Author: Jim Vaughn, CUSP


The ABCs of Grounding Mobile Equipment

Across our industry, I have found all kinds of policies for grounding trucks. I also have found that in many cases, employers’ rules for grounding trucks are not based on OSHA requirements and – even more concerning – are not based on sound principles of protection. I believe the grounding policies are well intentioned, but they fail to achieve two important goals: (1) meeting the OSHA standard and (2) protecting workers where electrical contact hazards exist. So, let’s take an ABCs approach to the issue because even though some detailed explanation is required, it really is that simple.

A Defensible Plan
You must be able to defend your plan or policy. This is the case for every plan or policy. Defense is built around establishing and accomplishing a goal, understanding the hazard, understanding the mitigation of the hazard, training at-risk employees, and conducting periodic audits to ensure the plan or policy is properly employed.

The Goal
In our case, the goal is protecting workers from electrical hazards created by contact with mobile equipment. Let’s agree here that mobile equipment is anything that is moved into a work site. In addition, it is mobile equipment that can become energized. If it can’t become energized, it is not a hazard.

Understanding the Hazard
The hazard is energizing mobile equipment and the transfer of hazardous energy to an employee who is on, in contact with or near the equipment that has become energized. The hazard involves unintended or inadvertent energizing. There can be several energizing sources, but we can classify them as follows: direct contact with an energized source, capacitive coupled voltage or inductive coupled current (I’ll explain this a little later), and inadvertent energizing by grounding to a current-carrying source. Let’s start with this one first.

The Rule
There is one rule – OSHA 29 CFR 1910.269(p)(4)(iii)(C) – that singularly establishes all of the employer’s responsibilities for protection of workers from electrical injury by contact with an energized piece of equipment. Paragraph 1910.269(p)(4)(iii)(C) requires the following: “Each employee shall be protected from hazards that could arise from mechanical equipment contact with energized lines or equipment.” The rule also requires that the “measures used shall ensure that employees will not be exposed to hazardous differences in electric potential.” Here we need to define “hazardous differences in electric potential.” It was probably written this way for clear understanding, but “electric” and “potential” are the same thing. The hazard of potential difference does not only come from contact with an energized line. OSHA does not define the mechanism of energizing except to say “mechanical equipment contact with energized lines or equipment.” “Energized” is a poor word choice because it may make the reader think of an aerial boom in contact with an overhead bus. That simple explanation does not take into account sources of steady-state current, such as inductive coupled current or even current coupled to a truck body by grounding to a current-carrying neutral.

Inductive Coupling Hazard
There are two forms of induction: capacitive coupling and inductive coupling. Capacitive coupling is an electrical charge onto an isolated conductive surface. There is no current component. With capacitive coupling, grounding the object that has received the charge will collapse (discharge) the voltage, and the voltage will not appear again as long as the surface is grounded. If the ground is removed, the conductive object will regain a charge. The speed at which the surface regains the charge is determined by the nearness and intensity of the electric field from the nearby energized line. With capacitive coupling, there is no current component because there is no complete pathway for a current to flow. You only have voltage, and you receive a shock if you contact that surface. There is very little risk associated with a capacitive coupled shock from a vehicle that is subject to mutual induction by a nearby electric field. However, if you ground equipment to a structure or a ground rod that is being used to control mutual induction, there could be a risk associated with inductive coupling.

Let’s use this example: At one structure, a crew with buckets aloft and a grounded bus have grounded their trucks to a ground rod that also is being used as the ground for the newly installed transmission conductors. Nearby in the same right-of-way is an energized 345-kV line. A span away, a second crew is aloft. The newly installed lines at that location are grounded to a rod installed at the foot of the new pole. Those two ground sources have created a path from the grounded bus to earth at the first structure, across earth between the two structures and up the second ground path back to the bus. Grounding at the two structures created a path for current to flow. It’s as basic as your introduction to electrical theory, using the loop from the battery’s positive terminal to the battery’s negative terminal, through a light bulb and a closed switch. A complete path is necessary for current to flow and the light to burn.

With inductive coupling, there must be at least two ground connections for current to flow. A single ground collapses the voltage so that it cannot be detected and no current flows. If a second ground path is connected, there is now a complete path to remote earth and – because of the adjacent ground – a path from ground, creating the looped pathway. If the magnetic field is strong enough, a current will flow through the two pathways, circulating in the pathway. There will still be no detectable voltage because it is a grounded circuit, but current will still flow in the pathway. This is circulating current (see IEEE 1048-2016, “IEEE Guide for Protective Grounding of Power Lines,” Section 42, “Induction”).

At the first pole, the crew grounded their truck to the ground rod that also was used to ground the newly installed bus. That bus was loaded with current because of mutual inductive coupling from the nearby 345-kV line and the completed pathway through the two adjacent ground systems. Grounding the truck to the ground rod put the truck in a parallel path to ground with the ground rod that was carrying induction current. That truck on rubber tires and outrigger pads becomes an isolated conductive surface. Because of the resistance between the truck body and the earth, there is a voltage in the gap between the truck body and the ground. The next worker who walks up to that truck and touches it will close the gap between the isolated truck body and ground with their body, risking a fatal injury. This scenario – a difference in potential – is one that OSHA requires us to control.

Grounding to the System Neutral
In Appendix C to 1910.269, OSHA answers the question as to what the agency means by “best available ground” for grounding trucks. The system neutral is the best available ground at most distribution work areas. It is a multigrounded continuous pathway that represents a very low-resistance path to earth.

The problem here is that the neutral, like the case of induction, represents a steady-state current source. Just as with induction, a truck connected to the neutral where current is present becomes a parallel path to ground. The body of the truck is at a different potential than the earth around the truck. So, is OSHA wrong? No, OSHA is correct. However, you have to understand the big picture to get this right.

Let’s start with the OSHA standard itself. Wherever OSHA requires grounding to protect employees from an electrical hazard, the rule always includes requirements to arrange the grounds so that no employee is exposed to a hazardous difference in potential. As mentioned earlier, 1910.269(p)(4)(iii)(C) states, “The measures used shall ensure that employees will not be exposed to hazardous differences in electric potential.” Paragraph 1910.269(p)(4)(iii)(C) is followed by paragraphs 1-4. Paragraph 1 requires “using the best available ground to minimize the time the lines or electric equipment remain energized”; paragraph 2 requires “bonding mechanical equipment together to minimize potential differences”; paragraph 3 requires “providing ground mats to extend areas of equipotential”; and paragraph 4 requires “employing insulating protective equipment or barricades to guard against any remaining hazardous electrical potential differences.” This is the definition of bonding and isolation to protect employees from differences in potential.

Grounding Does Not Ensure Protection
Grounding is for one particular purpose and that is to trip the circuit that is the source of energizing so that an unintended contact or inadvertent energizing does not occur. Bonding ensures that there is no potential difference that would create risk to the employee. Grounding does not protect the worker; bonding does, and it’s the law.

Federal OSHA Does Not Require Grounds
A warning here: I cannot address all state OSHA plans, and some may have mandatory grounding requirements. Even if they do, everything else here applies for the protection of the worker.

Now, back to 1910.269(p)(4)(iii)(C). This rule does not mandate grounding of trucks except under one condition. Read the whole rule in the breakout box below and notice the word “methods.” The rule requires that “the employer can demonstrate that the methods in use protect each employee from the hazards that could arise if the mechanical equipment contacts the energized line or equipment.” You have to interpret “methods” to create a defensible procedure to protect employees. What is a method? The rule doesn’t say to demonstrate that grounding in use protects employees. So, a method can be something other than grounding. Here’s an example: If touching a truck can get you electrocuted, a rule prohibiting touching the truck is a method of protecting the employee. There are numerous other effective methods available, such as positioning at setup, using dedicated observers and barricading. The requirement is that the employer can ensure the methods in use protect the employees. If the methods in use cannot ensure the protection of the employee, then (1) grounding, (2) bonding, (3) matting and (4) barricading are mandatory.

Step Potential
For those of you who have heard me address step potential, you know it is a very detailed recitation of the nature of the hazard, the history of research modeling and measuring, and a history of exposures and methodologies of protection. The problem is that theoretical modeling and measuring show a high degree of step potential hazard around an energized truck sometimes 30-plus feet away. The second part of the problem is that decades of experience among craft workers – and very few incidents of step and touch shock – say that isn’t the case. The result is an unwillingness on the part of industry to address the issue. OSHA expects you to have a plan to address step-and-touch hazards as shown in 1910.269(p)(4)(iii)(C)(3) (matting) and (4) (barricading), and as discussed in Appendix C to 1910.269. If you haven’t done so, you should read Appendix C and consider it well.

I know from experience that equipotential matting is a great way to ensure walking surface tripping hazards. Cattle panels are my favorite solution for step-and-touch hazards. I have used them extensively for 20 years and seen them in action. They work, but that’s a whole article in itself for another day.

Principles of Current in Grounds
Here are three valuable principles we need to understand to protect workers from electrical injury through equipment.

1. Current flows in every available path inversely proportional to the resistance of the path. That means everything you bond your equipment to – pole bonds, neutrals, statics, anchors on bonded guys – has a source of current that can energize a truck.

2. If you insert a resistance in a current-carrying path, a voltage will appear across that resistance. That means if you ground a truck to a current-carrying source, the truck is a parallel path. If that path is isolated by outrigger pads and rubber tires, a gap (resistance) exists between the truck and the ground, creating a potential difference.

3. If a potential difference is high enough to penetrate the resistance of a worker’s skin, current can flow, endangering the worker. That means that most exposures to a grounded truck in normal conditions may not be high enough to cause injury. But a fault current or high induction current coupled onto the truck can create a potential difference that could be a hazard. Those conditions can appear anytime.

The Bottom Line
You must assess the hazard of energizing trucks and the risk to your workers. You must have a plan to mitigate that hazard. You must train your employees on the plan and how to recognize the hazard. You also must train them to mitigate shock hazards according to your plan. If you ground trucks, you must have a plan to control exposure to differences in potential.

About the Author: After 25 years as a transmission-distribution lineman and foreman, Jim Vaughn, CUSP, has devoted the last 22 years to safety and training. A noted author, trainer and lecturer, he is a senior consultant for the Institute for Safety in Powerline Construction. He can be reached at


OSHA 29 CFR 1910.269(p)(4)(iii)(C)
Each employee shall be protected from hazards that could arise from mechanical equipment contact with energized lines or equipment. The measures used shall ensure that employees will not be exposed to hazardous differences in electric potential. Unless the employer can demonstrate that the methods in use protect each employee from the hazards that could arise if the mechanical equipment contacts the energized line or equipment, the measures used shall include all of the following techniques: 

Using the best available ground to minimize the time the lines or electric equipment remain energized, 

Bonding mechanical equipment together to minimize potential differences, 

Providing ground mats to extend areas of equipotential, and 

Employing insulating protective equipment or barricades to guard against any remaining hazardous electrical potential differences.

Note to paragraph (p)(4)(iii)(C): Appendix C to this section contains information on hazardous step and touch potentials and on methods of protecting employees from hazards resulting from such potentials.

