By Robert Iafolla and Bruce Rolfsen
April 1 --The Occupational Safety and Health Administration on April 1 announced a final rule (RIN 1218-AB67) to update protections for workers performing construction or maintenance at power plants or on power lines, closing out more than a decade of rulemaking.
The new rule brings OSHA's electricity construction standard in line with present industry consensus standards, replacing OSHA rules adopted in 1972 and 1994.
The new final rule applies to general industry employers covered by 29 C.F.R. 1910.269, Electric Power Generation, Transmission and Distribution, and construction employers covered by 29 C.F.R. 1926 Subpart V, Power Transmission and Distribution. The rule primarily affects companies “that construct, operate, maintain, or repair electric power generation, transmission, or distribution installations,” the rule's preamble states. It also will cover manufacturers and other companies “that own or operate their own electric power generation, transmission, or distribution installations as a secondary part of their business operations,” OSHA said.
Among the significant changes, according to OSHA, are:
• Host and contract employers must share information on safety matters and coordinate their work rules and procedures;
• Employers must provide protective equipment to workers exposed to electrical hazards from electrical arcs no later than April 15, 2015;
• Line-clearance tree trimmers must have training on how to recognize and avoid electrical hazards;
• Qualified workers must use fall protection when climbing or changing locations on poles and towers, unless the use of fall protection gear poses a greater hazard or is infeasible, starting April 15, 2015;
• Multiple crews working together on the same line must either coordinate their activities under a single worker or independently comply with the standards for de-energizing transmission and distribution lines;
• New minimum approach distances, effective April 15, 2015, and
• recognition of a new class of electrical protective equipment, Class 00 rubber insulating gloves.
The agency estimated the rule will save about 20 lives and prevent about 120 serious injuries each year and that employers would incur approximately $50 million in annual compliance costs. Roughly one-third of the compliance costs are related to requirements to provide arc-flash protective equipment.
“Electric utilities, electrical contractors and labor organizations have persistently championed these much-needed measures to better protect the men and women who work on or near electrical power lines,” OSHA chief David Michaels said in an April 1 statement.
Charles Kelly, director of safety and human resource issues for the power industry group Edison Electric Institute, told Bloomberg BNA April 2 that the organization is still reviewing the rule.
“We are pleased that it is coming out and look forward to working with OSHA on communicating and educating compliance requirements,” Kelly said.
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers spokesman Jim Spellane declined to comment April 1 on the rule, saying that the union is still reviewing the 1,600-page rule.
The rule's requirements will become effective 90 days after its publication in the Federal Register. The rule delays compliance dates for several requirements related to fall protection, approach distances and arc-flash protections until April 2015. The agency estimated the final rule will generate about $180 million in benefits each year.
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The final rule is available at https://www.osha.gov/dsg/power_generation/Subpart_V_Final_Rule.pdf.
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