Preventing Falls from Heights: OSHA Standards for Power Linemen

The work of power linemen is incredibly dangerous for several reasons — they are often dealing with high-voltage electrical systems, and they are doing this from elevated heights. This presents a heightened risk of injuries and even fatalities due to falls from heights. Here is what you need to know about these hazards and how OSHA standards are meant to keep workers safe in these conditions.

Power Linemen Working from Heights

Power linemen are responsible for installing and repairing high-voltage power systems. This might require them to climb utility poles as high as 100 feet in the air. A fall from a utility pole or the top of a transfer station could result in serious injuries or even death.

In the early 20th century, there were little to no regulations protecting workers who operated at these dangerous heights. In fact, it was up to the individual worker to figure out how to stay safe and prevent falls. When the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was created in 1971, this changed for the better.

OSHA Fall Protection Standards for Power Linemen

When OSHA was first established as an organization, one of its first priorities was to address the problem of fall protection. The agency collected data that helped it develop the first fall protection safety regulations.

OSHA’s Subpart M Fall Protection Standard originally required that all employers have compliant fall protection systems when working on surfaces 4-6 feet off the ground. This was the first fall protection standard passed by OSHA in 1994. The requirements were strengthened in 2014.

How Fall Protection Regulations Have Changed

Having OSHA fall protection standards in the workplace is just one part of the equation. Employers know they are required to do certain things to keep workers safe and protect them from dangerous and deadly falls. However, compliance with these guidelines has been an ongoing issue. If no one is following the rules, workplace injuries will continue with catastrophic results.

In 2014, OSHA put additional regulations in place meant to increase workplace compliance and reduce accident rates. These new regulations require additional fall protection training and address issues with fall protection equipment. Specifically, some workers may avoid wearing harnesses because they are uncomfortable or heavy. New ergonomic harnesses should increase compliance and help reduce dangerous falls from height accidents.

The update to the Fall Protection Standard also reduced the height requirement for safeguards. Specifically, every power lineman working at a height of 4 feet or higher must now use fall protection.

Another significant change to the standard was for fall protection exceptions. Under the previous standard, workers could use body belts in certain situations. The new standard requires that power linemen wear body harnesses at all times, no matter what their work surfaces are.

Different Methods of Fall Protection

Fall protection systems can be classified as either active or passive. An active system requires that human workers participate in some way, such as using fall restraint or arrest systems. A passive system doesn’t require any action from workers once it’s in place, such as netting or guard rails. In addition to this, there are four main ways an employer can protect workers from falls or fall-related accidents.

1. Fall Elimination

Fall elimination refers to avoiding work at heights so no one can get injured. For a utility company that employs power linemen, this would not be a practical risk management strategy.

2. Fall Prevention

Since working at heights is unavoidable, the best way to protect power linemen from injuries is to prevent them from falling. OSHA requires workplaces to use both passive and active strategies to prevent falls. These include things like installing toe boards and guardrails and requiring the use of safety harnesses. OSHA also requires that employers minimize dangers by assessing work site hazards, keeping areas clean, and training employees.

3. Fall Arrest

Fall arrest systems are designed to stop an employee from hitting a lower surface once they’ve lost their footing from an elevated location. These generally consist of a safety lanyard, harness, or self-retracting lifeline that is attached to one or multiple anchor points.

4. Fall Restraint

A fall restrain system is similar to a fall arrest system. However, these systems have shorter lines or lanyards with the purpose of stopping a fall from happening in the first place. As soon as a worker gets close to the edge, the system will hold them in place.

Working around electricity is a dangerous job. As a power lineman, it’s important to understand that your occupation is risky and that your employer also has a responsibility to provide a safe workplace. Often, employees aren’t provided with appropriate fall protection training or safety equipment. Lineman Injury Attorney’s mission is to provide workers in this industry with the information they need to stay safe and assert their rights if they’ve been hurt on the job.