FMCSR Awareness

When analysts look at utilities, and to some extent utility contractors, they often see what’s referred to as “mission creep.” That occurs when the expertise of the utility should be focused on quality and continuity of service but begins to be compromised by focus on too many other areas. The opposite of mission creep is when business elements that are critical to successful progress toward the goal get overlooked because of focus on the goal. One business element that gets less attention than it deserves are big trucks and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR). Granted, 75% or more of the FMCSR do not apply to utilities, and many parts that do apply are difficult to implement. Implementation is tough because, even as employers with drivers and big trucks, we are not carriers, which is the target audience of the rules, but we still are regulated by those carrier-related standards. The key areas of compliance for utilities are driver qualification, record of duty status (RODS), safety equipment and load securement. There also are a couple of new initiatives that we should keep an eye on.

Medical Database Delayed
As published in the Federal Register, Vol. 83, No. 120 (see, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) in 2018 announced a delay in implementing the national clearinghouse for driver medical cards until June 22, 2021. In 2008, the FMCSA finalized rules for driver medical clearance; drivers were required to hold valid medical identification issued by a medical provider approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation. In 2015, the FMCSA established a national database that proposed to provide the real-time status of a driver’s medical clearance to employers, licensing agencies and enforcement. The original go-live date for the system passed, and the interagency data systems did not work. The FMCSA has announced that solutions are now in place and the expected 2021 go-live date is in effect.

Drug and Alcohol Database
Driver qualification originally relied on a prospective employer requesting information from a prospective driver’s previous employers regarding any drug or alcohol actions against them. There were issues with that process, partly because the prospective employer was required to send for the records, but there was no mandate for previous employers to reveal that information nor a penalty if they opted not to provide it. The government has solved that problem by requiring employers to enter drug and alcohol information for all of their drivers into a new federal database that went live in January 2020. The clearinghouse is a secure online database that allows the FMCSA, commercial motor vehicle (CMV) employers, state driver licensing agencies and law enforcement officials to identify – in real time – drivers with commercial licenses who have violated federal drug and alcohol testing program requirements.

Those who must register in the database are drivers who hold a commercial driver’s license (CDL) or commercial learner’s permit; employers of CDL drivers, including owner-operators; consortia/third-party administrators; medical review officers; and substance abuse professionals. Drivers do not have to register immediately, but they do have to register prior to any pre-employment or continuing employment driver status review.

A Change to Safety Ratings
The FMCSA uses roadside inspections, audits and crash reports to rate a carrier’s safety performance. The information is updated no less than monthly and often even weekly depending on where the information is collected and the efficiency of the reporting units.

The FMCSA’s Safety Measurement System (SMS) is an automated system that quantifies the on-road safety performance of motor carriers so that the FMCSA can identify unsafe carriers, prioritize them for intervention, and monitor whether a carrier’s safety and compliance problem is improving. A carrier is monitored in several general areas of performance, including driver performance, moving violations, inspection performance, safe driving and crashes. A carrier’s performance area has a threshold for unsafe performance. If the performance drops below the threshold, the carrier can become the target of intervention management by the FMCSA. The first intervention is putting that carrier at the top of the roadside inspection directive. These directives are published weekly to all DOT enforcement agencies and list those carriers recommended for roadside inspection or those that are required to have a roadside inspection. That means when your drivers are spotted on the road, they are likely to be stopped.

Since every carrier operates on highways based on a permit of authorization, the FMCSA has the authority to suspend or revoke a carrier’s permit. Generally, a carrier with borderline performance receives notice. If they reach the threshold, they are managed. Often, that gives the carrier six months to improve performance and allows them to continue operation on a temporary basis where the carrier is monitored for performance.

A recent change to this program resulted in a mandatory rule that now prohibits a carrier from contracting with federal agencies if they are below any threshold requirement of the SMS. You can read about it in the FMCSR at section 385.13, “Unsatisfactory rated motor carriers; prohibition on transportation; ineligibility for Federal contracts.”

Some states are considering adopting or have already adopted the federal policy. That can be bad news for contractors that have municipal clients or, in some cases, extra-governmental agencies that operate under federal grants or agencies.

Ultimately, even though we don’t put the miles or time on the road that carriers in commerce do, the statistical analysis still applies. If our numbers are bad, we are likely to be involved in a crash. Take the FMCSR seriously. The FMCSA does, and they will treat us the same as any other unsafe carrier, including revoking our authority to operate CMVs on the road.

Electronic Data Logging
Utility Fleet Professional and its sister publication, Incident Prevention magazine (, received many questions early on in the electronic logging device (ELD) rulemaking and implementation process. At this point, most utilities and contractors know that we – for the most part – are exempt from ELDs because we qualify for one of the exceptions. The FMCSA does not require use of ELDs by drivers who use paper logs no more than eight days during any 30-day period. But it’s when paper logs are required that gets us in trouble.

For utilities and contractors, if you send crews beyond the daily travel limit in miles, your crew is required to record hours of service on paper logs. That means that drivers who will drive more than 100 miles in a day, or who drive fewer than 100 miles but do not return to their starting point on any single day in a seven-day cycle, are required to maintain a driver’s RODS log (see FMCSR 395.1(e)). The driver’s RODS logs must account for the previous seven days. If the logs in the driver’s possession are for fewer than seven days, the first daily log must begin with a notation (e.g., “Off duty 34 hours”). In no case shall logs show more than 60 hours on duty in seven days. As a CMV driver, any work for the employer is classified as “on duty, not driving.” By the way, the choice between a seven-day/60-hour or an eight-day/70-hour cycle for reporting is not available to utilities or contractors. Because we do not operate CMVs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, we are required to follow the seven-day/60-hour driver cycle.

These rules apply to both drivers leaving their home location to drive to a job more than 100 miles away and to crews who are returning home from a work site more than 100 miles from their home location. There is another misunderstanding common among utilities and contractors, and that’s the declared emergency exception for storm restoration. When power has been restored and the public is no longer at risk, the hours-of-service (HOS) exception no longer applies. Crews returning from storm work are not exempt from RODS. Many state agencies do not interfere with returning convoys, but they can stop – and have stopped – convoys and put drivers out of service overnight when they did not have logs. As a safety director, I have had crews returning from storm work stopped in Texas and New Mexico and cited regarding their logs.

There is a Reason for HOS
HOS regulations prevent crashes and loss of life. When we work storms, we watch out for each other and are kept awake by the work and one another. On the drive home, everyone sleeps, and that sometimes includes the driver. Not a storm recovery goes by without a story of a crash on the return home. One of my pet peeves with storm response is that we don’t do a better job of protecting drivers from themselves. I was one, so I remember how much I wanted to leave when the work was over and get back home to my family and bed. That’s not an excuse to risk our employees’ lives. Every CMV driver that leaves a storm site should have a log detailing driving, rest, on-duty/not-driving and off-duty periods for the previous seven days. Utilities and contractors should be keeping crews for another rest day before sending them home. It should be worked into the storm response plan, agreed to in mutual aid and contractor contracts, and explained to crews before they leave home. We should be doing this because it’s the safe and the right thing, and it’s also the law.

New Definitions for Personal Conveyance
Another item related to driving home from work in a CMV is what’s known in the regulations as “using a CMV in personal conveyance.” Over the years, interpretations have maintained that drivers required to keep logs could use a CMV to drive a reasonable distance to and from their living quarters (hotel or personal residence) and the workplace, as well as between dining and shopping spots. That time driving would be counted as off-duty as long as the driver was relieved of all duty for the employer and free to do personal tasks, and the CMV was not “laden” (i.e., carrying loads). The exception was revised in 2017 and is explained in the FMCSA’s “Interstate Truck Driver’s Guide to Hours of Service” this way: “As long as the activity is not in support of a business, the Federal hours-of-service regulations do not apply to you. If you are not operating your truck in commerce, you are not subject to the hours-of-service regulations.” The requirement that the truck not be loaded or laden was removed since even though the truck may be carrying the employer’s goods, property or work product, the driving is not in service to the employer. We have heard this exception used as a reason why return from storm work was not counted as on-duty. That argument fails because the driver is returning the truck to the employer’s home location. And sleeping crew members are not counted as off-duty because the space they are sleeping in does not qualify as a sleeper berth.

Load Securement
In an informal survey I recently conducted, I asked safety managers which DOT citations they feel occur most often. The most frequent response was citations related to load securement, which represents the reason most roadside checks are initiated by CMV and local law enforcement. When enforcement sees questionable tie-downs or no tie-downs, they pull you over. If they are really curious about or disappointed in what they see, the situation turns into a full compliance roadside inspection. So, it seems a good way to ensure interaction with enforcement is to flaunt your lack of load securement.

Load securement was addressed in the June-July 2018 issue of Incident Prevention magazine (see I have continued to receive reports of enhanced enforcement from utilities and contractors. I first heard of enhanced enforcement when the DOT plugged articles into regional news services about enforcement of smaller load-carrying conveyances such as those used by lawn service and local construction companies. That soon spread to utility trucks. In the 2018 Incident Prevention article, I referenced two past incidents in which materials from CMVs left the beds of trucks, bounced across narrow medians and entered the windshields of cars passing in the opposite direction. On both occasions, drivers were struck in the head and received grave injuries. One of them died and the other is permanently disabled. In the two incidents, one of the items lost was a steel wedge about 14 inches long; the other was a 5/8-inch-by-22-inch DA bolt. The owners of the lost materials were never identified, but enforcement across the nation has been and still is ramping up load securement for lighter trucks. I recently heard that in New Mexico, enforcement informed a utility contractor that a 2-inch-by-6-inch plank across a rear deck and ladder access is not load securement. An enforcement official at a CMV seminar in New Mexico is said to have required netting or tarps over line trucks carrying materials that were not in covered containers and strapped down. The rule of thumb is that if it can bounce off, it is not secured.

The general rule for load securement is that cargo must be firmly immobilized or secured on or within a vehicle by permanent or built-up structures of adequate strength, dunnage, shoring bars, tie-downs or a combination of devices. Cargo that could roll must be restrained by chocks, wedges, a cradle and/or tie-downs. The means of preventing rolling must not be capable of becoming unintentionally unfastened or loose while the vehicle is in transit. That means if it was tight but became loose from shifting of cargo, it is not compliant.

Following are some simple reminders from the FMCSA about tie-down requirements.

The aggregate working load limit of straps, ropes or chains used to secure a load against movement must be at least half the weight of the article or group of articles. The aggregate working load limit of a tie-down system is half the working load limit of each tie-down that goes from an anchor point on the vehicle to an attachment point on an article of cargo, plus the working load limit for each tie-down that goes from an anchor point on the vehicle through, over or around the cargo and then attaches to another anchor point on the vehicle.

So, if I have a 10,000-pound pad-mount transformer on a flatbed truck, the aggregate rating of the tie-downs must be at least 5,000 pounds. I have three straps: two 4,000-pound straps from bed to transformer and one 4,000-pound strap over the transformer from bed hook to bed hook. The two from bed to transformer are rated at half the load rating of the individual strap. Those straps are now good for 2,000 pounds. The 4,000-pound strap from hook to hook is full rated at 4,000 pounds. That totals 8,000 pounds aggregate rating, meeting the requirement for aggregate tie-downs at half the weight of the load. As long as the arrangements of the straps prevent side-to-side and forward-to-rear movement, the load securement is compliant if it also meets the rules for number of tie-downs.

