Utility Worksite Safety Articles

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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Jim Vaughn, CUSP

Train the Trainer 101: Grounding for Stringing in Energized Environments

A few years ago I came upon a crew using 6-inch chocks to hold back a 38-ton crane truck. I told the crew I was happy that they were making an effort at compliance, but I had to ask them, “Why do we place chocks under a truck’s wheels? Is it to comply with our safety rules or to keep the crane from running away?” It was obvious to me that the short chocks would not hold the crane. The driver proved my assumption true a few minutes later. From the cab, with the transmission in neutral, he released the parking brake. The crane easily bounced over the chocks and, unfortunately, hit my pickup truck.

Sometimes I ask similar questions about grounds installed during stringing. That’s because it seems we do not pay as much attention to the value of grounding as we do to the perceived value of an act of compliance. Grounding during stringing plays a very important role in protecting workers; however, that’s only the case if we know why we are grounding and then install grounding so it does what we want it to do.

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Danny Raines, CUSP

Voice of Experience: OSHA Citations and Informal Conferences

OSHA fines will increase for the first time in 25 years under a provision in the recently signed U.S. congressional budget deal.

The Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act of 1990 exempted OSHA from increasing its penalties to keep pace with inflation. But a section of the new budget signed in November by President Barack Obama – referred to as the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act Improvements Act of 2015 – strikes the 1990 exemption.

Now, OSHA is directed to issue an interim final rule adjusting its penalties to account for current inflation levels, which would raise proposed fines by about 80 percent. This means the maximum penalty for a willful violation would rise from the current $70,000 to about $127,000. Additionally, OSHA fines for serious and other-than-serious violations could increase from $7,000 per violation to approximately $13,000 per violation. The penalty adjustment must take effect before August 1 of this year. In subsequent years, employers should expect to see OSHA fines increase by January 15 of each year as the agency makes adjustments based on the annual percentage increase in the consumer price index.

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Jim Vaughn, CUSP

April 2016 Q&A

Q: What is an employer’s affirmative defense relative to an OSHA charge and how does it work?

A: In simplified legal terms, an affirmative defense is the act of an accused party putting forth a set of alternative claims or facts. The purpose of the accused party doing this is to mitigate the claim against him, or at least the consequences of the claim, even if the facts of the claim are true. Following is an example of a fairly common scenario in which an affirmative defense is claimed by an employer. OSHA investigates an incident that resulted in an injury to an employee and finds the employer responsible. The agency subsequently issues a citation for violation of a certain rule. Most successful affirmative defenses have shown that the employer’s safety manual rule would have protected the employee if the rule had been followed; that the rule was communicated to the workforce via training; that supervisors and employees were trained to comply with the rule; that supervisors enforced the rule; and that a disciplinary program effectively remediated noncompliance. If the employer successfully puts forth that defense, he can claim the employee violated the rule outside of the control of the employer. The employer showed due diligence and cannot be held responsible for a condition over which he had no control, such as employee misconduct.

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Jarred O'Dell, CSP, CUSP

Trenching by the Numbers

Trenching by the Numbers

By and large, organizations directly provide the training and other resources needed for the development of their foremen and crew chiefs. Such training tends to be built around two components: following the standards set forth by OSHA and other regulatory agencies, and adhering to organizational policies and procedures.

This is a great approach but perhaps an incomplete one. Truly impactful safety training typically includes a third component: sharing of personal experience. For instance, I once observed a training session in which the instructor drew from his experiences during a discussion about how to troubleshoot problems that can likely be anticipated in the field. Often, this type of training is held in higher regard by trainees than that which simply outlines a standard. Furthermore, workers are more likely to become active participants in training sessions that highlight proven, real-world work practices that they can use to more safely and efficiently execute their tasks.

With this in mind, I began crafting a series of four articles that focus on trenching and excavation techniques and practices. My goal is to present advanced material – injected with my own on-the-job experiences as a safety director and instructor – to the seasoned foremen and crew chiefs who already have some practice working in and around trenching environments.

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Neil Dempster, CSP, MBA, Ph.D.

Understanding Your Safety DNA

Understanding Your Safety DNA

Last summer my extended family planned and hosted a long-overdue family reunion. This one was particularly special because my Uncle Roy, who is now in his 80s, was there, and it was the first time in many years that I had the opportunity to see and spend time with him. Prior to his retirement, Uncle Roy was a railroad engineer in charge of and responsible for driving a freight train engine. From a safety perspective, I should explain a few details about trains before I continue. First, a typical freight train can be 120 to 140 cars or approximately one-and-one-half miles in length. Second, if a train is traveling at a moderate speed of 55 mph, it will take more than one mile – or 18 football fields – before that train comes to a stop. And finally, a train can’t swerve to avoid an object in its path. The aforementioned facts should give you a clue as to where we are heading with this article.

After getting reacquainted with Uncle Roy at the reunion, I asked him to tell me about his days as a train engineer. His face lit up at the question, and he proceeded to tell me about his love for the railroad. Uncle Roy probably could have gone on for hours, but at a certain point – and I’m not entirely sure why I did this, except that I have spent quite a bit of time focused on safety efforts in diverse organizations – I asked him if he’d ever hit anything while driving a train. Uncle Roy’s demeanor changed as he described the multitude of times his train had hit objects on the tracks, including animals, chairs, coolers, camping equipment and even cars. In one instance, the driver of a car was clearly trying to get across the tracks as the train approached, even though the gates were down and the lights were flashing. Unfortunately, the driver was not successful in his attempt and another unnecessary fatality occurred that night.

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Hugh Hoagland

Best Practices for Arc-Rated Clothing Programs

Best Practices for Arc-Rated Clothing Programs

Many things have changed since 1994, when the first hint of arc-rated (AR) materials hit the utilities. Back then, the best practice was to wear cotton jeans, heavy cotton shirts and heavy cotton-shell winter wear. Other personal protective equipment (PPE) like rainwear illustrated an industry problem: There were not many good flame-resistant (FR) clothing options available. At the time, the only markets for FR garments were military, aviation and refineries. Non-melting rainwear was not really on the market since most “FR” rainwear at that time was made of nylon or polyester, which means it melted and thus didn’t meet OSHA requirements.

In the years immediately following the promulgation of the 1994 version of OSHA’s 29 CFR 1910.269 standard, a few utilities began using AR shirts. However, in a 2001 IBEW survey, only 68 percent of utilities reported using AR shirts and rainwear. There was a false belief that cotton was somehow FR, but this was a misinterpretation of ASTM data provided to OSHA about heavy, 11-oz/yd² cotton. Any utility that had done calculations using ARCPRO – software that computes the thermal parameters of electrical arcs – knew it was basically impossible to justify not moving to AR garments given the available data. In the same IBEW survey, 70 percent of respondents reported using FR clothing – which was commonly used interchangeably with “AR clothing” at the time of the survey – as part of a uniform required by the company for which they worked. The tides were turning even then toward company-provided AR garments for line technicians.

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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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Friday, 19 February 2016 11:47
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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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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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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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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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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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