The updated OSHA regulation creates a unified and up-to-date set of requirements to help employers more effectively establish safe work practices to protect their workers.

Significant Revisions to OSHA 29 CFR 1910.269

The updated regulation creates a unified and up-to-date set of requirements to help employers more effectively establish safe work practices to protect their workers.

On April 11, 2014, OSHA issued the final rule revision of 29 CFR 1910.269, Electric Power Generation, Transmission, and Distribution, for general industry. These revisions include new requirements for information transfer between the host employer and contract employer and new requirements for assessing the arc flash energy and providing the appropriate arc-rated clothing and PPE to employees.

Employees working in areas that are covered by this OSHA final rule are exposed to a variety of significant electrical hazards that can and do cause serious injury and death. OSHA concluded that this mandatory standard represents the best choice of electrical hazard identification, risk assessments, work practices, and personal protective equipment (PPE) for reducing the risks to employees from electrical hazards. This final rule primarily affects companies who operate, maintain, or repair electric power generation, transmission, or distribution installations, and it affects a variety of industries. There are many industrial facilities that have distribution systems and some maintain transmission and distribution substations, which falls under the jurisdiction of OSHA 1910.269.

Awareness of Electrical Hazards
Having an awareness of the hazards of electricity associated with working with electric power generation, transmission, and distribution lines and equipment is vital to understanding the OSHA electrical safety requirements. The electrical hazards include electrical shock, arc flash, and arc blast, as follows:

  • Electrical shock. Electrical shock occurs when there is a difference in potential from one part of the body to another. When a person’s body bridges the current path between two energized conductors or between an energized conductor and a grounded surface or object, current will flow. Shock hazards exist when there are exposed energized electrical conductors or circuit parts, energized at 50 volts to ground or more, and where a person is working where there is a potential to make contact.
  • Electrical arc flash. An electrical arc flash is the rapid release of energy due to an arcing fault of either phase-to-ground, phase-to-phase, or phase-to-neutral. Typically, when one of these three conditions is initiated, it will end up with all three occurring due to the ionization of the air, along with the plasma created from the vaporized metals, particularly copper. Simply put, an arc flash is a phenomenon where a flashover of electric current leaves its intended path and travels through the air from one conductor to another or to ground. The results are often violent and when a person is in close proximity to the arc flash, severe burns can occur that generally result in serious injury or death to that person. There are three different conditions that can occur with an electrical arc flash: 1) the arc temperature can be as high as 35,000º F, which can cause ignition of clothing several feet from the arc; 2) the incident energy, where the threshold for the onset of a second-degree burn is approximately 1.2 cal/cm2; and 3) the pressure developed by the arc.
  • Electrical arc blast. The arc blast is the rapid expansion of the air caused by an electrical arc. According to studies on the subject, the pressures from an electric arc are developed from two sources: the expansion of the metal in boiling and vaporizing, and the heating of the air by passage of the arc through it. Copper, when vaporized, expands by a factor of approximately 67,000 times; therefore one cubic inch of copper converts to 1.44 cubic yards of vapor instantly, which causes this rapid expansion and the resulting blast or explosion.

Significant OSHA Revisions
The OSHA 29 CFR 1910.269, Electrical Power Generation, Transmission, and Distribution, final rule, contains several new or revised sections, include the following:

1910.269(a)(2) Training

  • The degree of training must be determined by risk to the worker for the hazard involved.
  • Qualified workers must have training to recognize and control or avoid electrical hazards present at the worksite.
  • Line-clearance tree trimmers must have training to distinguish exposed live parts and to determine the voltage on those parts, and they must have training in minimum approach distances and how to maintain them.
  • It is no longer necessary for employers to certify that workers are proficient in safe work practices. NOTE: The OSHA definition of a qualified person requires them to be trained in and demonstrate skills and knowledge. (NFPA 70E® Section 110.2(E) requires the training to be documented.)