The number of tie-downs is in addition to complying with rules concerning the minimum working load limit. The rule for the number of tie-downs is based on loads that are not blocked or positioned to prevent movement in the forward direction. When loads are not prevented from moving forward, the number of tie-downs needed depends on the length and weight of the articles. There must be one tie-down for articles 5 feet or shorter in length and 1,100 pounds or less in weight; there must be two tie-downs if the article is 5 feet or shorter in length and more than 1,100 pounds in weight, or if the article is longer than 5 feet but less than 10 feet, regardless of weight. The best way to solve this problem is to always have a tie-down positioned on the rear of the load, anchored to the rear of the deck, sufficient to prevent forward movement. That alone meets the number of tie-downs required that is based on loads not prevented from moving in the forward direction.

Pole Securement
Lastly, the requirements for pole securement are different than general cargo provided that the poles are carried on trailers designed to move them. You can find the full instructional guide from the FMCSA at Here are the key elements of pole securement on pole trailers:

  • Poles on the bottom must be in contact with the bunks.
  • Poles on the sides must be in contact with the side chocks.
  • Poles on the sides may not be above the height of the side chocks.
  • The aggregate strength of the tie-downs must be at least one-sixth of the load weight.
  • At least two tie-downs 10 feet apart must be used.
  • Tie-downs must be as tight as possible without exceeding their load limit.

About the Author: After 25 years as a transmission-distribution lineman and foreman, Jim Vaughn, CUSP, has devoted the last 22 years to safety and training. A noted author, trainer and lecturer, he is a senior consultant for the Institute for Safety in Powerline Construction. He can be reached at


Protecting the Fleet Mechanic

A number of years ago, I went to a construction job site to participate in the morning crew meeting tailboard. The construction project was a 90-mile double-circuit transmission pull. The new circuit was being constructed in an existing transmission line right-of-way that had two existing energized 345-kV circuits running parallel to the new circuit construction. The location where we met was a pulling site. Crews had already been pulling at the location for two days. The work that had been completed the day before left conductors pulled in about halfway. Both ends had been caught off with chain hoists overnight so that the conductor was still under tension on the tensioner near the location of our meeting. The conductors at the tensioner had been temporarily grounded to a driven ground rod for the protection of the lineworkers. Red barricade tape also was completely encircling the tensioner, the reel trailer and the 30-ton crane hooked to the reel trailer.

I was standing near the back of the assembled group of about 20 personnel, listening to the site superintendent who was conducting the safety topic on grounding for protection from induced voltages. While he spoke, I noticed movement some 100 yards past him at the front of the 30-ton crane that was anchoring the reel trailer and tensioner. It was a fleet mechanic. He was working on an oil leak, which is one of the things mechanics do. The problem was that while the mechanic was conducting that repair task, he was in a position that exposed him to electrocution. The mechanic was there working with the full knowledge of the superintendent who was delivering the safety talk. But while the superintendent spoke to the crews about isolation, grounding and the hazards of induction, the mechanic was doing exactly what the site superintendent was telling the line crews not to do.

I have witnessed this situation on a number of occasions: Workers on a job site have a good handle on their hazards and hazard control but completely miss the risks to the lone mechanic working in the background. The act isn’t intentional. We might call it tunnel vision. The crew is focused on the wire, the tension, the rigging and the procedures associated with construction of a power line. The mechanic is practically unnoticed in the background, servicing trucks, making minor repairs and checking stickers. Sometimes it seems the only time we notice the mechanic is when he wants to take away one of our trucks. But it’s not unheard of for mechanics to get hurt on job sites. It is rare, but that’s because of the numbers. A utility or contractor may have 300 employees and six mechanics in the field. There may be 150 trucks in the field, but with six mechanics, only a few trucks at a time are being worked on at the job site. The risk occurs when a truck is exposed to an electrical hazard. If the mechanic is not familiar with the nature of the hazard, he is at risk.

The Right Circumstances
In the opening scenario, the truck that the mechanic was working on was hitched and chained to the tensioner. The tensioner was rigged to 2.5 miles of 1590 aluminum conductor strung on isolated travelers between two energized 345-kV circuits. That stringing scenario is an extreme induction hazard risk for any equipment in contact with the conductors. In this case, the mechanic had no idea what induction was or how the Freightliner tractor he was working on could have electrocuted him under the right circumstances.

Let’s spend a minute attempting to understand what is meant by “the right circumstances” as well as talking about the hazards associated with induction. There are two ways for a truck to become energized. One is pretty obvious: The operator sticks an aerial boom into the energized circuit, or the crew loses control of a conductor and it falls on the truck. Those are the most common scenarios but by no means the only ones. In those cases, there is little risk to the mechanic because it is rare that he would be working on a truck while it is engaged in hot work. A more subtle risk is presented by the risk of induction. With induction, a truck does not have to be close to energized lines to become a risk. A very simple explanation is that induction is created by the invisible magnetic field that exists around an energized conductor. The higher the voltage, the stronger the magnetic field. If a crew strings a conductor through the magnetic field, voltage will appear on the conductor plus anything in contact with the wire, such as a tensioner and truck. This magnetic field is AC electricity, and lineworkers are killed by it every year.

Generally, crews install grounds to collapse the measurable voltage created by induction. Grounding puts the voltage on the conductor at ground potential, meaning the voltage between the wire and earth is zero. However, grounding may create a false sense of protection for the mechanic who is not trained to understand the hazard of induction. Grounding can eliminate or collapse the voltage to zero, but that does not eliminate the current flowing in the pathway through the conductors and across the tensioner and truck. Under the right conditions, a mechanic in contact with a truck energized through induction can be electrocuted by that flowing current.

Induction is not the only subtle electrical hazard associated with trucks. Most mechanics are familiar with grounding of trucks, but few of them are properly trained to understand what grounding does and – even more importantly – what hazards are created by grounding trucks. Consider this: How many companies would allow a fleet mechanic to get in a bucket truck and boom himself up to the system neutral to make barehand contact with the conductor? Hopefully not even one. The system neutral is a current-carrying conductor that, in several scenarios, can have a high enough voltage on it to result in a severe injury or death. But few companies even think about the mechanic working on a truck that is grounded to a pole bond or system neutral. What’s the difference? There is no difference. The mechanic touching a grounded truck is at the same risk as if he had gone up the pole and made contact with the neutral, yet few companies recognize this risk, much less train their mechanics to recognize it.

There is one additional common risk – ground gradients – that we need to cover before we address the solution to this problem. You may recall that in the narrative at the beginning of this article, the tensioner, trailer and truck were encircled by red barricade tape. The red barricade tape denoted a boundary for a no-entry space around the equipment. The space was designed to protect workers from voltage that can appear in the earth around a truck when the truck is exposed to an electrical charge like induction. If the truck becomes energized, the ground around the truck becomes energized. Anyone in that space is at risk of electrical injury.

There is no particular rule about how far away from a truck the barricade tape should be placed. That determination is made by qualified persons who understand the dynamics of the exposure created by the work environment. The barricade tape itself, whether it is red or yellow, has no protective value. It only serves to protect workers if workers understand the meaning of the barricade, its purpose and its limitations. In the opening scenario, the mechanic was inside the barricade tape working on a truck that was subject to energizing by induction. The mechanic had no idea about gradients or the hazard they represented. He thought the barricade was for when the crew was actively pulling wire, to protect people from failed rigging and line-of-fire hazards.

The Solution
The solution to this problem is found in what I have come to call “the continuum of safety.” The word “continuum” simply means a continuous interconnected process. In a continuum, the groups in a process are not perceptibly different from each other, but the extremes within the groups are distinct. Whether you are a contractor or utility, every group has its own sandbox where you have certain procedures, responsibilities, processes and goals. Departments evolve. Without intending to, they become entities unto themselves. It’s not uncommon in any company to hear someone say, “That’s fleet’s job” or “That’s engineering’s problem” or “That’s a management issue; we’re just here to fix stuff that breaks.” We isolate responsibilities without even thinking about it. There is a big difference between what a wire-stringing crew does and what fleet mechanics do when servicing trucks on-site, even though everyone is working toward the same goal in the same environment. The continuum of safety solves that problem, but it doesn’t happen by chance. Someone must create the process, and each of the stakeholders must understand the hazards relative to their workforce and take ownership of the solution.

In creating the process, the workplace must be audited to identify the relative hazards, resulting overlaps and related exposures that occur between the working groups. From there, the working groups must commit themselves to the training necessary to assure that workers in the groups understand those identified exposures.

In my experience, there is a lot of awareness training needed by fleet mechanics that doesn’t get done until someone gets hurt. Most of the time it’s that the exposure simply wasn’t recognized. We don’t need to have mechanics attend apprentice classes, but they do need to participate in awareness-level classes. Facilitators of these types of classes review the basics necessary for trainees to recognize the elements of a risk, the nature of exposure and what they must do to protect themselves. When a fleet mechanic pulls up to a job site, he should have a basic understanding of the work and be able to recognize what is being done and where the risks are. In that way, when he contacts the supervising personnel and reviews the tailboard, he is fully aware of the issues and risks and what he must do to protect himself. In the same way, crew members receive training to make them aware of the issues so that they can help to keep those working mechanics out of harm’s way when work is in progress or when procedures or tasks are changing.

If you are reading this article and need some tips or help putting a program in place to protect your field mechanics, please contact us. We will point you in the right direction.

About the Author: After 25 years as a transmission-distribution lineman and foreman, Jim Vaughn, CUSP, has devoted the last 20 years to safety and training. A noted author, trainer and lecturer, he is a senior consultant for the Institute for Safety in Powerline Construction. He can be reached at

Rigor and Discipline

The date was January 28, 1986. The event was the tenth and final flight of the Space Shuttle Challenger. Seventy-three seconds into flight, the booster rocket that was lifting Challenger into space exploded, killing all seven astronauts aboard.

When events like the Challenger explosion happen, you never forget where you were at the time. You remember the iconic photos and the national days of mourning for those lost. After the Challenger explosion, President Reagan appointed the Rogers Commission to investigate the disaster, and some of you may remember the news commentary on the Rogers Commission Report. If you didn’t study the reports from the incident, you likely aren’t aware of the stunning findings, the changes that were called for and, even more importantly, the effect the changes at NASA have had on industry – including the utility industry. It’s worth taking a look. You can read about lessons learned from the incident at

What the Rogers Commission found missing at NASA were rigor and discipline in their communications, decision-making and safety culture. The documentation includes an almost incomprehensible lack of safety culture and hazard awareness, and even a widely known, consistent failure to follow their own safety protocols. The commission found NASA’s organizational culture and decision-making to be key contributing factors in the incident. In particular, the commission determined that NASA engineers had been aware of a potential design flaw associated with cold weather effects on silicone O-rings that could cause them to fail, but they did nothing about it. The flaw had been a concern of rocket-booster manufacturer Morton Thiokol. NASA managers had even been reminded of the issue by NASA engineers, and calls from Morton Thiokol over the technical concerns the morning of the launch went unreported to supervisors and managers.

