Safety for Telecom & Electric Utility Workers

safety for telecom & electric utility workers


The telecommunications and electric utility industries pose several types of specific hazards for workers within these sectors. To protect people during their workdays, employers should recognize the risks and develop a culture of safety to prevent accidents. Improving safety for any company is always beneficial, even if the process requires some investments in time and money. The reduction in injuries and damaged materials will overcome any minor costs put toward safety, generating a positive outcome for businesses within these sectors.

 

Why Is Safety in the Utility Industry a Concern?

Despite the inherent risks faced daily by telecom and electric utility workers, it wasn't until 2017 that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released guidelines covering safety for these workers. However, the delay did not indicate that these workers had safe jobs. Rather, the small size of the telecom industry, boasting around 20,000 field workers, contributed to the issue.

Utility worker safety begins with recognizing the potential risks of the industry and communicating the importance of avoiding those risks. Regular conversations with field workers to keep them updated on safety standards is also vital to mitigating the potential problems of unsafe practices or conditions in the field. 

The following are some of the specific problems utility workers and their employers may face due to safety issues:

Injuries and Fatalities

Workers installing or servicing telecom and electric lines face potential injuries or fatalities during their work — and electrical workers experienced a peak of deaths from the period of 2011 through 2019. During that year, 166 deaths due to electrical injuries of workers occurred, which was a 3.75% increase from the previous year. Among fatalities, 93% happened to workers from private companies while 7% came from government workers. The most common cause of electrical fatalities resulted from using machinery or tools, which led to 27% of the total deaths.

Only 3% of the fatalities happened from direct contact with or exposure to electrical currents. While the greatest percentage of deaths occurred in the construction industry in 2019 (43%), the second-highest rate came from those installing or servicing electrical lines (22%). With the second greatest rate of fatalities from electrical injuries, workers in the electric utility sector need to pay extra attention to safety to reduce this number in the future.

As serious as fatalities were for workers, injuries happened much more frequently. Though 2019 had the highest number of deaths, it did not peak in 2019, which only had 1,900 injuries resulting in missed days from work. From 2011 through 2019, the peak of injuries happened in 2015, which had 2,480 nonfatal injuries. For 2019, the majority of injuries happened to those doing electrical service, maintenance or installation.

Nonfatal injuries had the potential to cause serious setbacks in work schedules. The median number of days off work in 2019 from electrical injuries increased 125% from the previous year to nine days. Injuries resulting from direct or indirect exposure to electricity greater than 220 volts required the greatest number of days off, 29 and 17 days, respectively. Exposure to lower voltages had lower time-off requirements to recover.

Incident Rates

utility workers had the second-highest fatality incident rate of 0.4 per 100,000

The incident rate of the number of fatalities per 100,000 workers shows the heightened risk of utility workers. Construction workers had a fatality rate of 0.7 per 100,000 while utility workers had the second-highest fatality incident rate of 0.4 per 100,000. The rate for all industries of electrical deaths was only 0.1 per 100,000. Therefore, electric utility safety needs to become prioritized in the construction and utility industries, which both have higher death rates from electrical injuries than other sectors.

Hazards

Electric shock and burns accounted for many nonfatal injuries. However, these were not the only hazards that telecom and utility workers face. Other potential risks that workers face are cold and heat stress, working in confined spaces, musculoskeletal injuries or strain, repetitive strain injuries, falls and structural collapse.

Between 2011 and 2015, electrocutions accounted for half the fatalities of those repairing or installing power lines. Another serious hazard was falling from elevated heights. Telecom line installers had a higher rate of death from falling to a lower level than electrical line workers. Falling to a lower level included more than falling off poles. These incidents also included falling from boom trucks and ladders.

Adequate training to maintain safe practices when working at heights and around electricity can reduce many fatalities in the telecom and electrical utility industries.

Costs

Failure to comply with safety standards can incur financial costs, too. Some of the most common costs from an accident on a worksite include payment for workers’ missed days and workers’ compensation. If an assessment of the working conditions after an accident or during routine inspections finds failure to comply with OSHA rules, the company can also face fines for noncompliance.

The Benefits of a Safety Culture in Telecom and Electrical Work

the benefits of a safety culture in telecom and electrical work

Incorporating a culture of safety into telecom and electrical utility companies nets multiple benefits for workers and the business. These perks include better worker retention and fewer incidents.

Changing Behaviors

Safety culture changes behaviors to encourage people to have safer practices and to report unsafe situations. Training workers to put safety first and encouraging them to put that education into practice contributes to shifts in work to greater safety.

Fewer Incidents

When workers become more cognizant of safety issues and how to prevent them, incidents go down. Therefore, training can reduce the number of accidents and the number of days workers must take off to recover from those incidents.

Reduced Turnover

By creating a safer working environment, workers feel safer and are more likely to stay. Safer workplaces can also prevent incidents that may prevent workers from returning to their former jobs and contributing to turnover. Companies that prioritize safety can protect the health and wellbeing of their workforce, which may increase worker retention over time.

Elements of Safety Programs for Utility Workers

Improving worker conditions for telecom and utility workers starts with creating a plan to create a safety culture. Use the following utility worker safety tips to get started on creating your own plan:

Employee Qualifications

Before assigning workers to hazardous tasks, such as climbing, make sure they have experience and training to ensure they will stay safe. You can even start this process during the selection of candidates for open positions. Strength tests to ensure workers have the ability to support themselves while climbing can help to prevent falls and other incidents.