1910.269(a)(3) Information Transfer. The host employer provides the contractor with vital information concerning existing conditions, hazards, circumstances, design, and operation of the host employer’s installation. The host and contract employers must share information with each other on safety-related matters and must coordinate their work rules and procedures. (NFPA 70E-2015 Section 110.3(C) requires a documented meeting.)

1910.269(c) Job Briefings. The employer must provide information about the existing conditions and characteristics of the tasks to be performed to the employee in charge.

1910.269(g)(2) Fall Protection

  • On and after April 1, 2015, qualified workers must use fall protection when climbing or changing location on poles, towers, or similar structures, unless climbing or changing location with fall protection is infeasible or creates a greater hazard than climbing or changing location without it.
  • Fall arrest equipment must be capable of passing a drop test after exposure to an electric arc with heat energy of 40±5 cal/cm2 if the workers using the fall protection are exposed to flames or electric arc hazards.
  • On and after April 1, 2015, work-positioning equipment must be rigged so that workers can free fall no more than 0.6 meters (2 feet).
  • Information on the inspection of work-positioning equipment appears in appendices to the standards.

1910.269(l)(3) Minimum Approach Distances (MAD). Employers are required to establish the appropriate minimum approach distances based on equations in Table R-3 of the final rule or rely on the alternative minimum approach distances set forth in Tables R-4 through R-8 for AC and DC systems.

  • Revised minimum approach distances become effective on April 1, 2015.
  • Information to help employers establish minimum approach distances appears in appendices to the standards.

1910.269(l)(8) Protection from Flames and Electric Arcs. This section addresses the requirements for flame-resistant (FR) (arc-rated per NFPA 70E-2015) clothing and protection from electric arcs.

  • The employer must assess the workplace to identify workers exposed to flame or electric arc hazards.
  • No later than January 1, 2015, employers must estimate the incident heat energy of any electric arc hazard to which a worker would be exposed.
  • No later than April 1, 2015, employers generally must provide workers exposed to hazards from electric arcs with protective clothing and other protective equipment with an arc rating greater than or equal to the estimated heat energy.
  • Information on protecting workers from flames and electric arcs appears in appendices to the standards.
  • OSHA also makes reference in a note to paragraph (l)(8) to the new 1910.269 Appendix E – Protection from Flames and Electric Arcs that provides guidance on estimating available heat energy. OSHA has determined that employers following the guidance in Appendix E will be in compliance with the requirement to ensure that, for each employee exposed to hazards from electric arcs, the employer shall make a reasonable estimate of the incident heat energy to which the employee would be exposed. The employer is required to assess the workplace to identify employees exposed to hazards from flames or from electric arcs.

1910.269(m) Deenergizing Lines and Equipment for Employee Protection. Multiple crews working together on the same lines or equipment must either:

a) Coordinate their activities under a single worker in charge and work as if all of the employees formed a single crew; or

b) Independently comply with the standard and, if there is no system operator in charge of the lines or equipment, have separate tags and coordinate deenergizing and reenergizing the lines and equipment with the other crews.

1910.269(n) Grounding for Protection of Employees. Employers may use insulating equipment other than a live-line tool for placing grounds on or removing grounds from circuits of 600 volts or less, under certain conditions.

  • Information on protective grounding for deenergized lines appears in appendices to the standards.

1910.269(t) Underground Electrical Installations. Special precautions apply when employees perform work that could cause a cable to fail.

Compliance with these new and revised OSHA standards will provide additional safety for employees working on, near, or interacting with, electric power generation, transmission, and distribution lines and equipment in general industry as well as construction.

The updated OSHA 29 CFR 1910.269 requirements are significant for assisting employers in their efforts to protect their employees from electrical hazards. In addition, OSHA based these revisions on the latest consensus standards and improvements in electrical safety technology. Together, the updated regulation creates a unified and up-to-date set of requirements to help employers more effectively establish safe work practices to protect their workers.

This article originally appeared in the June 2015 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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