To understand how negligent these actions were, you need to know that the silicone rubber O-rings were classified as a Criticality-1 level of components in the launch vehicle. Criticality 1 meant that the component had no backup system and failure could result in loss of the launch vehicle during liftoff. Not only that, the O-ring designer, Morton Thiokol, had limited the low-temperature performance to 40 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature at liftoff the day of the incident was 18 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Concern for Utilities
So, what is the concern for utilities based on the Challenger incident? The concern is that if a sophisticated organization like NASA can completely collapse – an organization that is full of highly disciplined professionals who are responsible for critical issues that directly relate to the survival of the workforce – what are the chances of a disaster happening at your utility where the rigor is hundreds of degrees less?

In the third paragraph above, I used “rigor and discipline” to paraphrase the missing elements across NASA’s management spectrum as described in the Rogers Commission Report. I have begun to use “Rigor and Discipline” as a key theme or maybe even a motto over the last year or two in all of my training seminars. The theme arose from consideration of the hundreds of incident investigations I’ve been a part of in the past 20 years. Whether the incidents resulted in simple equipment damage or were complex incidents that resulted in fatalities, I found those elements – rigor and discipline – missing again and again. Like NASA, the rigor that was missing evolved over a period of time, often unnoticed. However, it didn’t start that way. In most cases at NASA, the initial deviations in protocol or process were noticed; they just weren’t resolved. In the worst case, deviation from protocols was a purposeful decision to speed something up, to save time or money, or to “get-r-done.” Sound familiar?

Institutional Deviation
Often, a deviation serves its purpose and nothing bad happens. It then becomes institutional deviation, meaning that the deviation from a safe work practice eventually becomes accepted across the organization (i.e., “institutionalized”). I call it institutionalized as a result of experience. On several occasions over the years, I have found an organization engaging in a practice that was just plain illegal or so out of the ordinary that it was hazardous. In some of those cases, the only reason nothing bad had happened was because the various conditions hadn’t come together to cause an incident. In others, the various conditions did come together and were recognized during an incident investigation.

There’s also another phrase you’ve probably heard before: normalization of deviation. That phrase is attributed to the book “The Challenger Launch Decision: Risky Technology, Culture, and Deviance at NASA” by Diane Vaughan. In her analysis of the Challenger disaster, she wrote, “Organizations establish safe best practices. One day it becomes expedient to deviate from one or more of these processes. Nothing untoward occurs. Over time, this becomes the new ‘normal.’ Other small steps away from this new normal occur. Then, a disaster happens.”

Vaughan said that this deviation is normalized by repetition, but my experience is that the deviation itself is what’s normalized. It is human nature for people to adjust to rules they think are unimportant or inconsequential. It is also human nature to adjust the rules if the rules make it difficult to accomplish a goal. The deviation from the rules doesn’t become normalized; it may be more normal in human terms to deviate if you find a way to justify it. Then the deviation becomes accepted to the point that nobody wants to deal with trying to stop the practice. Speed limits, safety glasses, truck inspections, seat belts, taxes and face shields come to mind. It’s OK to go up to 10 mph over the speed limit; not everybody has side shields, particularly those who wear prescription glasses; DOT truck inspections are not properly done; many companies don’t have a seat-belt compliance plan; lots of people cheat on their taxes just a little; and face shields are not appropriately used at most utilities. Sure, someone reading does do some of these things well, but most don’t.

This is where the second part of my motto – discipline – comes in. An employer’s procedures are only as good as the training they do at rollout and the follow-up they do in execution. It’s probably self-explanatory, but how good is a procedure that you roll out if you don’t train the workforce regarding its purpose, your goals and implementation of the procedure? Then, after the rollout, how much value do even the very best of procedures have if they are not being followed in the workplace? Hence, discipline.

This is not the kind of discipline that takes place after violation of a rule; in fact, it’s far from it. With this discipline in place, there will never be a need for the discipline that follows someone breaking the rules. This kind of discipline is an element of safety culture. Discipline is the culture factor that sees procedures as immutable conditions. The disciplined worker sees that procedures or conditions are to be a certain way and that no other way is acceptable. Discipline applied to safety rules, procedures, training and best practices (rigor) ensures that the very conditions designed into the safe workplace are never violated.

Tailboard Trial
Let’s start our rigor and discipline trial with the tailboard. The first thing we have to do is examine the tailboard form itself. What is the goal of the form? Is it a record for the employer, a task for the crew or a tool to guide a crew through an effective job hazard analysis (JHA)? If it’s not a guide to an effective JHA, then replace it. Too many forms have been created to meet the criteria found in the OSHA standard and not as a functional guide to ensure the crew has a model to follow toward effective use. When you consider your form, use the lessons from NASA. A series of checkboxes to cover every possible thing becomes a task. I recently saw a distribution crew JHA form with 112 checkboxes and four lines where the crew was to list the tasks for the day’s work. Remember this: A form becomes more tedious to complete reading left to right and top to bottom. Checklists should alternate between methods of recording, such as writing in information, circling items and checking boxes. There should be room to write in tasks, hazards and remediations. Create a form that flows, has continuity and makes sense. Don’t use redundant items or items that have no purpose with regard to hazard prevention or incident response.

Now that we have a draft form, send it out for use by a few crews and request their feedback. Consider the feedback, make changes if necessary and send the form out again for a trial. Once you have the right form, the most important part takes place. Develop the training that will occur before you roll out the new form. Your training will inform the participants why JHAs are important – because hazard analysis is the number one activity that prevents incidents. A well-performed hazard analysis leverages all of the experience and training of every member of the crew. The training on the JHA also gives the crew skills for an effective approach to hazard analysis. The best training appears to be in two parts: managers first and then supervisors and foremen. Yes, I said “managers.”

Train your managers on the new form, its goals and how it should be filled out. Then, train your managers on their responsibility associated with the form. The first responsibility: Own the tailboard process and support it by participating and encouraging effective tailboards and JHAs. The second responsibility: Read the tailboards daily, give feedback to the crew supervisors and hold them accountable for passing that feedback to the crews. The third responsibility: When managers go out and see a crew, first review their tailboard form. If they are doing something that’s not on the tailboard, find out why. If the tailboard form is important to managers, it will be important to the supervisors, foremen and crews.

Next, train the supervisors, foremen and crews on the new form, its goals and how it should be filled out. Then, train your supervisors, foremen and crews on their responsibilities associated with the form. The first responsibility: Own the tailboard process and support it by participating and encouraging effective tailboards and JHAs. Yes, that sounds just like the manager training – and it is. This methodology creates a continuum of interlocking procedures that ensure an effective program. This is what was missing at NASA. They had dozens of checklists and forms that went from clipboard to file. Ten years before the Challenger incident, NASA had in their files a form detailing a discussion between Morton Thiokol engineers about problems with the pliability of silicone rubber seals exposed to freezing temperatures.

Every critical safety procedure at your workplace, including those found in safety manuals and specific procedures for your crews, should be introduced, explained, trained on and documented similar to the JHA tailboard example above. And every worker in your organization should know the expectations and goals of your safety program, including the motto “Rigor and Discipline” and why it matters.

About the Author: After 25 years as a transmission-distribution lineman and foreman, Jim Vaughn, CUSP, has devoted the last 20 years to safety and training. A noted author, trainer and lecturer, he is a senior consultant for the Institute for Safety in Powerline Construction. He can be reached at

OSHA, Training and Certification

The occupational safety and health industry and civil authorities require that employers provide training to employees. In the U.S., OSHA mandates safety training related to tasks assigned to employees. The agency often also requires the employer to certify that the training has been completed. In fact, if you have an incident requiring OSHA notification, the first question that will be asked is, “Was the employee trained for the task?” The second inquiry will be a request for documentation of the training, usually followed by an enforceable subpoena for those training records.

Training and certification of training are important for two reasons. The first is that training has clearly been demonstrated to reduce incidents and injuries to workers. Second, OSHA will hold employers accountable for the training they conduct. The penalties for willful violation of training requirements are rarely discussed, and I hesitate to do it here, but the record shows that if an employer does not train, and OSHA can show the employer knew training was required, the penalties are based on willful violation. Penalties for willful violations that result in fatalities can include jail time for the employer. In addition, if OSHA wins a willful violation case, the employer can expect charges of negligence under both civil and criminal liability standards. Don’t take this training responsibility lightly. I, like OSHA, would prefer employers be compliant for the welfare of the workforce because they are ethical and care about their employees. But if the threat of prosecution works, we still accomplish the desired outcome: a safer workplace.

What is Certification?
As a work methods consultant, I am asked almost weekly if the organization I work for provides “certified” training. My answer is always yes, and the client is happy. The issue is that the question – though valid – is open-ended, and the answer is, too. To be fair, I always explain to those clients that I provide an agenda and the topics to be covered in the training, and I sign the contract certifying I am providing that training. That’s essentially what certification is, a record that something occurred. The problem is defining what that “something” was, if it was appropriate, and if it complied with the requirements of the OSHA standard for training and qualification.

Certification is only as good as the standard to which you are being certified. If there is no standard, then the certification protocol is left up to the employer or training developer, who must determine what should be included in the training that the trainer will certify as delivered. Many OSHA standards state, “The employer shall certify …” followed by, “The certification record shall be prepared at the completion of the training” and “The certification record shall be kept readily available for review by the Assistant Secretary of Labor.” That language appears so frequently that I don’t have the space to list all of the references here. It’s up to the employer’s safety representative to determine what training is required, and it is up to the employer to assure it occurs and is documented in accordance with the related training standard. The good news is that for the dozens of topics in the OSHA standards that require training, the employer only has to train on those topics that are related to the individual workplace. To help in navigating the training maze, OSHA has produced “Training Requirements in OSHA Standards,” a downloadable guide available at

Licensing and Portability
The next issue is how to effectively implement required training. At present, the only OSHA standard that mandates third-party training is 29 CFR 1926 Subpart CC, “Cranes & Derricks in Construction.” Paragraph 1926.1427 has several certification schemes depending on who employs the crane operator, but only government employers can train their own operators. A government entity – meaning a military, state or municipal jurisdiction – can train and certify their own operators if the training meets the topical and demonstration requirements of 1926.1427. That license is only good within the jurisdiction of the government body; it is not portable, and it is only valid for five years, after which re-examination and relicensing are required.

“Not portable” in this sense means that if an operator leaves his government job, the license received from his government employer is no longer valid. In fact, a strict reading of the phrase “within that entity’s jurisdiction” found at 1926.1427(c)(1) means that a licensed operator for a municipal, working a mutual aid effort in a different jurisdiction, cannot legally operate a crane in that different jurisdiction. That may be open for debate. The question is whether the municipal employees in another jurisdiction are considered a portable jurisdiction during a mutual aid operation. That question has not been addressed by OSHA as far as I am aware. If you are employed by the military, you are licensed wherever the military operates. If you are licensed through the state, the jurisdiction is within that state. The same goes for county or municipal licensing – the jurisdiction is within that county or municipality. Portability also means that if an operator leaves his government employment, his operator’s license is no longer valid. If that government operator moves into nongovernmental work, they must be trained, certified and licensed by an employer in the nongovernment or private sector.

Private employers are required to facilitate training and operator licensing through an accredited third party. For the employer, however, third-party certification and licensing do not meet all of the requirements to qualify an operator. Language was added to the new final rule (see, effective December 10, 2018. The new requirements for evaluation and documentation became effective February 7, 2019. Those requirements specifically clarify and permanently extend the employer’s duty to evaluate potential operators for their ability to safely operate equipment covered by Subpart CC. For those operators who were not yet third-party certified prior to the final date requiring all operators to be certified by a third party, the employer was obligated to ensure operators were qualified to the requirements of 1926.1427. That requirement was permanently extended, which means employees with third-party crane operator certification still must be evaluated by the employer for safe operation and that evaluation must be documented.

