- Recognize that general and construction regulations on ladder use apply.
- Identify safety regulations for the use of ladders and platforms.
- Identify safe work practices for step bolts and manhole steps.
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Labor Statistics, OSHA
For the most part, the utility industry follows the same standards on ladder and platform safety as do the general and construction industries, however, there are some exceptions for specialized work by performed these highly qualified lineworkers.
Because of the nature of the industry, electrical workers use portable ladders and platforms to get at the implements and panels they have to frequently interact with. Employers must provide training programs for workers using ladders and stairways in the course of their job. The training programs should teach electrical workers to recognize hazards related to ladder and stairway use and train them on the proper work practices to minimize associated hazards.
When working at heights, the first rule of ladder safety is to make sure that ladders and platforms are in good condition for safely accessing hard to reach areas, but also that these simple machines are secured to prevent them from becoming accidentally dislodged. Always check that they are secured before beginning work, fixed in place properly and without the capacity for play or wiggle. A competent person must inspect all ladders and platforms frequently, whether they are portable or fixed. If a ladder or platform has defects, it must be withdrawn from service for repair or destruction.
Electrical Workers Should:
- Lash, or otherwise hold in position, ladders and platforms to prevent them from moving, and also rely on a teammate to spot the ladder, keeping it grounded if need be and ready to assist in case of accident.
- Place portable ladders so that side rails and the base section have solid footing.
- Ensure the top rest for portable rung and cleat ladders is reasonably rigid with enough strength to hold the load.
Load limits are legibly displayed on ladders and platforms, and workers are not to exceed those limits. Further, workers must not use ladders or platforms for a purpose other than the one for which they are intended; for example, don’t use for runways or scaffolding. Ladder are not bridges or work benches.
Unless the ladder is two-sided and marked by the manufacturer as a two-person ladder, only one person at a time can occupy the ladder.
Ladders and platforms that have been withdrawn from service should be tagged or marked as “Dangerous, Do Not Use.” Repairs must meet manufacturer’s approved specifications; rigging a ladder without trying to meet these standards can result in injury—repair should be done right or not at all. Replace broken ladders if the repair cannot be made to meet the standard of the manufacturer, or send to manufacturer for necessary repairs.
Linemen cannot use portable, conductive, metal ladders near exposed, energized lines or equipment, unless they are an electrically qualified worker and so know the hazards involved, and remain prepared to mitigate them. Ladders made of conductive materials must be clearly marked in a prominent position on the ladder, and they must be inspected frequently.
Extension ladders are not the only means workers use for climbing. In addition to portable ladders, qualified employees use step bolts on towers, poles, and other structures. They also use some older, fixed manhole steps.
Trained climbers who use permanently installed steps on a tower should pay particular attention to the steps as they ascend the structure; since these steps are fixed, typically welded on to a pole, there isn’t much guidance to offer the utility worker other than to be aware and climb methodically, not skipping steps.
Step Bolt Best Practices
- Visually inspect the steps.
- Apply pressure, or “bump,” the step with the palm of your hand to test its stability before putting weight on it.
Fixed Manhole Step Best Practices
- Using a bright flashlight, inspect the steps. Look for rust, pits, or loose fittings.
- On first descent, tap the rungs with your foot before placing weight on them. A deteriorating step or ladder rung will often have a hollow sound compared to the solid, steel sound of a secure rung.
To recap, make sure that ladders are in working condition, don’t use them for other purposes than for which they are intended, and make sure they are secure before getting up on one. And, finally, having worker support each other, with one on the ground and one in the air, is a good idea.
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