The chance of an average worker sustaining a fatal injury on the job is slim. There were just 3.7 fatal occupational injuries per 100,000 workers in the United States in 2007, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But, for electrical line installers and repairers, the deadly odds are significantly greater.

The good news is the reasons behind the injuries and fatalities that plague workers in the electrical transmission and distribution (T&D) industry are becoming clearer and, therefore, easier to overcome. Thanks go to a powerful partnership of stakeholders that is systematically identifying and evaluating health and safety hazards among T&D workers and using its findings to develop “Best Practices” and new training programs nationwide.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) T&D Electrical Safety Partnership has been mentioned often in these pages. It officially began Aug. 20, 2004, with an agreement drawn up among OSHA, industry trade associations, a labor organization, and six of the nation’s largest line contractors.

Additional line constructors joined over time. The partnership now includes OSHA, the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA), the Edison Electric Institute (which represents utilities), the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Asplundh Tree Expert Co., Henkels & McCoy, MDU Construction Services Group, Pike Electric, MYR Group, and Quanta Services. The contractors on this list employ about 80 percent of all T&D workers in the United States.

The original charter was set to last only two years. However, the T&D Safety Partnership was renewed and expanded in 2006 and again recently. The extension will enable the partners to build on a solid base of progress.

By 2007, the partners already had identified the leading causes of fatalities in line work: not wearing rubber insulating gloves and sleeves while working near energized equipment, not properly insulating and isolating energized equipment, encroaching materials and debris, and falls. These findings were taken into account in the partnership’s development of industry-specific training.

Last year, OSHA conducted a specialized 10-hour course addressing safe procedures for high-voltage work, reaching a total of 12,016 T&D workers. This year, OSHA focused on supervisors and foremen with a special 20-hour program. This industry-specific supervisory and leadership outreach training course, emphasizing the responsibility to provide for employee safety, also was developed through the partnership.

To date, the partnership has approved best practices on these eight topics: Job Briefings, Pre-use Inspection of Rubber Protective Equipment, Administrative Controls, Qualified Observer, Insulate and Isolate Safety Performance Check, Lock-to-Lock Use of Rubber Gloves and Sleeves, Cradle-to-Cradle Use of Insulating Rubber Gloves and Sleeves, and Rubber Insulating PPE for the Live Line Tool Method on Distribution Lines.

Every employee working for a partner company is now required to follow these recommendations, thus alleviating some of the issues related to the T&D industry’s transient work force. The Best Practices and a wealth of other information is available on the partnership’s Web site, www.powerlinesafety.org.

However, the most significant measurement of the partners’ progress appears on the federal safety agency’s Web site. The osha.gov site reports that the fatality rate per every 100,000 T&D workers has been reduced from 67.24 in 2003 to 24.55 in 2007, a 63.5 percent reduction. OSHA also notes that the Total Case Incidence Rate (TCIR) and Days Away, Restricted or Transferred (DART) rate, both of which were above the averages for the industry when the partnership began, are now 25.3 and 31.3 percent below industry averages, respectively.

NECA honored OSHA with the Industry Partner Award this year for providing the framework and support that makes such ongoing progress a reality. As the citation that accompanied the award states, “NECA is proud to work with the safety agency in this special project that has real potential to prevent injuries and save lives.” And, we should all be proud and grateful for all the partners that continue to demonstrate leadership, responsibility and accountability in furthering worker health and safety.

Milner Irvin, president, NECA