Riggers and Signal Persons
While we are on the topic of operator certification, it may be timely for employers to understand that the standard does not require third-party operator qualification for riggers and signal persons. For a signal person, the employer may use an accredited third-party trainer under 1926.1428(a)(1); that certification is portable and can be recognized by all employers. The employer also may train and certify their own signal person under the provisions of 1926.1428(a)(2). That training must be conducted by a competent person, and the certification is only good for that employer, meaning it is not portable. Even if the employer chooses the third-party training and certification, the assumption from the standard is that the employer must assure the signal person is competent and document that assessment (see 1926.1428(b)). For riggers, the standard only requires that they be qualified by 1926.1404(r)(1). The qualification for crane riggers is no different than the qualification for any rigging task under any of the OSHA standards. The rigger must have the appropriate skills and know the safety requirements of the rigging task. The employer must ensure riggers are appropriately qualified to perform their tasks and be able to defend the training and qualification of the riggers. Since there is no specific requirement for third-party credentialed training like those requirements for the crane operator, the employer can create and administer in-house training within the rigger competency requirements of the OSHA standard.

Back to Certification
There are only two operator licensing requirements in the OSHA standard. The word “license” appears in the materials for crane operators and is synonymous with “certification.” “License” also appears in standards that require specialty training that is regulated by medical personnel and certain engineers. In any case, the employer simply needs to read the standard to determine what is required, whether it is called certification, documentation, qualification or licensing. The first required operator license we discussed is for crane operators. The second is for powered industrial trucks, also referred to as PITs or forklifts. What is unique about these two operator qualifications is that they are the only ones that have a list of topics and competencies spelled out in the OSHA standard for operator training. The PIT requirements permit the employer to provide the training and certification of PIT operators.

Where an OSHA standard requires training, it does not usually specifically describe the requirements for assuring competency or qualification or who delivers it for the employer. With the exception of crane operators, where OSHA does specify certain credentials for trainers and certification, it is up to the employer to decide how they will meet the requirements to assure employees are properly trained. Where the employer delivers training, the employer must assign the training or certification responsibility to an employee competent to determine whether the trainee is competent and/or qualified. Trainer competency means a trainer has the knowledge, training and experience to train and evaluate a trainee’s competence. In addition, where employers provide training and certification, the employer must be able to defend the content, quality and effectiveness of the training program. Employers also must be familiar with the requirements for ongoing evaluation of employee competence and any retraining requirements mandated by the related standards.

Third Parties and Assurances
As noted earlier, the employer only has to provide training specific to the work environment and skills or activities of their employees. Often, employers resent hiring out training where the topics are canned, expensive and don’t apply to an employer’s specific workplace. Custom training development specific to the workplace can be created by the employer or third-party developers. Engaging a third party to perform training does not excuse the employer of the responsibility to ensure competency. When selecting a third party, the employer’s due diligence is to know the requirements for training and ensure the third party can meet those expectations. Again, the employer must be able to defend the methods of training and evaluation whether they use a third party or perform training in-house. And as always, when you hear the word “certification,” you should ask, certification to what standard? Consensus standards essentially are best practices for specific industries. OSHA either adopts or references consensus standards. When adopted, the portions of the adopted standard using “shall” are enforceable by OSHA. Where a consensus standard is referenced, that referenced material is useful for employers in complying with an OSHA standard, but OSHA does not mandate or enforce it. Referenced consensus standards are enforceable if OSHA can show an employer had knowledge of a referenced consensus standard and if the provisions of the referenced standard are recognized by the employer’s industry and could have prevented the hazardous condition. That employer can be cited under the General Duty Clause because they knew there was a hazard and a means to mitigate it. Where there is an adopted consensus standard related to operation or qualification, certification should comport to that consensus standard. If a consensus standard has a certification curriculum, the training should comport to that curriculum.

Training and certification of the workforce is well-documented as valuable and important to workforce safety. OSHA has made their expectations pretty clear for both training and documentation of training. The agency also has made it pretty clear by their actions against employers that failure to train and assure employee safety is inexcusable. If you are a safety professional or an employer who has overlooked or fallen behind in your workforce training, take the time to audit your training programs against the OSHA standards. Get started today with bringing employee safety training into compliance. Remember, when it comes to OSHA and the safety of your employees, it hurts to be wrong.

About the Author: After 25 years as a transmission-distribution lineman and foreman, Jim Vaughn, CUSP, has devoted the last 20 years to safety and training. A noted author, trainer and lecturer, he is a senior consultant for the Institute for Safety in Powerline Construction. He can be reached at

Manufacturer Warnings and OSHA-Compliant Safety Performance

Over the past few weeks I have received several inquiries regarding horizontal directional drilling (HDD). It’s not unusual in our industry for questions to make the rounds of utilities and contractors, generating interest and often controversy. I also have recently received several inquiries regarding OSHA allegedly canceling the digger derrick exemption in 29 CFR 1926 Subpart CC, “Cranes & Derricks in Construction.” OSHA hasn’t done that, but somebody said they did, and folks started asking around. Soon after, I received calls for clarification on the matter. In the digger derrick case, there was nothing to it; OSHA has not changed anything about the exemption. However, concerning HDD, there is an issue that raises an interesting question for those who administer compliance.

The point of the rest of this article is not to recommend or criticize any safety procedure associated with HDD. The point is to examine the role of manufacturer warnings and OSHA-compliant safety performance in the workplace. There is no doubt that I will get emails from HDD machine manufacturers and adherents of overshoe use, as well as overshoe sales or manufacturing representatives. I invite your response. To be clear, both Utility Fleet Professional magazine and I are solely interested in providing an opportunity for perspective and analysis of a process that will help individuals learn how to deal with challenges in the workplace.

The Initial Question
The initial HDD question I received focused on the use of dielectric overshoes by trackers, those workers who follow the cutting end of the bore string for the HDD rig. The question was, does a tracker need to wear dielectric overshoes for protection from step potential should the drill contact energized cables? My first reaction was no, I don’t believe there is a hazard to the tracker. That might surprise the reader as the risk may seem obvious, but of course, it’s not as simple as that.

The person who asked the question then said that the manufacturer of their company’s HDD machines had just finished annual training on HDD safety and provided updated operator manuals. The newly updated manuals require dielectric overshoes for the tracker if there are electrical obstructions within 10 feet of the bore-path plan. That revelation raises an interesting issue. In deciding what remediations are appropriate for a recognized threat, the employer performs an analysis. Hazard analysis can have many components, including an assessment of likelihood and frequency of exposure, as well as issues with remediation. The analysis often is rightly calculated from the history of events and prior experience with similar hazards or occurrences and the results tabulated therefrom. I am not an expert on HDD, but in some 40 years of industry experience with the practice, I have never heard of any electrical fatalities experienced by trackers or operators. In an analysis of risk performed by qualified industry experts whom I contacted, none of those experts was aware of any step-potential incidents, and they tended to agree there is little risk to the tracker from step potential. I also read dozens of articles on HDD safety. I found one incident from 2018 that involved a worker who was shocked. I called the compliance safety and health officer (CSHO) in charge and learned there were a series of performance issues that led up to the contact. All of the articles on HDD safety that I found in 20 hours of research mentioned the potential for electrical strike hazards, but the only injury data or events mentioned were related to gas strikes and workers caught in turning equipment. Data from NIOSH’s Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation program turned up no instances of electrocutions associated with HDD. I was even contacted by a troubleman from a large Western U.S. utility that had several trouble calls over the years where crews drilled into 4-kV and 15-kV feeders. The 4-kV delta did not relay until the second phase was penetrated, meaning the bore bit was energized for some period of time before the feeder protection cleared the fault. In all the incidents, there were no shocks reported. In fact, the crew not only didn’t feel any shock, they didn’t know they had penetrated a primary underground feeder.

All of the industry experts I sought out for their opinions agreed that, in principle, there is a possibility that an electrical hazard is present during an HDD strike, but the experience record suggests the risk is very low, if any. In all likelihood, the steel bit, in intimate contact with the flooded borehole, would easily ground the electrical field and not result in gradients on the walking surface above. It also was universally observed that a greater risk was likely touch potential at the machine, in particular at the initial borehole entry, although again, there was no record or knowledge of any such event by the experts queried. Some observers likened the level of risk to backhoe operation. Many have firsthand knowledge of dig-ins with shoveling crews in the ditch, yet none were aware of electrical contacts by those standing near the contact location. Still, the logic that a hazard exists and that a gradient could appear is undeniable if viewed from the perspective of currents flowing in earth. So, an employer could argue that there is little risk based on an experiential and a theoretical basis. The last historical observation comes from OSHA. The agency produces informational bulletins on particular hazards, typically including fatal facts or incident reviews to support the purpose of each bulletin. OSHA Safety and Health Information Bulletin 03-13-2018, “Avoiding Underground Utilities During Horizontal Directional Drilling Operations” (see, mentions electrical risks but only references an OSHA incident in which workers were injured by a gas ignition after a strike. A survey of several years of fatal facts and incident reports turned up no electrical incidents associated with HDD.

On the other hand, if there is a calculable level of risk, there is an OSHA principle that requires remediation of the perceived risk. The agency has a common approach to risk that states that if a known risk is calculable, the employer should determine the level of risk. Further, if the known risk can’t be calculated, it should be assumed hazardous and the appropriate protection of employees should be employed. As an industry, we have the theoretical modeling tools available. We use them in substation grid calculations. The problem is that a flooded borehole ground resistance is not easily modeled or calculated.

Risk Estimates and Instructions
So, where does an HDD machine manufacturer get its estimate of risk from, and what is the purpose of the manufacturer’s instructions? An industry insider told me that most of the operators to which manufacturers sell HDD machines are not electric utility operators or contractors. Most are gas, water or communications utilities or contractors where the machines are operated by skilled labor with little to no electrical hazard training. The advice given by the HDD equipment manufacturers is objective safety guidance for operators who may not be aware of the risks associated with a dig-in. There also is another aspect of the manufacturer’s agenda: liability exposure. It’s a very simple matter of perceived exposure easily remedied by a broad requirement for dielectric overshoes and rubber gloves. This is not a criticism of HDD machine manufacturers. In fact, in my review of the materials available online, manufacturers have done a remarkable job developing monitoring and warning systems to detect strikes, as well as developing training and warnings to keep operators safely on the machines and workers clear of touch potentials. But what about the old and common belief that OSHA can cite an employer for not following a manufacturer’s safety recommendations? Can a manufacturer’s operating guide, based on the manufacturer’s concern for liability protection, establish a worker safety procedure liability for a whole industry? Perhaps not, based on a survey of the OSHA standards.

