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OSHA’s New Fall and Arc-flash Protection Rule Starts April 1

February 13, 2015

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has modified its standards for electric power generation, transmission, and distribution work, including rules regarding fall-protection. The new rules go into effect April 1.

The last issued rules for the construction of transmission and distribution installations came in 1972. The provisions were out of date and inconsistent with a recent industry standard. OSHA has revised the construction standard to make it more consistent with the general industry standard and made some revisions to construction and general industry requirements to enhance worker safety, according to the agency.

The final rule will prevent approximately 20 fatalities and 118 serious injuries annually in addition to the fatalities and injuries already prevented by the existing construction and general industry standards. The revised section (§1910.269 and Subpart V) went into effect on July 10, 2014. The compliance deadline for some provisions on fall protection, minimum approach-distances, and arc-flash protection is April 1.

Fall-protection is one of the ruling's focal points. The standard requires one of three types of fall protection: 

  • Personal fall arrest system: A system used to arrest an employee in a fall from a working level.
  • Fall restraint system: A fall protection system that prevents the user from falling any distance.
  • Work-positioning equipment: A body belt or body harness system rigged to allow an employee to be supported on an elevated vertical surface, such as a utility pole or tower leg, and work with both hands free while leaning.

The standard also requires employers to protect an employee working from an aerial lift using either a personal fall arrest system or a fall restraint system. Employees working at heights of more than 1.2 meters (4 feet) on a pole, tower, or similar structure must be protected with a personal fall arrest system, work-positioning equipment, a fall restraint system or other fall protection meeting Subpart D of OSHA's general industry standards or Subpart M of OSHA’s construction standards, as applicable. For example, a guardrail system.

Starting April 1, the standards require qualified employees climbing or changing location on poles, towers, or similar structures to use fall protection, unless the employer can demonstrate that climbing or changing location with fall protection is infeasible or would create a greater hazard than climbing or changing location without it. (Note that “climbing” includes going up or down the pole, tower, or other structure.)

Other important provisions of the standards include arc-flash protection, minimum approach-distance, and information-transfer (host-contractor). 

In order to comply with the new ruling, electric utilities will be donating to linemen overseas some of their personal protective equipment to comply with the new OSHA 1910-269 ruling mandating FR-rated wood pole fall protection. Field crews overseas often don't have access to the life-saving equipment. As a result, linemen have fallen out of buckets during normal working procedures overseas. American utility companies are working to help prevent these accidents. 

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