Even for experienced workers, provide training before they engage in work around electrical currents or climbing. Also, encourage workers to select safety-oriented continuing education programs for keeping them aware of the hazards of their work and how to avoid them.

Hazard Assessment

Determine the specific issues that pose safety hazards on each job site. Because sites will differ, this assessment should be made at the beginning of each job. For instance, a site that requires repairs after a hurricane may need the removal of debris from the site to protect workers from injury. Or remind workers to watch for signs of heat stress in hot environments.

Hazard Control

Another reason to conduct a hazard assessment is to identify which types of risks you can mitigate or eliminate. If during an assessment, you find that workers might have exposure to areas with challenging weather conditions, make sure they are prepared. For example, have them delay climbing up poles in lightning and ensure they have warm clothing in frigid conditions.

Electrical Safety

utility workers had the second-highest fatality incident rate of 0.4 per 100,000

Anytime workers may handle live wires, remind them of all safety precautions they need to take prior to arriving on the job site. Reviewing electrical safety standards can help to prevent electrocutions. In fact, OSHA requires in 1910.269(c) for supervisors to conduct a briefing with workers prior to beginning work on each job that includes information about hazards, personal protective equipment (PPE) required, electricity control sources, work procedures and special precautions.

Protective Clothing, PPE and Personal Gear

Protective clothing needs to prevent arcing and combustion. These types of clothes should remain clean and in good repair to retain their properties. Protective clothing can also include extra layers for warmth in winter conditions to protect against cold stress.

Protective clothing serves as a base to wear with all jobs. However, some tasks will require PPE and personal gear to protect against specific environmental hazards. For instance, hard hats protect against falling objects and overhead electrical hazards. When around noises greater than 90 dB, OSHA requires ear protection. The specific types of PPE required will depend on the hazards of the job site.

Fall Protection and Prevention

As falls are a serious hazard for those working on utility poles or telecom towers, employers must ensure workers have safety training in fall prevention.

First, workers need to have training in how to use fall arrest systems. These systems for use around potential electrical hazards have stricter requirements than other types of fall protection systems. According to OSHA’s regulation 1910.269(g)(2)(i), the fall arrest system must pass flammability tests and drop tests after exposure to an electric arc.

Fall protection systems and arrest systems should always pair with worker training. Employers should only allow skilled, proven workers to climb utility poles for repairs to reduce falls. Plus, these workers should have regular reminders of safety procedures. The same education in fall prevention should also apply to those who conduct their work from buckets on service trucks or any other elevated surface.

Emergency Response

The world relies on power and telecommunications. Consequently, some of the first responders after a natural disaster are telecom and utility workers who need to repair fallen lines to restore operations. The nature of the natural disaster will affect the types of procedures used during the emergency response. For instance, flooding in snake-prone areas may require workers to wear snake boots or gaiters when walking through floodwater to prevent swimming snakes from biting them.

Incident Reporting

Utility and telecom safety requires more than the eyes of supervisors on site. Workers should be encouraged to report safety incidents or unsafe practices without fear of reprisal from co-workers or management. Only through reporting unsafe behaviors can a company recognize where it needs to make changes.

Anonymous reporting, as used by OSHA, could also be an important tool for companies to use to protect reporters. When employers encourage reporting of problems to their safety teams, they can make changes needed to procedures to prevent fines or incidents.

What Role Does Structural Integrity Play in Telecom and Electrical Utility Safety?

Falls and structure collapses cause injuries, fatalities and property damage. Preventing these incidents should be part of a safety culture. While promoting safe practices in the field is critical, the materials and supplies used there are of equal importance.

First, for guy wires and other supports, choose products that meet the requirements of the support system. For instance, the number of strands and minimum support strength for guy wires are essential for ensuring they will provide the required support for an electrical pole or telecom tower.

Second, select protective coatings to prevent the steel wire from corroding, which weakens it. Plus, by preventing corrosion, such coatings enhance longevity for the wires. Most steel guy wires use galvanized zinc in Classes A, B or C as a prevention. However, there is an even more advanced solution available – the zinc alloy Bezinal®. This coating outperforms galvanized zinc in tests exposing the coatings to salt spray and polluted environments.

Choosing the correct coating and material is important. You should also conduct regular inspections of the supports to ensure their integrity.

Rely on Bekaert for Quality Steel Wire Products for the Utility Industry

When promoting a safe work environment in your own company, you want to look for other businesses to emulate. At Bekaert, we practice the advice that we give through our workplace health and safety protocols. Our BeCare Program places safety first. This plan creates our company’s roadmap toward a risk-free, no-harm place for all our workers and site visitors.

BeCare requires employees to go through rigorous safety training. This training teaches workers about safety guidelines, how to spot unsafe practices and handle them and to care for others in the workplace. Between 2016 and the end of 2018, 22,000 of our global employees took this training as our company strives for an interdependent culture of safety.

Because we put safety first, our teams also invest in producing quality products for the safety of our customers. We manufacture quality steel supporting wires in the United States to meet customer specifications and industry standards. After professional installation of our steel wires, site supervisors for telecom and utility companies can rest assured the wires will offer both the support and flexibility needed to ensure the safety of workers on utility poles. To get this type of quality assurance, contact us at Bekaert to request a quote for custom steel support wires. 

rely on Bekaert for quality steel wire products for the utility industry