OSHA Updates Electric Power Transmission & Distribution For Construction Standard

Image Credit: Yummifruitbat

Image Credit: Yummifruitbat

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published a final rule in the Federal Register today updating their standard on the construction of electric power distribution transmission and distribution lines and equipment (29 CFR part 1926, subpart V) as well as adopting a new standard on electrical protective equipment (29 CFR 1926.97) which applies to ALL construction work. The revisions to the construction standard will bring it more in line with the corresponding general industry standard (29 CFR 1910.269) which is also being revised. The revised requirements are primarily aimed at reducing injuries and fatalities for two of construction’s “Fatal Four”: falls and electrocutions.

The current construction standard for electrical power transmission and distribution is almost 42 years old. During this time the technology, methodology and consensus standards involved in this type of construction work has changed which prompted the need to revise these outdated provisions and requirements. The effective date for most provisions will be July 10, 2014. There are some exceptions for certain provisions where the compliance deadline will be later.

The revisions include changes to the requirements for information sharing between host and contract employers, arc-flash protection, minimum approach distances as well as the new standard for electrical protective equipment. Let’s take a look at some of the revisions and new requirements starting with the electrical protective equipment standard since it applies to all construction.

1926.97 Electrical Protective Equipment

As mentioned earlier, this new standard applies to ALL construction work where electrical protective equipment is used and not just for work done for electrical power generation, transmission and distribution. The previous requirements regarding electrical protective equipment found in 1926.951(a) only applied to construction work involving electrical power generation, transmission and distribution work.

The new standard has performance-based requirements for the design, manufacture and proper care of electrical protective equipment which corresponds with current American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) consensus standards. The old requirements were based on the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) provisions that were current when the standard was established, but are completely outdated 42 years later. The performance-based requirements mean that OSHA won’t have to continuously revise the standard each time new consensus standards are established.

The new standard also includes requirements for using materials other than rubber to make electrical protective equipment.

1926.960(g) Protection From Flames and Electric Arcs

Under this provision the employer is responsible for protecting employees from hazards posed by electric arcs and flames. The employer must assess the workplace to identify workers exposed to those hazards and make reasonable estimates of the incident heat energy from those hazards.

The employer is also responsible for ensuring that workers aren’t wearing clothing that could melt onto their skin or ignite and burn when exposed to flames or the estimated incident heat energy. The employer is must also provide and ensure that workers are wearing flame-resistant outer layers and arc-rated clothing and arc-flash protective equipment when exposed to those hazards. The deadline for estimating the incident heat energy is January 1, 2015 and the deadline for providing arc-rated clothing and equipment is April 1, 2015.

1296.960(c) Minimum Approach Distances

The employer is required to establish minimum approach distances by either following the default minimum approach-distance tables or by calculating the distance using formulas set by the standard and ensure that workers maintain these distances from exposed energized parts.

There are also requirements for employees working near energized parts where they cannot be in a position to reach into the minimum approach distance if they are not protected and cannot put on or remove insulating gloves and sleeves if they are in a position to reach into the established minimum approach distance.

The employer has until April 1, 2015 to determine the maximum anticipated per-unit transient overvoltage, phase-to-ground, through and engineering analysis for voltages over 72.5 kilovolts.

1926.954(b) Fall Protection

Under the standard, workers must use a personal fall arrest system, fall restraint system or work-positioning equipment depending on the type of work being performed and the circumstances surrounding the work. Workers at heights above 4 feet on poles and towers are required to use some sort of fall protection equipment.

Qualified workers climbing or changing position on a pole or tower are must use fall protection unless it is not feasible to do so or if doing so would create a greater hazard. This goes into effect on or after April 1, 2015.

If workers using fall protection equipment are exposed to flames or electric arc hazards the equipment must be capable of passing a drop test after being exposed to an electric arc.

According to OSHA, these new and revised standards will prevent 20 fatalities and 118 serious injuries per year.

This is just a small sample of some of the revisions and additions found in the final rule. You can view the full text of the final rule as published in the Federal Register here.

You can find additional information on the final rule including a Fact Sheet, FAQ Section and a Minimum Approach Distance Calculator provided by OSHA here.

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