Falls account for one-third of construction industry fatalities and are the fourth leading cause of fatalities in all industries. Line employees face this hazard every day. To prevent falls, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has established rules. These rules are specific to the work performed and surface from which work is performed. In addition, there are special precautions lineman should take before working on an elevated surface they face regularly: wooden poles.

Fall protection regulations

When performing maintenance, line workers are covered by 29 CFR 1910.269. It requires fall-arrest, work-positioning or travel-restricting equipment at elevated locations more than 4 feet above the ground on poles, towers or similar structures.

Fall protection is not required by qualified employees climbing or changing location on poles, towers or similar structures, unless there are conditions, including, but not limited to, ice, high winds, the structure’s design or the presence of contaminants on the structure that could cause the employee to lose his or her grip or footing.

For construction, the rule (29 CFR 1926.951) states, “Body belts with straps or lanyards shall be worn to protect employees working at elevated locations on poles, towers, or other structures except where such use creates a greater hazard to the safety of the employees, in which case other safeguards shall be employed.”

If maintenance work is performed in other areas of buildings, such as loading docks, or on electric equipment, such as transformers and capacitors, other rules apply. Fall protection in the form of guardrails or personal fall arrest systems must be used at 4 feet or above.

For protection on elevated surfaces while performing construction work, the rule states fall protection must be provided at 6 feet. Protection can be guardrails, safety nets or a personal fall arrest system (PFAS) with a body harness. Body belts can only be used for positioning when the potential fall is restricted to 2 feet.

Protection in a bucket truck, on a scaffold and while using a ladder are governed by separate rules. Whenever work is performed from a bucket, the occupant must be attached to the bucket with a lifeline and body belt or body harness according to the OSHA standards.

However, common industry practice and recommendations coming from proposed or existing consensus standards call for the use of a body harness and lanyard.

The standards for fall protection on a scaffold allow work up to 10 feet without fall protection. Your fall protection on a ladder is the proper erection and use. This includes the 4-to-1 angle at which a ladder should be erected, centering your body on the ladder and maintaining three point contact while on the ladder.

How to don, inspect and maintain a PFAS

The most common form of protection used on elevated surfaces in electric generation transmission and distribution is the lanyard and body harness PFAS. A PFAS must be inspected before each use. The following procedure should be followed every time.

Body belt and harness

1. Begin with the belts and rings. Hold one end with the body side of the belt toward you. Grasp another portion of the belt with your other hand approximately 7 inches away from that point. Bend the belt in an inverted “U.” This will create a surface tension that helps to expose damaged fibers or cuts. Repeat this procedure moving your hand up and along the entire length of harness.

2. Look at the D-rings and the metal wear pad. They should be free of distortion, cracks, breaks and rough or sharp edges. The D-ring bar should pivot freely at a 90° angle with the long axis of the belt.

3. The attachment of buckles needs special attention. If there is wear, frayed or cut fibers or distortion of buckles or D-rings, tell your supervisor. He will determine if it is unusual wear. Check to see if you can move rivets with your fingers. They should not move. Rivets should be flat against material.

4. Check all webbing. There should be no frayed or broken strands. Tufts on the webbing surface is a sign of trouble.

5. Tongue buckles should overlap the buckle frame and move freely back and forth in their socket. The buckle roller should turn freely on the frame. Check for distortion or sharp edges.

6. Constant buckling can wear on the tongue and billet. Make sure it is tight, grommets are in good shape and there is no distortion. Never punch additional holes in your belt.

7. Inspect friction buckles. Outer bars must be straight. Be sure to check corners and attachment points of the bar.

Lanyard inspection

1. The entire length of the lanyard must be checked. Start at one end and rotate the lanyard as you carefully look at the surface. Be sure to inspect the splices.

2. Carefully inspect the snaps. The latch, hook and eye should be free of distortions, cracks, corrosion or pitting. The latch should not bind and the spring should exert enough force to keep it firmly closed. A lock must prevent the latch from opening after it closes. Make sure the lock works.

3. Thimbles must be firmly seated in the eye of the splice. Make sure there are no loose or cut strands, sharp edges, distortion or cracks.

