Safe Products & Safe Workplaces for Utility Industry Workers
Written by Jack Rubinger
Dramatic, deadly and unpredictable arc flash is just one of the many electrical hazards that hit power, telephone and cable TV workers hard.
Electrocution, burns, shocks, fires and falls are equally frightening everyday occurrences.
In the real world, alertness, awareness and planning are important to keep people safe on the job. That's why Denise Frey always advises construction crews to have an emergency plan to address electrical accidents in the field. Who would direct a helicopter to a remote site? Where can the EMT crew pull up an ambulance? Denise is a consultant with Fiber Planners for electrical utilities, municipalities and plant systems.
Signs, labels and tags communicate the dangers associated with emergency electrical work and complement protection products including barricade systems, fall protection, fire retardant clothing and personal climate systems for outdoor work in very hot climates.
Durable labels and tags are also critical for electrical panel and equipment identification, circuit panels, cabinets, substations, condensing units and complex air handling units which demand color coding.
For utility poles, use tags made from heavy duty material that do not require grommets and can be stapled in place or hung with plastic or metal ties. Use tags on utility poles to post important safety and identification messages with the issuer’s name, date and pictograms. Tough, heavy- duty tags are ideal for temporary labeling and for hanging where harsh and abrasive conditions are likely.
“We regularly use pole tags and tags on switches,” explained Kenny Guffey, Safety Director for the Electrical Cooperative of Oklahoma.
Weather-resistant tags were used to identify each utility pole in Plaquemine, Louisiana, which were destroyed by Hurricane Gustav in 2008. In that event, more than 300 of the city’s 3200 power poles were wrecked.
Choosing the best printer for creating safety signs and labels takes careful consideration based on the sheer volume of labels needed and speed necessary to produce the labels.
The battery-powered DuraLabel Toro four-inch printer, which is compatible with a wide variety of rugged and durable sign and label supplies and requires no network connection to operate – allows utility workers and administrators to print as many signs and labels as needed, when and where they’re needed – indoors and outdoors.
While OSHA requires labels to convey danger, warning and caution messages, label and sign material or supply choices are influenced by the type of surface the sign or label must adhere to, the climate or environment, whether the application is temporary or permanent and the distance from which the sign or label will be viewed.
Other utility applications include labels and signs for:
- Wayfinding and providing directions
- Identifying the location of underground cables
- Marking hazardous or dangerous equipment
- Vehicle identification
- Marking transformers
- Producing quality charts
- Warehouse aisle identification
- Training aids
OSHA compliance training is a key to workplace safety effectiveness.
“We train our 14 power plant operators and eight administrative staff on all applicable California OSHA and Fed OSHA standards. These include heat stress, high voltage, fall protection, respiratory protection, personal protection equipment and lockout/tagout. Additionally, we train our operators for Confined Space Rescue,” said Damon Beck, Compliance Manager, Silicon Valley Power.
“A lockout/tagout program is a required safeguard system when testing in dangerous electrical environments. It prevents unexpected startup of machinery or the release of energy during testing activities. Locks and tags must be placed on electrical machinery, equipment or panels to indicate they are not to be operated until the lock or tag is removed,” added test and measurement specialist Dave Skowronski, IDEAL Industries.
The safest workplaces are built with teamwork and cooperation at all levels. It’s not enough to have just one safety-obsessed guru in the midst of an untrained and uninspired workforce. Everyone has to be committed, willing to make suggestions and get involved in training, rehearsing and paying attention to the smallest safety related details.
Electrical training programs must focus on:
- Correctly identifying electrical hazards
- The responsibilities of both qualified and unqualified electrical workers
- How to gauge safe distances when approaching exposed electrical conductors
- Safety in wet locations containing electricity
- Establishing compliance with OSHA and NFPA 70E
- Arc flash approach guidelines
- Safely working with electrolytic cells, batteries and battery rooms and lasers
- Labeling best practices: where labels should be placed, how to remove old labels and label maintenance
- Choosing the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) – including hard hats, heavy duty gloves and safety glasses
While no one expects to be personally involved in an electrical accident on the job, we need to plan as though we expect them to happen. By recognizing these events are real and that they severely impact the victims, their families, their friends and their companies, we can realistically plan and do everything to prevent them from happening.
A safe workplace benefits everyone. Employers and employees work together to ensure all workers are protected from injury. When all employees and managers work to follow safety protocols and complete appropriate documentation, the entire organization is able to participate in a culture of safety.
For more tales from the workplace, visit www.safe-workplace.com.