OSHA Issues Final Rule Addressing Electric Power Work Electric power construction standard updated, general industry rules revised

By Roy Maurer Apr 14, 2014
Editor's note: OSHA has implemented an interim enforcement policy for the final rule in effect until Oct. 31, 2014. The policy delays enforcement of most new requirements for employers who are complying with the existing General Industry rule.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published final regulations April 11, 2014, amending its standards for working around electric power generation, transmission and distribution, almost nine years since first proposing the changes.

According to OSHA, the 40-year-old construction standard for electric power line work is being made consistent with the corresponding general industry standard (last updated in 1994). Both standards include new or revised provisions, including greater information sharing between host and contract employers, improved fall protection measures, revised approach-distance requirements, and new electrical protective equipment requirements.

Most of the regulation’s provisions will become effective July 10, 2014, however, OSHA has delayed the effective date of some provisions until April 1, 2015.

“This long-overdue update will save nearly 20 lives and prevent 118 serious injuries annually,” said David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health. “Electric utilities, electrical contractors and labor organizations have persistently championed these much-needed measures to better protect the men and women who work on or near electrical power lines,” he said in a statement.

Electrical hazards are a major cause of occupational death in the United States, where the annual fatality rate for power line workers is about 50 deaths per 100,000, according to OSHA. Workers in the electric power industry are potentially exposed to a variety of serious hazards that can cause injury and death, such as arc flashes, electric shock, falls and thermal burns.

The agency estimated that employers would incur approximately $50 million in annual compliance costs, with annual net monetized benefits equal to about $130 million. About one-third of the compliance costs are related to requirements to provide arc-flash protective equipment.

Who Is Affected?

The revised regulations primarily affect employers that construct, operate, maintain or repair electric power generation, transmission or distribution installations. These companies include electric utilities, as well as contractors hired by utilities. Additionally, a variety of manufacturing and other industries that own or operate their own electric power generation, transmission, or distribution installations and businesses performing power-line-clearance tree-trimming operations are affected.

Important Changes

Some of the most important changes to the standards include the following:

*Host and contract employers must exchange information on hazards and on the conditions, characteristics, design and operation of the host employer’s worksite. The new rule also includes a requirement for host and contract employers to coordinate their work rules and procedures to protect all employees working onsite.

*Training requirements must be determined by the degree of risk to the employee for the hazard involved. Power-line-clearance tree trimmers must have training on distinguishing exposed live parts and determining their voltage, as well as in maintaining minimum approach distances. The existing requirement for the employer to certify training has been removed.

*Workers must use fall protection when climbing or changing location on poles, towers or other structures. Employees working from aerial lifts must use body harnesses to protect against falls. Work-positioning equipment must be rigged so that workers can free fall no more than two feet.

*Multiple workers working on the same lines or equipment must coordinate their activities.

*Employers are required to establish minimum approach distances using specified formulas. The exemption from the requirement to maintain minimum approach distances applies only to the insulated portions of aerial lifts.

*Companies must assess the workplace to identify employees exposed to hazards from flames or from electric arcs; make reasonable estimates of the incident heat energy to which the employee would be exposed; ensure that the outer layer of clothing worn by employees is flame-resistant; and generally ensure that employees exposed to hazards from electric arcs wear protective clothing and other protective equipment with an arc rating greater than or equal to the estimated heat energy.

*Employers are permitted to install and remove protective grounds on lines and equipment operating at 600 volts or less without using a live-line tool under certain conditions.

*Affected workers must follow “performance-based requirements consistent with current consensus standards” for electrical protective equipment, “which replaces outdated consensus standards.” The rule recognizes a new class of electrical protective equipment, Class 00 rubber insulating gloves, and adopts new requirements for electrical protective equipment made of materials other than rubber.

OSHA is also revising the general industry standard for foot protection, for employers in all industries. The final rule removes the requirement for employees to wear protective footwear as protection against electric shock, however stipulates that “where protective footwear will protect workers from electrical hazards that remain after the employer takes other protective measures, employers must ensure that workers use protective footwear as a supplementary form of protection.”

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him @SHRMRoy

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