A typical method of selecting personal protective equipment (PPE) is to use what has always been provided, such as hard hats, safety shoes and glasses, and hearing protection (if in a loud area). For power line work, rubber-insulating gloves can be added to this list. However, this practice can be dangerous. Each job’s specific circumstances must be analyzed to ensure protection is provided. Consider a simple piece of equipment, such as shoes. In most situations, the right shoes for electrical work would be ones with an appropriate Electrical Hazard (EH) rating. They isolate the worker from ground. However, these may not be a safe option for an electrician performing live-line bare-hand work who needs to stay at equal potential with the system.
To identify hazards and ensure proper PPE selections, you must analyze the work environment and the operations performed. This analysis can be simplified by placing the hazards into basic categories. Each can be associated with the harm they may cause.
Generally, hazards come from an energy source. The most common one is electricity. Energized wires and equipment are an obvious hazard. Others such as chemical energy, radiation, and falling object energy are less recognizable. A Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) or other source of information may be needed to determine if an object or substance is dangerous. MSDSs frequently recommend the PPE needed to handle the materials.
The employee may also be the energy source. For example, a sharp object will not cause harm unless energy is applied to it. Someone must fall upon it in order for it to penetrate the body causing injury. Even a harmful dust with no energy may become a hazard when your body’s energy reacts with it.
Inspect the work area. Evaluate every object. Does it have potentially harmful energy? Will it cause harm if energy is applied? What is the potential for harm? Once the hazards are classified, the appropriate controls can be identified. The table below (from NECA’s Manual—Personal Protective Equipment: A Guide for Selection, Care, & Use in the Electrical Contracting Industry) can help identify common hazards.
Once the hazards have been identified, consider the body parts affected. Using a common hazard, electrical energy, a review of exposed body parts would be performed. While working on electrical lines and/or equipment, it is possible for the head to contact live parts. A Class E hard hat is needed. Depending on the voltage, rubber-insulating gloves and/or sleeves may be required. Because of the arc potential, safety glasses are needed. A face shield may be required.
This same theory should be applied to all operations and include all energy sources and exposures. Evaluate fall hazards. Falls are the result of gravitational energy and affect employees or any other items at elevated surfaces. To protect employees, personal fall arrest systems can be used. Hard hats can protect employees from falling objects.
Whatever the hazard or energy source, the proper PPE can protect the employee. However, an effort must be made to eliminate hazards through engineering or administrative controls first. The standards found in the 29 Code of Federal Regulations 1926 Subpart E Personal Protective and Life Saving Equipment reference the use of PPE only where it is not feasible to reduce exposure by other means. With hard hats, additional protection is needed.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires two forms of overhead protection. Either netting to catch objects, barriers to isolate the area where objects may fall, or some other protection is needed with hard hats.
NECA’s Manual—Personal Protective Equipment: A Guide for Selection, Care, & Use in the Electrical Contracting Industry (Index #5120), is an excellent resource regarding regulations. For more information, contact Dave Potts at (301) 215-4526. EC
O’CONNOR is with Intec, a producer of safety manuals with training videos and software for contractors. Based in Alexandria, Va., he can be reached at (703) 628-4326, or by e-mail at email@example.com.