4. Check your lanyard. If it is a web lanyard, bend it over a round surface to expose cuts or breaks. Be sure to check both sides. The lanyard should not be swelled up, discolored, cracked or charred. Make sure there are no breaks in the stitching.

If the lanyard is rope, rotate it as you examine its entire length and circumference. It should not appear fuzzy, worn, broken or have cut fibers. Ropes require a brief break-in period. After this, you should not observe any changes in its diameter along the length of the rope. A change indicates it has been under an extreme load. The lanyard should not be used.

Equipment must be cleaned properly. Because most harnesses are made of nylon and polyester, strong detergents may damage it. For cleaning, simply wipe surfaces with a sponge dampened in plain water. Squeeze the sponge dry.

A mild solution of water and commercial soap or detergent may be used. Check with the manufacturer. Wipe the belts and surfaces with a clean, dry cloth. Hang the harness up in a shady area to dry.

Never place it in direct sunlight or use heat, such as a dryer, to dry. Place your clean, dry body harness and attachments in a storage area. Make sure it is away from sunlight and moisture. Do not put any other materials in that area that may damage it.

Inspecting and testing wooden poles

When work is performed on a wood pole, it is important to determine the condition of the pole. The weight of the employee, equipment being installed, and other stresses (such as the removal conductors) can lead to the failure of a defective pole or one that is not designed to handle the additional stresses.

It is essential that an inspection and test of the condition of a wood pole be performed before it is climbed.

If the pole is unsafe, it must be secured so that it does not fall while an employee is on it. The pole can be secured by a line truck boom, by ropes or guys, or by lashing a new pole alongside it. If a new one is lashed alongside the defective pole, work should be performed from the new one.

The following is a basic list of items to check. Be sure to check the pole below ground level. The majority of decay occurs 18 inches below and above the ground level. The presence of any of the conditions noted here anywhere on the pole is an indication the pole may not be safe to climb.

A. General condition—The pole should be inspected for buckling at ground line and for an unusual angle with respect to the ground. Buckling and odd angles may indicate the pole has rotted or is broken.

B. Cracks—The pole should be inspected for cracks. Horizontal cracks perpendicular to the grain of the wood may weaken the pole. Vertical ones, although not considered to be a sign of a defective pole, can pose a hazard to the climber. Keep gaffs away from them while climbing.

C. Holes—Hollow spots and woodpecker holes can reduce the strength of a pole.

D. Shell rot and decay—Rotting and decay are cutout hazards and are possible indications of age and internal condition of the pole.

E. Knots—One large knot or several smaller ones at the same height on the pole may be evidence of a weak point.

F. Depth of setting—Evidence of the existence of a former ground line substantially above the existing ground level may be an indication the pole is no longer buried to a sufficient extent.

G. Soil conditions—Soft, wet or loose soil may not support any changes of stress on the pole.

H. Burn marks—Burning from transformer failures or conductor faults could damage the pole so that it cannot withstand mechanical stress changes.

Once an inspection of the pole is complete, perform the following tests.

A. Hammer test—Rap the pole sharply with a hammer weighing about 3 pounds, starting near the ground line and continuing upwards in a circular motion around the pole to a height of approximately 6 feet. The hammer will produce a clear sound and rebound sharply when striking sound wood. Decay pockets will be indicated by a dull sound or a less pronounced hammer rebound. Also, prod the pole as near the ground line as possible using a pole prod or a screwdriver with a blade at least 5 inches long. If substantial decay is encountered, the pole is considered unsafe.

B. Rocking Test—Apply a horizontal force to the pole and attempt to rock it back and forth in a direction perpendicular to the line. Caution must be exercised to avoid causing power lines to swing together. The force may be applied either by pushing with a pike pole or pulling with a rope. If the pole cracks during the test, it shall be considered unsafe.

Fall protection can be complex. Required procedures and equipment vary by the type of work and surface upon which the work is performed. Pole climbing, electricity and determining maintenance versus construction work increase the complexity. Lineman need to take time to evaluate the job, identify the appropriate precautions and ensure equipment and surfaces are safe.    EC

O’CONNOR is with Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and software for contractors. Based in Waverly, Pa., he can be reached at 607.624.7159 or joconnor@intecweb.com.