor and crew prior to the events. It occurred to me that for all the planning our company did, we missed some pretty big issues – issues that cost us pain and treasure.

A health and safety site-specific plan is not just a contractor tool. Many utility projects will benefit from a HASSSP since the level of detail for the plan itself is relative to the type and complexity of the work. Contractor HASSSPs typically are more detailed and developed if the local area is new to the company and particularly if the contractor is hiring new personnel for the duration of the project. The HASSSP is the product of prework research and analysis of the worksite and conditions that can or will affect crew performance or success.

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Edward Morson and Mark Green

Innovative Fire Suppression Solutions for System and Worker Safety

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For over 100 years, PECO – a Pennsylvania utility and member of the Exelon utility family – has been supplying electricity and natural gas to customers across southeastern Pennsylvania, including those in Philadelphia and its surrounding suburbs. PECO has hundreds of miles of utility poles and thousands of circuit miles of medium-voltage distribution cables installed in conduit and manhole systems.

With all this infrastructure, it is only natural that wear and tear will occur, which can have an impact on the distribution system. Over the decades, PECO has experienced numerous failures of distribution system components, some of which developed into fires that were difficult to combat due to poor weather conditions. Unfortunately, local volunteer fire departments typically are not equipped to deal with these types of fires, and even city fire departments, whose workers receive training on electrical fires, sometimes have a difficult time extinguishing them.

Regulations and Extinguishing Agents
Another issue PECO employees have had to deal with is the type of fire extinguishers available in their work vehicles. For utilities that have service fleets and operate under federal guidelines, the U.S. Department of Transportation requires those fleet vehicles to carry fire extinguishers. Per Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulation 393.95, “Emergency equipment on all power units,” each extinguisher must have a gauge to indicate if the extinguisher is fully charged and a label that displays its UL rating. Extinguishers also must be securely mounted and readily available and accessible for use at all times. In addition, a vehicle transporting hazardous materials must be equipped with an extinguisher with a UL rating of 10 B:C or more. If the vehicle is not transporting hazardous materials, it must carry one extinguisher with a rating of at least 5 B:C, or two extinguishers, each with a rating of 4 B:C or more.

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Guest — Ridley
It's cool to learn more about fire suppression systems. Even something simple like the gauges on fire extinguishers that show how ... Read More
Friday, 07 September 2018 15:24
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Danny Bost, CUSP

Key Concepts of an Insulate and Isolate Program

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Most utilities and contractors that perform work on energized conductors use some form of cover-up program or process. Culture plays a big part in how we currently cover for protection. When a new lineworker joins the crew, that person learns the ways of senior members of the crew, and later that knowledge is passed on to the next new person. Having control of what we work on also has played a significant role in how we cover. If you have control of the energized conductor or equipment you are working on, you may not need as much cover for protection, right? The problem is, in numerous cases, something unexpected has occurred, resulting in a flash or contact event.

There also are other reasons why we continue to have flash and contact events. Today, there is more work to do than there are qualified lineworkers available to perform the work, so sometimes companies advance lineworkers through the ranks faster than they would have in the past so those employees can perform energized work. In addition, we don’t have the luxury of doing as much de-energized work as we once did. Sadly, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, over a period of five years – from 2011 to 2015 – there were 62 fatalities related to electrical contact.  

So, what does all of this information point to? Simply put, it is time for us to take what we have learned from the past and train today’s employees on how to insulate (cover) for those times when things could go wrong. Then, if they lose control of what they are working with, no injuries will occur.

That’s easy to say, but changing a company or department’s culture is not an easy thing to do, especially when the company or department employs longtime workers who have found repeated success with the control-and-cover method. Many companies have spent countless hours and dollars to improve their cover-up processes – and many times observations and audits indicate their crews are working just fine – yet events continue to occur. It’s no secret that lineworkers deal with differences of opinion about how cover should be applied.

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Dan Brenden

Using Technology to Eliminate Aerial Device Overloads

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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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