Utility work comes with dozens of inherent hazards. Working from heights, working near electricity, using power tools and working near the road can all expose a utility worker to significant health and safety risks. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recorded 4,674 worker deaths in the U.S. in 2017. The construction industry was the deadliest, but utility work presents many of the same hazards. Utility workers can suffer serious injuries in falls and electrocutions. Staying safe and avoiding a personal injury takes practicing a few workplace safety tips.
Wear Flame-Resistant Clothing
Employers should make sure utility workers do not wear clothes that could ignite, burn easily or melt onto their skin in a fire. Fire-retardant uniforms such as coveralls could decrease the risk of fatal burn injuries in electrical or thermal fires. At least the outer layer of clothing worn should be flame resistant. Clothing should fit tight against the body or the employee should tuck it in, with no loose articles hanging. Any utility workers directly exposed to electric arc hazards should wear additional protective clothing or equipment with an adequate arc rating. OSHA requires full-body protection for any utility worker exposed to over 600 volts.
Account for the Weather
Although full-body protection is important, so is accommodating the weather. Utility workers do their jobs mostly outdoors – often in the bright sunlight of Southern California. An employer needs to choose garments that are comfortable year-round. Clothing should be breathable and should not retain heat. Choosing the right uniforms in the summer can reduce the risk of heat stroke and other heat-related problems, as well as prevent workers from doing things such as rolling up their sleeves to stay cool. In utility work, altering the uniform this way could lead to fatal electric shocks.
Falls are the leading cause of construction worker death. Falling is also a leading cause of death in utility work. OSHA requires employers to provide specific fall protection systems to help prevent fatal falls on the job. All walking and working surfaces at work should be free from slip or trip hazards. When working from heights, such as climbing utility poles, employees should wear personal fall arrest systems at all times. These systems can catch a worker that slips and falls or loses consciousness after suffering an electric shock. Providing proper fall protection gear can save lives.
Practice Electrical Safety
Electric shocks and electrocution are very real risks to a utility worker. An employer should help prevent these tragedies by implementing proper electricity safety elements in the workplace. Workers should always look for overhead electric wires when operating heavy machinery, for example. Employers should fulfill OSHA’s related safety standards when dealing with electric equipment at a job site. Failing to provide the right equipment, clothing, protection or instruction to utility workers could contribute to serious electrical accidents and deaths.
Report Safety Hazards
Many employee injuries and deaths occur due to employer negligence. Contributing to an unsafe workplace could unreasonably increase a worker’s risk of suffering a bad accident. It is every employer’s duty to obey OSHA’s rules and regulations, from properly training utility workers to controlling hazardous energies. Unfortunately, many employers negligently or intentionally break the rules to save time or money.
If a utility worker notices a workplace hazard or violated OSHA standard, he or she should notify the employer immediately. It is the employer’s duty to remedy the situation in a reasonable amount of time to prevent worker injury. Should the employer ignore the issue, the worker can take the matter to OSHA by filing an official complaint anonymously. OSHA will send an inspector to the workplace to investigate further. Common safety violations in the utility industry include lack of fall protection, lax hazard communication standards, unsafe ladders, and no eye or face protection. OSHA can force an employer to improve the safety of the workplace.