By Michael Hyland, Senior Vice President, Engineering Services, American Public Power Association and Chair, National Electrical Safety Code
Working with electricity can be dangerous. The lineworkers, substation personnel and meter technicians who work on electricity generation, transmission, and distribution risk their lives on the job every day — as much as firefighters, construction workers, security professionals, or those in other hazardous occupations. From shocks and fires to falls and arc flashes, plenty of dangers abound.
Public power utilities — and several national standards-setting entities — are vested in protecting the safety of electrical workers.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the National Electrical Safety Code. Introduced in 1914, NESC outlines the provisions to protect utility employees and the public during the installation, operation, and maintenance of electric supply and communication lines and associated equipment. IEEE, the secretariat of the NESC since 1972, facilitates a structured five-year process that invites open input on the NESC’s ongoing refinement. From September 1 2014 until May 1 2015, IEEE is accepting public comment on the draft — or “Pre-print” — of the 2017 edition of the NESC.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety & Health Administration spells out several standards and best practices for electrical safety. OSHA recently updated the 1926 Subpart V (Construction) and 1910.269 (General Industry) standards revising workplace safety standards for performing electric power generation, transmission and distribution work.
According to OSHA, “The final rules for general industry and construction include new or revised provisions on host employers and contractors, training, job briefings, fall protection, insulation and working position of employees working on or near live parts, minimum approach distances, protection from electric arcs, deenergizing transmission and distribution lines and equipment, protective grounding, operating mechanical equipment near overhead power lines, and working in manholes and vaults,” in addition to electrical protective equipment and foot protection.
The final rule became effective on July 10, 2014. Compliance requirements for utilities will be phased in between October 2014 and April 2015 for fall protection, minimum approach distance, and arc protection. Arc protection standards will require compliance starting January 1, 2015. Employers must estimate the incident heat energy of any potential electric-arc hazards to which employees could be exposed by January 1. Program and system changes based on findings of the exposure study would need to be implemented starting April 1, 2015.
Dr. David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, notes, “…Electric utilities, electrical contractors, and labor organizations have long championed these much needed measures to better protect the men and women who work on or near electrical power lines.” The key for your utility will be to educate your staff, and to ensure you maintain the focus and budget required to build the “Safety Culture” required in today’s day and age.
For electric utilities, worker safety is paramount. Safety is an especially important element of the public power culture. The American Public Power Association’s Safety Manual, currently in its 15th edition, has been the go-to resource for public power utilities since 1955. APPA also offers many recognition programs and training opportunities on electrical worker safety — an annual safety awards program, a Public Power Lineworkers Rodeo, the Reliable Public Provider Program (RP3), Engineering and Operation Technical Conference Safety Committee sessions, training institutes, webinars, and more. Keep up with the latest on the safety page of our website.
We’d like to hear about your safety challenges and the best practices you follow to protect your utility staff and customers. Share by adding your comments below on this blog. And, if you are an APPA member, join the discussion on our safety listserve — email us to subscribe.