Electric Utility Law — OSHA Changes to Construction of Electrical Power Transmission Standards

OSHA’s final rule revised or implemented eleven provisions in the Construction of Electrical Power Transmission Standard, 29 CFR 1926, subpart V, including provisions regarding: (1) host employers and contractors; (2) training; (3) job briefings; (4) fall protection; (5) insulation and working on or near live parts; (6) minimum approach distances; (7) protection from electric arcs; (8) deenergizing transmission and distribution lines and equipment; (9) protective grounding; (10) operating mechanical equipment near overhead power lines; and (11) working in manholes and vaults. OSHA also adopted a new construction standard on electrical protective equipment, 29 CFR 1926.97, and revised general industry and construction sections 29 CFR 1910.137 and 1910.269 mostly to incorporate the changed standards.

The host employers and contractors provision includes requirements for host employers and contract employers to exchange information on hazards and on the conditions, characteristics, design, and operation of the host employer’s installation. It also includes a requirement for host employers and contract employers to coordinate their work rules and procedures to protect all employees.

The training provision is a revision and OSHA added requirements for the degree of training to be determined by the risk to the employee for the hazard involved and for training line-clearance tree trimmers and removed the former requirement for the employer to certify training.

The job briefings provision is also a revision and OSHA included a new requirement for the employer to provide information about existing characteristics and conditions to the employee in charge.

The fall protection provision was revised to include new requirements for the use of fall restraint systems or personal fall arrest systems in aerial lifts and for the use of fall protection equipment by qualified employees climbing or changing location on poles, towers, or similar structures.

The revised provision on insulation and working position of employees working on or near live parts includes new requirements relating to where an employee who is not using electrical protective equipment may work.

The revised provision on minimum approach distances includes a new requirement for the employer to determine maximum anticipated per-unit transient overvoltages through an engineering analysis or, as an alternative, assume certain maximum anticipated per-unit transient overvoltages. These provisions also replace requirements for specified minimum approach distances with requirement for the employer to establish minimum approach distances using specified formulas.

The new provision for protection from electrical arcs includes new requirements for the employer to: assess the workplace to identify employees exposed to hazards from flames or from electric arcs, make reasonable estimates of the incident heat energy to which the employee would be exposed, ensure that the outer layer of clothing worn by employees is flame resistant under certain conditions, and generally ensure that employees exposed to hazards from electrical arcs wear protective clothing and other protective equipment with an arc rating greater than or equal to the estimated heat energy.

The revised provision on deenergizing transmission and distribution lines and equipment clarifies the application of those provisions to multiple crews and to deenergizing network protectors.

The revised requirements for protective grounding now permit employers to install and remove protective grounds on lines and equipment operating at 600 volts or less without using a live-line tool under certain conditions.

The revised provision for operating mechanical equipment near overhead power lines clarifies that the exemption from the requirement to maintain minimum approach distances applies only to the insulated portions of aerial lifts.

The revised provision on working in manholes and vaults clarifies that all of the provisions for working in manholes also apply to working in vaults and include a new requirement for protecting employees from electrical faults when work could cause a fault in a cable.

OSHA also adopted a new construction standard on electrical protective equipment in 29 CFR 1926.97. This section applies to all construction work and was drafted with performance standards which provide more compliance flexibility. Paragraph (a) pertains to the design and manufacture of rubber insulated equipment including blankets, matting, covers, line hose, gloves, and sleeves. This includes the prohibition on seems for blankets, gloves, and sleeves and everything must be marked to indicate its class and type.

OSHA also included voltage requirements for rubber insulated equipment and marking requirements for type and class are based on Table E-1 and E-2 of the new provision. Paragraph (b) pertains to equipment other than rubber insulating equipment which also contains standards and tests similar to paragraph (a). Paragraph (c) pertains to the proper maintenance and storage of the equipment including requirements for use, types of defects, and proper storage.

Jeremy Fetty is a partner in the law firm of Parr Richey Obremskey Frandsen & Patterson with offices in Lebanon and Indianapolis. He often advises businesses and utilities (for profit, non-profit and cooperative) on organizational, human resources, and transactional matters and drafts and reviews commercial contracts.

The statements contained herein are matters of opinion and general information only and are not to be considered legal advice and should not be construed to form an attorney-client relationship. If you have any questions regarding this article, please contact an attorney.