I found numerous instances in OSHA’s 1910 and 1926 standards that require the employer to follow manufacturer instructions. All of the instances have a common theme related to design. In every case examined, the rule specifically applied to the integrity of structures or design factors and procedures crafted to limit employers from exceeding those design limitations. In every case, the OSHA instruction to follow manufacturer designs or procedures was done so to prevent dynamic failures of equipment that would result in risk to workers. Examples include 1926.302(b)(5) regarding manufacturers’ safe operating pressures for hoses, pipes and valves; 1917.43(b)(1) regarding forks on industrial lifts; 1926.1412(b) regarding repairs and adjustments to equipment; 1926.1404 regarding rope use; 1917.42(b) regarding wire rope; 1926.1404(q)(1) regarding manufacturers’ specs on outrigger beams; 1910.243(d) regarding powered tool applications; and 1910.243(e) regarding lawn mower use. Yes, there is a standard covering lawn mowers.

In every case, OSHA’s duty to follow procedures – with “procedures” defined in 1926.1401 as including but not limited to instructions, diagrams, recommendations, warnings, specifications, protocols and limitations – is related to maintaining design criteria. OSHA does address the duty implied by knowledge of a hazard and a remediation in the CSHO’s guidance on making a case under the General Duty Clause. In OSHA’s Field Operations Manual for compliance offices (see, the justification for a citation under the General Duty Clause requires several criteria, including the employer’s implied knowledge. On page 4-12 of the manual, a portion of paragraph 6(a) states, “Employer awareness of a hazard may also be demonstrated by a review of company memorandums, safety work rules that specifically identify a hazard, operations manuals, standard operating procedures, and collective bargaining agreements. …” On the next page, under the “Industry Recognition” section, the field operations manual mentions “[m]anufacturers’ warnings on equipment or in literature that are relevant to the hazard.” But in the same section, OSHA qualifies that industry experts with knowledge of the condition are a legitimate source regarding hazards. So, what happens if those experts contradict the assumptions made by a machine’s manufacturer? After all, there is no empirical evidence that step potential could occur.

To further confound the process, the manufacturer’s requirement is to use dielectric overshoes. These overshoes do have a role in the protection of electrical workers, but it is a limited one. I have no doubt that dielectric overshoes in good condition will provide a measure of protection from the lower voltage that is encountered in a ground gradient. Dielectric overshoes are designated as a secondary line of protection, meaning they are not to be relied on as a primary means of protection from an electrical exposure. My biggest concern for the efficacy of dielectric overshoes comes from the testing standard that requires a “ramp-up” of test voltage to ensure performance when, in actual use, there is no ramp-up of exposure. ASTM F1116, “Standard Test Method for Determining Dielectric Strength of Dielectric Footwear,” and ASTM F1117, “Standard Specification for Dielectric Footwear,” both qualify testing as only being accurate at the time of the test. There is no in-service testing protocol for periodic evaluation of the efficacy of the protection provided by the footwear. I am not too sure about the performance of muddy, sunbaked, rubber dielectric shoes with punctured soles that have been worn all day by a nonelectrical HDD crew boring in gas pipe. The last issue with dielectric overshoes is a recurring conversation from industry safety personnel concerned that the weight and fit of the overshoes are issues when it comes to back and knee strain. Again, there is no empirical evidence that these overshoes are a musculoskeletal issue, but anyone who wears them will have issues and an opinion.

A Perfectly Unusual Example
So, here lies a perfect example of how to assess all aspects of risks, yet it’s an unusual example of contradictions and policies that leave the safety manager with few choices. In summary, the safety manager is obligated to do two things: protect the worker and the employer. Here we have defensible assumptions based on principles of current and resistance that suggest risks associated with gradients and touch potential at the machine. Then we have defensible conditions of history, and experts who agree there is little step-potential risk for the tracker and little risk to the operator who stays on the isolated machine. We could just require PPE (overshoes), but we have reasonable concerns with long-term ergonomic drawbacks and issues with qualified users, in-service maintenance and limited application of overshoe efficacy. Next is consideration of the HDD equipment manufacturer’s legitimate civil interest, which no doubt includes the user’s protection but not necessarily because of certain incidents. Then we are addressing the issue without empirical guidance. Lastly, we have to consider the General Duty Clause, in particular the citation criteria, not the actual evidence of a risk. But why would you be concerned about General Duty citations if you were certain no one was going to be fatally injured, prompting OSHA’s involvement?

As a consultant to utilities, I recommend following the manufacturer’s instructions. But I also recommend specific training regarding the exposures and risks of musculoskeletal complications with long-term use of dielectric overshoes and the limited protection the shoes provide. Put greater emphasis on eliminating the risk of underground utility strikes by establishing written procedures that include effective underground facilities location followed by potholing to define locations of underground obstructions. With the technology we have today, it is very reasonable to assume that we can bore without strikes. And finally, having written the most eloquent of procedures, follow up with audits and accountability to ensure performance in the field results in prevention. After all, every assumption of what could happen and all the monitors and PPE a worker can bear are less effective than no incident at all. As always, I invite and value your comments and experiences.

About the Author: After 25 years as a transmission-distribution lineman and foreman, Jim Vaughn, CUSP, has devoted the last 20 years to safety and training. A noted author, trainer and lecturer, he is a senior consultant for the Institute for Safety in Powerline Construction. He can be reached at

If it’s Not About Trucks, Does it Concern Me?

If you’re reading this, it’s likely that you work in a fleet management role. Your mechanics and drivers don’t do line work, install phone lines, bury gas lines or dig up high-pressure water lines. But what if they service equipment in the vicinity of craft workers who do perform those tasks? Are they exposed to hazards not related to their direct responsibilities? If so, what is your responsibility as their manager? This article is about educating supervisors regarding hazard evaluation. Where your people work and the hazards they face while on the job are your responsibility. So, following is an example that demonstrates how OSHA’s expectations with regard to your responsibility to your employees may exceed the agency’s written rules in ways you may not be aware of.

There is an employer who is a transmission-distribution contractor; the business also has a telecommunications (telcom) division. The employer’s lineworkers must wear arc flash protective clothing required by OSHA, but as far as he knows, his telcom employees are not required by the OSHA rules to wear arc flash protective clothing. However, because of an incident involving some of his telcom employees, the employer became concerned. He wondered, why don’t telcom employees have to wear arc flash protective clothing, and should they be wearing it? Keep in mind that arc flash protective clothing is not the same thing as flame-resistant (FR) clothing. Welders, wrecker operators and traffic control professionals wear safety vests and bibs that are considered flame-resistant. Flame resistance is the quality of a material designed for protection from exposure to fire or flame, not electrical arcs. OSHA requires that arc flash protective clothing also must be flame resistant to ensure clothing does not continue to burn after exposure to an electrical arc. In addition, flame resistance is required for the outer layer of clothing worn by a worker who could be exposed to a heat source that could ignite that outer layer. There has been confusion over the years, so it is important to recognize that use of the term “FR” on a traffic vest label does not mean the vest is arc protective; it is only flame resistant. It’s a habit to use the term FR when referring to arc flash protective gear, but we all need to understand the difference in labeling.

Now, let’s get back to the contractor’s questions: Why don’t telcom employees have to wear arc flash protective clothing, and should they be wearing it? Over the years, I have been asked dozens of times about who should don arc flash protective clothing. The question often comes up because OSHA does not always address specific issues in the regulations. Employers sometimes are found not in compliance with OSHA simply because their issues are not addressed. This is where knowledge of the OSHA standards, and knowledge of the intent of the OSHA standards and consensus standards, is so important.

The Telecommunications Standard
Let’s start where almost everyone trying to answer the telcom/arc flash question would start: the OSHA telecommunications standard found at 29 CFR 1910.268. This might get a little tedious, but it’s important, so hang in there. The telcom standard covers telcom workers from all aspects of the communications industry – wired and non-wired, center work and field work. It often addresses working in proximity to distribution voltages, which are low-voltage exposures. The 1910.268 standard also covers risers, streetlights and other pole-mounted components; checking for potential differences between those components; and temporary bonding for worker protection. In addition, the standard discusses when rubber gloves are required, as well as cover and barrier use to protect telcom workers. The 1910.268 standard even refers to training and use of rubber insulating equipment, directing the employer to part 1910.137, “Electrical Protective Equipment,” the same standard followed by qualified electric utility workers. Yet even with all of those requirements and references, the 1910.268 standard does not refer to arc flash hazards or arc flash protective clothing. Often when OSHA is silent on a particular exposure, employers think that means there is no applicable standard they need to follow. They are wrong.

There is a rule in 1910.268 that can be interpreted as a requirement for arc protective wear if you read it carefully, which means looking up the included reference, a key activity frequently ignored. Rule 1910.268(a)(3) states, “Operations or conditions not specifically covered by this section are subject to all the applicable standards contained in this part 1910. See §1910.5(c).” Section 1910.5(c) is a header reference, meaning that all references following, as applicable, will apply to the workplace. In this case, 1910.5(c) has two subparagraphs, (c)(1) and (c)(2).

Rule 1910.5(c)(2) states that “… any standard shall apply according to its terms to any employment and place of employment in any industry, even though particular standards are also prescribed for the industry, as in subpart B or subpart R of this part, to the extent that none of such particular standards applies.” The “particular standards” referred to are those vertical standards such as 1910.268. Standard 1910.268, which falls under Subpart R, particularly applies to the unique workplace exposures of the telcom industry, just like 1910.269 – which also falls under Subpart R – applies to the unique exposures of electrical generation, transmission and distribution workers. In plain language, rule 1910.268(a)(3) means that exposures (conditions) not covered in 1910.268 are subject to any applicable standards in 1910.269. The task for the employer now is to determine how to find out which other standards might apply. That brings us to hazard analysis.

Hazard Analysis
In the case of the transmission-distribution contractor referenced earlier in this article, the company’s workers had twice experienced secondary arc flash near their communications equipment in the previous six months. The safety committee at the contractor could not agree on whether that constituted a hazard because one, no one was burned, and two, arc protective wear was not required by either 1910.268 or their company safety manual. The contractor’s safety department was leaning toward arc flash protection, and they were probably right. In the contractor’s case, they were working with CATV mounted on strand within reach of secondary conductors in residential neighborhoods. The older secondary installation was worn and likely poorly insulated. Disturbance of the structure got conductors together and a flash occurred.

The contractor’s safety department was following through on their responsibility to protect both the workers and the employer. Even though the contractor’s work standards were in compliance with the 1910.268 standard and intended to keep telcom workers isolated from electrical exposures, rules on paper cannot foresee every scenario. In these two cases, work procedures and clearances followed by the telcom workers didn’t prevent a secondary flash in proximity to the workers. And considering that the incidents occurred previously, and the conditions of construction were not likely to improve, it was a certainty that a secondary flash could reoccur. Once a hazard has been identified, even if it is not covered in the OSHA standard, the employer must act to limit the risk of exposure. Since telcom workers are not qualified electrical workers with the ability to assess acute hazards and cannot rework energized secondary, the possibility of another incident should be considered as likely. At a minimum, the employer would be expected to provide additional training specific to the nature of the risk and PPE commensurate to the exposure. That obligation comes from the General Duty Clause. A General Duty Clause violation is based on the employer’s knowledge of the risk and awareness that remediation is available.

