On April 11, 2014 the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a final rule aimed to improve workplace safety and health standards for individuals employed in electric power generation, transmission and distribution work.

The final rule is a revision of the 40-year-old construction standards for electric power line work. OSHA revised its standards for work in the electric power industry to account for technological advancements, provide more consistency with industry standards and practices and improve employee safety. The final rule also modifies general requirements for the construction and general industry.

The final rule will become effective on July 10, 2014.

The Final Rule

Employees who work with electric power generation, transmission and distribution are often exposed to fall, electric shock and burn hazards. Specifically, these individuals can be exposed to energized parts of power systems with very high voltages.  These hazards can cause serious injury or death.

OSHA revised and updated its standards for electric power work for a number of reasons. The current standards are 40 years old. The technological advancement since they were adopted has provided an opportunity to make the standards more effective. OSHA found that the standards did not adequately protect covered employees from injury, even when they fully complied with the rules.

The final rule updates and clarifies existing standards and requires host and contract employers to share safety-related information with each other with their employees. Some of the updates include improvements on the methods used for determining minimum approach distances and fall protection safeguards for employees working from aerial lifts and on overhead line structures.

The final rule also harmonizes personal protective equipment (PPE) standards between the construction and general industries. Before this final rule, different OSHA standards regulated electric power work, depending on whether employees were altering an electric system (construction work) or performing maintenance on it (general industry work). OSHA reasoned that PPE standards for electric power work should be as similar as possible between these two industries because the work practices used by employees are practically identical.

As an additional benefit, harmonizing safety and health standards allows employers to develop more uniform work practices by eliminating the differences that arise from conflicting construction and general industry regulations.

New and Revised Work Standards

The final rule contains new and revised provisions for host employers and contractors on training, job briefings, fall protection, insulation and working position.

These provisions apply to employees working on or near:

  • Working on or near live parts;
  • Working on or near minimum approach distances;
  • Working on or near electric arcs;
  • Deenergizing transmission and distribution lines and equipment;
  • Working on or near protective grounding;
  • Operating mechanical equipment near overhead power lines; and
  • Working on or near manholes or vaults.

Revised Electrical PPE Standards

New standards for electrical PPE apply to all construction work and replace existing, outdated construction standards. They are based on performance-oriented requirements that are consistent with relevant industry standards and practices.

These standards also address the safe use and care of electrical PPE and complement PPE design provisions. They include a requirement for equipment made of materials other than rubber to provide adequate protection from electrical hazards.

Revised Foot PPE Standards

The final rule also includes revised standards for foot PPE. These standards no longer require employees to wear specialized footwear as a protection against electric shock.

Affected Establishments

The final rule affects establishments in various industries, particularly employers that primarily construct, operate, maintain or repair electric power generation, transmission and distribution installations. This includes utility companies, contractors hired by utility companies (primarily classified in the construction industry) and establishments that perform line-clearance tree-trimming operations.

In addition, the final rule could impact other industries, such as the manufacturing industry, and establishments that own or operate their own electric power generation, transmission or distribution installations as a secondary part of their business operations.