(Updated July 2020)
General utility workers put their health and wellbeing on the line every day. In fact, thousands of utility workers are injured or killed when working on overhead power lines annually.
Utility workers require extensive safety training, so they can learn what it takes to protect themselves and others against accidents, injuries, and fatalities. With this training, utility workers can gain the insights they need to make safety a top priority, regardless of the task at hand.
Why Is Utility Worker Safety Important?
To better understand the importance of utility worker safety, let’s first consider two of the leading causes of accidents, injuries, and fatalities among utility workers: falls and electric shocks.
Falls from aerial lifts can occur for many reasons, including:
– High winds
– Worker mistakes
– Lift tip-overs
– Failure to wear proper safety gear
Electric shocks occur when lifts or cranes make contact with power lines. Like falls, electric shocks are serious problems for utility workers. But, both falls and electric shocks may be prevented.
Proper training is the biggest factor in preventing these falls and electric shocks. Additionally, there are many other ways to keep utility line workers safe on the job.
General Utility Worker Safety Tips
Utility line worker safety starts with keeping a safe distance from live power lines. A tall crane with a mobile extension can easily make contact with a power line. This is true even if the lift is set up a safe distance away from the line. That’s why crane workers should always assume nearby power lines are live.
The minimum safe distance between a boom and a power line depends on the number of kilovolts (kV) in the line. OSHA safety guidelines for working near power lines are as follows (kV = 1,000 volts):
Number of Volts in Power Line Minimum Safe Distance
– 0 to 50 kV: 10 ft.
– 50 kV to 200 kV: 15 ft.
– 200 kV to 350 kV: 20 ft.
– 350 kV to 500 kV: 25 ft.
– 500 kV to 750 kV: 35 ft.
If the voltage is unknown, keep a minimum distance of 35 ft.. Use ground workers to monitor a crane’s distance from the line throughout a job. Warning devices that sound when the boom gets too close can also be beneficial.
Utility line workers who work on scaffolds share the same risks as crane workers. Yet, the safe distance between a scaffold and power line are much shorter.
In terms of scaffolds, OSHA minimum clearance guidelines are:
– 2 ft. for insulated lines under 300 volts
– 10 ft. for insulated lines of 300+ volts
– 10 ft. for uninsulated lines of any voltage
The jobsite should have a trained observer to warn if utility line workers get too close to a power line. This observer must have the authority to take action if a hazard is spotted.
Working on a scaffold isn’t the only risk to general utility workers, either. Tools and work materials that make contact with power lines can also cause injuries or fatalities. When possible, replace metal tools with those that don’t conduct an electric current.
As an employer, it is your responsibility to teach utility workers about guidelines relating to scaffolds as well. If your workers recognize the importance of safety when they perform tasks between a scaffold and a power line, they can minimize risk for themselves, their colleagues, and bystanders.
Ladders may seem outdated for working at heights, but they are still commonly used at jobsites.
Metal ladders that make contact with a live power line can cause injuries or fatalities. Therefore, OSHA has established guidelines that must be followed if your business requires its workers to use ladders near live power lines.
OSHA guidelines for working with ladders near power lines include:
– Ladders that conduct electricity may not be used.
– Place warnings on conductive ladders not to use around electric equipment.
– Only use tools that will withstand their voltage ratings.
– Keep ladders at least 10 ft. from lines of 50,000 volts or less.
– Keep ladders at least 35 ft. from lines with higher voltage.
– Always carry ladders horizontally, never upright.
If you are uncertain about how to manage workers who use ladders at jobsites, there is no need to stress. By signing up for safety training, you can educate your employees about safe use of ladders at all types of worksites. As a result, you can teach workers how to correctly use ladders to perform myriad tasks.
Most companies use aerial lifts to work on overhead power lines. This can include boom lifts, scissor lifts, and bucket trucks.
When using lifts near live power lines, OSHA mandates the following:
– Workers must be trained and certified.
– Workers must adhere to the lift’s rating and design specs at all times.
– All lift controls must be tested before starting a job.
– Lifts must maintain the same safe distances as cranes.
Along with the aforementioned mandates, if a lift could make contact with a “hot” line, workers must:
– Insulate the parts of the lines that could make contact with the lift.
– Insulate the lift as much as possible.
– Set up the lift so uninsulated parts can’t get closer than the minimum safety distance.
– Make sure all lift parts are grounded.
– Make sure all equipment pieces are bonded together.
– Use ground mats around the lift to extend the grounded area.
– Wear insulated gloves, helmets and clothing.
– Assume all lines are live when doing power line work on an aerial lift
For employers who are concerned that workers lack the knowledge they need to safely use an aerial lift, help is available. If workers complete aerial lift safety training, they can learn everything they need to know to properly use scissor lifts, boom lifts, and other types of aerial lifts.
Utility Line Worker Jobs: Preventing Falls
Workers don’t have to fall far to suffer a serious injury. That’s why OSHA requires strict fall protection guidelines when working 4 ft. above ground.
Some aerial lifts have guard rails or safety nets in place. In instances where guard rails or safety nets are unavailable, aerial lift workers must wear fall arrest gear while in the air. The most common fall arrest gear: a body harness with a lanyard. With a body harness, the lanyard must be connected to an anchor point on a bucket or boom.
Employers can comply with OSHA’s fall protection mandates in other ways as well. One option is having workers wear a body belt with a tether. The other option is requiring workers to wear a body harness with a tether. In both cases, the tether must be anchored to a boom or basket. All fall protection gear must be inspected each day before it is used, too.
Enroll in a Safety Training Program from AerialLiftCertification.com
Utility workers face many dangers every day, but you can help these employees limit the risk of accidents, injuries, and fatalities. In addition to providing workers with first-rate safety equipment, you can let your workers enroll in a safety training program from AerialLiftCertification.com.
We offer safety training courses that are easy to complete and fully compliant with OSHA requirements. Utility workers can finish classes at their convenience, and upon completion, know the ins and outs of boom lift safety, scissor lift safety, and other aerial lift safety topics.
Our team is available to discuss our safety courses for utility workers. To learn more or to sign up for any of our courses, please contact us online or call us today at (888) 278-8896.