OSHA has a policy for violations covered under the General Duty Clause, described as follows in a 2003 letter of interpretation to Mr. Milan Racic of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers (see “Employers can be cited for violation of the General Duty Clause if a recognized serious hazard exists in their workplace and the employer does not take reasonable steps to prevent or abate the hazard. The General Duty Clause is used only where there is no standard that applies to the particular hazard. The following elements are necessary to prove a violation of the General Duty Clause: a. The employer failed to keep the workplace free of a hazard to which employees of that employer were exposed; b. The hazard was recognized; c. The hazard was causing or was likely to cause death or serious physical harm; and d. There was a feasible and useful method to correct the hazard.”

It boils down to three things: 1. Employers are expected to know what hazards exist in the workplace. 2. Just because you are a member of a particular workplace covered by a particular vertical standard does not mean that you may ignore the rest of the standards followed by everybody else. 3. If the employer has actual or constructive knowledge that a hazard exists, they must take suitable action to limit the exposure to employees.

And finally, the answer to the transmission-distribution contractor’s questions is that under certain conditions, telcom workers may be required by OSHA to don arc protective outerwear for their protection. The same may be true for fleet mechanics on some work sites. As the employer, you must examine the workplace and be able to justify the procedures and protections in place to ensure a workplace free of recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious harm to employees.

About the Author: After 25 years as a transmission-distribution lineman and foreman, Jim Vaughn, CUSP, has devoted the last 20 years to safety and training. A noted author, trainer and lecturer, he is a senior consultant for the Institute for Safety in Powerline Construction. He can be reached at

Grounding Utility Fleet Trucks

There is probably not a fleet mechanic or fleet manager who has not heard something about grounds for trucks. But for all the talk about grounding trucks, including rules and commentary, there is very little consideration for how grounding connections are made to a vehicle. Unlike most every other procedure in the utility industry, there are no OSHA guidelines, consensus standards or best practices for connecting the truck to the truck ground. There are rules requiring grounding of trucks, but there are no best practices, procedures or methodologies for connecting grounds or ground attachments to trucks to allow grounding. So, that’s what we’re going to discuss in this installation of “Focus on Fleet Safety.”

For fleet managers to effectively facilitate the grounding of trucks, we need to understand the purpose of grounding and why it fails to do the job expected. Actually, the job expected often is the bigger issue because it may not be what you think. Grounding a truck does not directly protect workers from electrical shock, nor does it eliminate a shock hazard. Grounding trucks has one purpose: to cause immediate operation of a protective device. The protective device is the circuit breaker through which voltage and current are delivered to the electrical system. A truck is not an electrical conductor – it is a mechanical device, meaning that to ensure that current flow across the truck is sufficient to cause operation of the circuit protective device, an electrical connection must be employed to bypass the vehicle’s nonelectrical isolation from ground. Nonelectrical isolation refers to mechanical interfaces of bolted parts, the rubber tires and the outriggers on earth. Current has to pass these mechanical barriers to initiate circuit-breaker operation. In an electrical contact with a truck, the circuit breaker feeding the system in contact with the truck may not trip. As often happens, the circuit will continue to feed current into the vehicle, resulting in fire as well as a continuing electrical shock hazard to any person near the truck. So, the purpose of grounding is to create a good path for electrical current to flow. That good path causes a higher current to flow, resulting in fast tripping of the breaker feeding the electrical circuit. Fast tripping minimizes the damage to the electrical system and the truck.

Understanding Why Grounding Does Not Protect Workers
Grounding trips the circuit. It does not stop current and voltage from flowing on a vehicle that is in contact with an electrical source. A well-grounded truck will trip a circuit sometimes within a fraction of a second. However, even at a fraction of a second, the electrical contact is more than sufficient to cause serious injury or death to persons in contact with the truck or even standing near the truck. We refer to electrical charges as “potentials.” All conductors have different electrical flow qualities referred to as “resistance to current flow.” Conductors at different resistances have different potentials. Where there is a difference in potential, there is current flow. A person standing on the ground and in contact with a truck when it becomes energized is at a different potential than the truck, exposing them to current flow and injury. The only way to protect that person is to ensure they are at the same potential as the truck. If they are at the same potential, current cannot flow, and the person cannot be injured.

We use bonding to ensure a worker is at the same potential as the truck. To accomplish bonding, we use equipotential mats. An equipotential mat is an electrically conductive portable mat electrically connected to the truck. Anyone standing on an equipotential mat connected to the truck will be protected.

Making Grounding and Bonding Effective
Now that we understand the electrical requirements, let’s talk about how we as equipment managers and mechanics make grounding and bonding effective. Obviously, a first resource would be the users of the equipment. Crew foremen or safety personnel should be able to tell you where they need the ground connectors on trucks. If they haven’t told you before, this is a good time to establish a common specification. This also is the case for mobile compact backyard machines as well as aerial lifts, digger derricks, cranes, tensioners, tuggers and low-drills, and anything else that has an aerial extension that will be near overhead conductors. Don’t leave out underground equipment that may have tuggers or cable reels that get backed close to pad-mounted equipment or vaults.

For many companies, the first item is specifications for the truck build. Truck outfitters do not have a standard for the installation of truck ground connectors. If you order a truck equipped with grounding stirrups or studs, be specific about how they are installed. If you install them in-house, establish a specification. Consideration of the pathway is what is missing from most specs. The pathway is the most likely scenario. If the vehicle is an aerial device, the path will be from the metal components of the boom, through the turntable and chassis, to wheels and outriggers into the earth. Wheels and outriggers are the high-resistance part of the path. Outriggers usually are set on a pad to improve stability, which also increases resistance. Even outriggers set on bare earth, especially dry earth or sand, have high resistance and limit current flow. The most effective connection will eliminate that higher-resistance path across the wheels and outriggers. We find most ground connectors on the exterior body of the trucks, usually the bumpers. If the bumpers are effectively bolted to the chassis, that may be a sufficient electrical path to bypass the resistance of wheels and outriggers. Adding a bonding jumper between the bumper and chassis is even better. The bonding jumper creates a low-resistance electrical path from the chassis to the ground connection, bypassing the high-resistance path across the wheels. The result is improved grounding causing a faster tripping of the circuit breaker feeding the electrical system in contact with the truck.

Some companies install grounds in a bin on the truck. The ground cable hangs on a hook. The ground end is connected to the interior of the bin using a lug that is permanently connected. A best practice would be to connect a bonding strap on the backside of the bin connector to the truck chassis. Using a grounding reel assembly is another popular method. The grounding reel keeps the ground cable rolled up on a spring-loaded reel. The frame of the reel is the pathway to the truck. The reel assembly typically is delivered with a bonding jumper to be used to make an electrical connection from the reel’s mounting location to the vehicle chassis.

The last issue is the electrical connections themselves. If connectors are to be made to a checker plate, the raised ridges need to be ground down to provide a reasonably flat surface for the electrical lug to bolt against. Most lugs will require 3/8-inch or half-inch bolts. Bolts should be stainless and installed with flat and spring washers. The lug and truck surfaces where the connector meets should be sanded free of paint and oxidation before assembly. Painting the connection after assembly will seal it against oxidation.

We also encourage you to train your mechanics and service workers about the importance of truck grounding connections for safety. Lineworkers expect certain outcomes for the safety procedures they employ. The quality of the installations done in the shop helps to ensure those expected outcomes.

About the Author: After 25 years as a transmission-distribution lineman and foreman, Jim Vaughn, CUSP, has devoted the last 20 years to safety and training. A noted author, trainer and lecturer, he is a senior consultant for the Institute for Safety in Powerline Construction. He can be reached at

Are Those Tools and Equipment Approved?

We provide tools and equipment for our crews. Sometimes they are special tools, and sometimes they are generic tools necessary to support routine crew work. Sometimes they are accessories for trucks and equipment, and sometimes they are simply extra tools or equipment to make things easier on the people in the field. The question then is, are these tools approved?

The following is going to aggravate some readers, so let’s start with a reminder: I attempt to clarify and simplify compliance with this series. This is about making compliance easier and sometimes less expensive. So, here is an example.

A few years ago, I approved a transmission construction crew’s replacement of a 5/8-inch wire-rope winchline with a 7/8-inch synthetic winchline. The crew wanted to increase a safety margin for dropping poles down through energized circuits by eliminating the steel winchline from the energized environment. Fleet managers also approved the replacement and sent the new synthetic winchline to the worksite’s mechanic. The fleet mechanic had removed the wire rope from the crane to a wooden reel and was in the process of winding on the synthetic when the client’s safety managers stopped the work. Their company had a strict interpretation of “manufacturer-approved.” They required a like-for-like replacement unless the winchline was OSHA-approved.  The original wire rope was load-rated at 44,000 pounds. The mechanic showed the inspector that the new synthetic was rated higher at 57,000 pounds. It didn’t matter to the client because their rule was no modifications to the winchline without written approval from the manufacturer.

The client utility had interpreted that if it was not original equipment as delivered to the owner, it was not OSHA-approved. That interpretation may have some intrinsic value by forcing every modification to be routed through manufacturers, but it has little basis in OSHA as far as approvals go. It only takes a few minutes on OSHA’s website ( to find reference after reference and interpretation after interpretation in which OSHA states to employers and manufacturers that the agency does not approve equipment. If an employer writes to OSHA and asks if they approve of the employer’s use of a specific tool and equipment in a particular configuration, OSHA will respond that the agency does not approve equipment. The agency will then go on to state that in the situation described, using the equipment as described, OSHA believes the employer’s solution would – or would not – meet OSHA’s requirements.

That is about as much approval as you will see from OSHA. Let me also clearly explain here that approval by OSHA for one employer is not a blanket approval for all employers. It’s likely that using the same process in a similar situation would be acceptable. Every employer has to decide how to meet OSHA requirements. If you have time, write to OSHA. You can even call the agency and explain what you want to do, and often they may be able to advise you over the phone. But each employer has to be able to defend the measures taken toward compliance with OSHA requirements.

Now, back to the winchline. The mechanic called his boss in the fleet department, who in turn called the safety department, and together we sent PDF after PDF showing the crane manufacturer with offerings in both steel and synthetic winchlines. We showed the winchline manufacturer’s cut sheet describing the synthetic as a “lightweight replacement” for wire-rope winchlines. Ultimately, we did get a form letter emailed from the crane manufacturer supporting the use of synthetic winchlines. In all, we figured that over the two days, between the mechanic and managers, we lost close to 30 manhours. But that’s the nature of this high sensitivity toward safety with administrators who don’t understand the safety principles involved. Everyone involved on our side was a competent, trained employee who performed with due diligence in assuring the workers got equipment that would do the job.

Rope and Equipotential Mats
Let’s talk about rope. Fleets don’t always deal in rope, but I also know more and more fleet managers who prep trucks for service. And more and more large fleets now make steel slings in the shop. They equip bins with slings, fall protection and rescue equipment, harnesses, ropes, first-aid kits and fire extinguishers, so this is worth mentioning.

I have come across several utilities that no longer permit the use of rope slings. I have no problem with that, but often the reasoning is due to a misunderstanding of the rules. The prohibition usually is based on the belief that knots are a prohibited method of joining a rope. That is not quite right. Read the rules closely. OSHA 29 CFR 1926.251(d)(2)(v) states that knots shall not be used in lieu of splices. Tying a rope on a transformer using a square knot to haul it up the pole is not splicing. The next objection is that using a rope as a sling is not approved because it does not have a permanently affixed rating tag for attachment configurations. Let’s look at that rule, found in paragraph 1926.251(d)(1). It states that employers “must not use natural- and synthetic-fiber rope slings with loads in excess of the rated capacities (i.e., working load limits) indicated on the sling by permanently affixed and legible identification markings prescribed by the manufacturer.” That sounds right, except for one important fact: The employer is not a manufacturer. In fact, the very next rule – 1926.251(d)(2) – states that “[a]ll splices in rope slings provided by the employer shall be made in accordance with fiber rope manufacturers recommendations.” That’s pretty simple. The Cordage Institute indicates three-strand nylon-polyester rope has a minimum breaking strength at about 5,600 pounds. The working load with a safety factor of 12 is about 470 pounds. OSHA refers the employer to manufacturer’s data for sizing and loading rope. Samson Rope’s user’s manual requires that the working load limit equal the maximum breaking strength divided by a safety factor. The safety factor for normal rigging operations is recommended at 5 and 10 for climbing ropes. At 5,600 pounds, a working load safety factor of 5 as recommended by the manufacturer establishes a safe working load for a rope sling of half-inch three-strand at 1,120 pounds, about two times the weight of a 25-kVA transformer. There is one other practical consideration. A few weeks ago, I was auditing a crew for a utility. This utility did not allow rope slings. The adjustable half-inch rope sling provided by the employer was so badly worn it needed to be retired from service immediately, even though the rope-sling tag indicated it was rated for 4,400 pounds. While there is nothing wrong with a store-bought transformer sling, I can make a pretty strong argument for the safety of a new rope sling competently installed by a lineworker to hoist transformers.

Here is another example. Not long ago I was working with a contractor in developing equipotential mats for wire-pulling equipment. I showed them photos of mats using hog panels purchased from a farm store. Hog panels are used across the country as equipotential mats. The panels themselves are welded wire constructed of 4-gauge galvanized wire welded in a 4-by-5 grid. They are typically in 16-foot-by-5-foot size. These panels are available at any feed store. They are rigid enough that on reasonably solid terrain, you can drive a digger derrick over them without bending them out of shape. The best evidence of these hog panels for me is experience. They work. The problem was that the utility wouldn’t approve them for the contractor because they weren’t manufactured as equipotential mats. There is nothing wrong with the utility’s demand. They have their reasons and concerns for their own liability. There is an electrical test specification for manufacturers to design by. That ASTM specification has little to do with the mats’ efficiency in use. The test is only for the mat. There is no test for mats in the field, and the effectiveness of the mat is based on connections and conditions of use. It’s all about understanding the expectations and requirements of the code with a little out-of-the-box thinking.

Learning to Interpret OSHA Standards
If you are a fleet manager, you might rely on your safety department for advice about equipment or equipment modifications. Hopefully managers realize that new equipment and modifications often have an impact on the company’s safety rules and how the employer performs certain types of high-risk operations. But you may also want to understand the rules that impact what you do with equipment, so here are some tips. As you read earlier in this article, the interpretation of OSHA standards is not as difficult as it seems, but it does take some effort. Here are a few steps I recommend. Begin with the rules themselves. Remember that for utilities and utility contractors, all of the applicable rules are not limited to 1910.269. If you can’t find it in 1910.269, you will have to look in the horizontal standards. Rules for ladders, aerial devices, trucks, confined space, hazardous atmospheres, medical surveillance, recordables and reporting, as well as rubber goods and PPE, are found in standards other than 1910.269.

Use OSHA’s website to do your research. When you find the rule, look closely at the color of the rule number. If it’s blue, it’s a clickable reference that will take you to interpretations or related materials. There you can find information that might help with your compliance.

The preambles to the rules – which also are accessible at – are a little harder to research. They are a record of all of the stakeholder discussions and OSHA explanations for the intent of the rules that took place during the development of the rules. Not every rule has a preamble discussion. However, if there is one, it is a great way to learn what OSHA’s intent was when they wrote the rule.

Consensus standards are the next best resource. DOT, FMCSR, ANSI, ASTM, IEEE and the like have standards for performance that have been negotiated and agreed upon within the industry. Take a look at 1910.6, “Incorporation by reference.” Here you will find the consensus standards that OSHA uses as compliance guides. Consensus standards adopted by reference have the weight of OSHA rules. Failure to follow them can be treated as a violative act and you can be fined by OSHA. You also should see Appendix G to 1910.269, “Reference Documents.” Pay attention to the guidelines for employers concerning these referenced standards. These consensus standards are not adopted, meaning you can’t be cited strictly on the language of the standard. Read the guidance below found in the first paragraph of the appendix.

“The references contained in this appendix provide information that can be helpful in understanding and complying with the requirements contained in 1910.269. The national consensus standards referenced in this appendix contain detailed specifications that employers may follow in complying with the more performance-based requirements of 1910.269. … [H]owever, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration will not necessarily deem compliance with the national consensus standards to be compliance with the provisions of 1910.269.”

So, now we circle back to the advice found in the beginning of this article. It’s up to the employer to decide how to comply with OSHA. Stay tuned or write to us. We will do everything we can to help you get it right.

About the Author: After 25 years as a transmission-distribution lineman and foreman, Jim Vaughn, CUSP, has devoted the last 20 years to safety and training. A noted author, trainer and lecturer, he is a senior consultant for the Institute for Safety in Powerline Construction. He can be reached at

The Value of Site-Specific Equipment Plans

Every equipment manager’s budget is impacted by unexpected losses and repairs. If you manage equipment, you know this. You may expect to get 160,000 miles out of that crew truck or 2,000 hours out of a digger derrick before major component replacement, but that’s not going to happen if a line crew drops it off a mountain. I once witnessed the remains of a digger derrick that was lost while being winched up a mountainside for a wilderness construction project. It was unoccupied when the slings attaching it to the D8 crawler dozer failed. At the bottom of the mountain, the winch hook was the only recognizable part. A few years later, I had flashbacks when I heard our construction manager negotiating with our right-of-way clearing manager for the loan of one of their D9s to haul equipment up a mountain. My interest was safety. But in the process of planning for safety, we gained a valuable lesson in equipment preservation. I got involved with pre-planning for mobilization and learned how construction managers planned to perform the project. It was a new line. Right-of-way clearing was being done by another contractor. There were no roads, so access was the challenge. The terrain was very steep at a couple locations.

Prior to the start of the work, I conferred with fleet management. Tow rigging connections are an issue on most equipment. Digger derricks and bucket trucks sometimes come with bumper-mounted factory tow hooks. These bumper hooks are sufficient for getting equipment out of sand if it gets stuck, but they are not necessarily appropriate for a half-mile haul up newly cleared, soft terrain. Fleet asked the truck manufacturer about getting design parameters for the bumper and frame to come up with a modification for towing.

Fleet then selected flatbed chassis derricks and buckets as the lightest for towing and rigged front hooks accordingly. They custom ordered four 60-foot-length 3/4-wire-rope slings for towing calculated at a minimum 3:1 ratio over the trucks’ weights. They also got details on the frame-mounted eyes on the back of the D9 that would be doing the haul up the hill. The last issue was a backup plan, which meant determining in advance what could be done to keep the truck from rolling backward down the hill if something went wrong. Trucks can’t be towed with the brakes on, and we didn’t want a driver in the cab. Fleet came up with a simple but ingenious rig that saved the day.

Training and Backup Plans Matter
As we learned, however, it turns out that the best procedures are only as good as the training that goes along with their implementation. In the scenario described above, somebody didn’t get the part of the plan about rigging to the eyes on the D9. A couple hauls, including the one that failed, were done from the winch cable on the back of the D9. That cable was 5/8-inch plow steel designed for hauling trees – and it had hauled many trees. The good news is, all the fleet planning time was not wasted because the backup plan worked.

An 11-foot-long, 10-inch-by-10-inch square pine beam was rigged behind the rear wheels on each haul. The log was chained to the bed on both sides so that if the truck rolled backward, it would hit the beam and stop. It worked. The winch cable did fail, and the truck being hauled dropped backward against the log and stopped.

The catch-rig story here is not a recommendation for readers. This one worked, but it may not have been effective given a different dirt type or condition, a different wheel size or other variations. With a little imagination, workers might come up with a number of backup plans, such as using safety cables similar to boat trailer chains parallel to the strain rigging. The point here is if the crew had used 3/4 IWRC cable rigged to the eyes on the D9, the haul rigging wouldn’t have failed. That’s the point, and the lesson is two parts: Site-specific planning can prevent loss if not disasters, and training the site crew to the plan is just as important as the plan itself.

Site-Specific Equipment Review
From that event on, I have always planned for site-specific equipment review. It begins with the bid process and a site visit. A couple questions to the project managers reveal the work execution plan. If there are going to be unusual conditions, plan for them. Write a site-specific plan, and then train every crew member on the plan and the procedures to be employed. For example, anybody who has ever worked in the grassy plains of Texas knows you likely will need a fleet of dozers to get your buckets from pole to pole in that soft Texas dirt. If you don’t provide rigging points and a plan, you’ll get equipment back with bent pintle hooks and missing or bent bumpers, or, even worse, broken leaf springs or spring hangers.

There are other benefits of equipment plans. A site visit by a fleet professional can prevent overweight tickets and job delays. For instance, during a site visit in the bid stage in the Midwest, estimators failed to notice local weight limits on roads to the right-of-way. The company I was working for got the job. On the third day of equipment mobilization, state police ticketed a lowboy for being overweight. The patrol hung around to make sure the trucks did not return to those roads. The project was shut down for several days while lighter trucks were delivered and materials were broken down to meet the restrictions. The job had to absorb the cost for mobilizing the original trucks, the lost days and mobilizing the lighter trucks, as well as double material-handling costs. A fleet professional likely would have noted the access issues and prevented the loss.

Site-specific planning also can ensure fuel and maintenance access is appropriate for what you want for your equipment. Crews are going to get the work done no matter what. A job in Georgia went under on fines when the crews used ag-dyed fuel in bucket trucks because they couldn’t get bulk fuel on-site through an unreliable supplier picked by project managers. When the state caught them, they based the fines on fuel purchased and miles that could have been driven. The fines for the nine trucks found with ag-dyed fuel were higher than the profit estimate for the job. In Arizona, crews were stopped by the Department of Transportation when a trooper noticed a bucket truck filling up at an auto-fuel dispenser. That’s not allowed in Arizona and other states for tax-related reasons. This wasn’t news to the fleet manager when he got the call from the Arizona Fuel Tax Evasion Unit, but apparently the crew didn’t know the rules.

Estimators and planners are not the best at planning critical resources for equipment support. But everybody knows your phone number when pressure diggers are down in the middle of nowhere. If you identify resources and lead time for those resources prior to the start of work, you will prevent headaches when the inevitable hose break occurs.

In summary, getting involved with estimating and planning is a good management tool. A little time and planning at the front end keeps you in the loop for what is coming up. It allows you to be sure the right equipment gets to the job, and pre-planning prevents those days of firefighting to solve problems. And not only do planning and training help to prevent issues, but if issues do arise, planning ensures an effective response gets crews and jobs back online quickly.

About the Author: After 25 years as a transmission-distribution lineman and foreman, Jim Vaughn, CUSP, has devoted the last 20 years to safety and training. A noted author, trainer and lecturer, he is a senior consultant for the Institute for Safety in Powerline Construction. He can be reached at

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