Tools to Enhance Safety in High Voltage Areas

By Ryan Berg, Contributor

Advances in wireless communication technology now allow work to be carried out from a safe vantage point, removing the worker from the point of danger.

Assuring the safety of utility and electrical professionals working in high voltage areas is the first priority on any jobsite. In deciding how best to do that, it is important to not only consider the essential tools and equipment that will help provide protection for the immediate job at-hand, but also considering which tools can be used to enhance an individual’s long-term health so they can remain in their careers for as long as they choose.

There are a variety of safety rules that must be followed around high voltage environments, including determining voltage thresholds and minimum approach distances, applying OSHA requirements and the standards and methods of work established by the employer. Each of these influences the necessary personal protection equipment (PPE) needed on a jobsite, but this basic PPE generally includes:

  • Fire-resistant clothing
  • Insulated boots (OSHA 1910.136)
  • Insulating gloves, mats, and blankets (OSHA 1910.137, OSHA 1926.97)
  • Hot sticks – an electrically insulated stick (typically fiberglass) with a tool on the end employed for various operations, including testing for high voltage, intentionally grounding conductive surfaces and even performing certain mechanical operations, depending on the tool.

Proximity voltage detectors or high voltage probes are useful in completing the industry recognized three-step verification process of verifying, testing, and reverifying a tool is working properly. Taking time at the start of every high voltage job to go through the three-step process, along with selecting the best tester for the project, will go a long way in assuring work is completed successfully and without injury. The steps of this process are:

  1. Test the detector or probe on a known live circuit or approved testing device to confirm the tool is working properly.
  2. Use the detector or probe to verify the circuit that is being worked on or repaired.
  3. Re-test the detector or probe on a known live circuit or approved testing device, to confirm the detector or probe is still working properly.

While there is much thought put into jobsite planning for immediate risks that can instantly injure when working around high voltage environments, often regulators and industry leaders fail to consider the long-term safety of workers in the equation to assure employees stay healthy and can continue in their jobs for years to come. One such consideration is ergonomics.

A look at Ergonomics

Proximity voltage detectors or high voltage probes are useful in completing the industry recognized three-step verification process of verifying, testing, and reverifying a tool is working properly.

Ergonomic specialists have been studying the type of jobsite tasks that can contribute to repetitive-use injuries. Their findings, from analyzing jobsite movements like lifting, holding, pushing, walking, and reaching, are being translated into new tools designs to help minimize ergonomic problems. For example, repetitive motions over prolonged periods of time can cause irritation and inflammation of the tendon sheath of the hands and arms, a condition known as carpal tunnel syndrome. The latest tools are designed to work to reduce or eliminate these destructive motions, helping to result in less strain on the body, decreasing the likelihood of injury. Tools addressing repetitive-use issues and other ergonomic concerns include:

  • High leverage handle tools – These utilize compound levers or extended leverage handles to lessen the impact and physical exertion on the user’s body. For example, come along strap hoists help minimize strain on the body while lifting manhole covers.
  • Battery powered tools – Replacing manual, ratcheting, or hand hydraulic tools with a battery powered option will transform cutting and crimping electrical conductor from one of the most taxing activities on the body into one of the least. These tools not only remove most of the energy needed to accomplish the task, but they can also reduce the range of motion of workers significantly.
  • Remotely operated tools – Advances in wireless communication technology now allow work to be carried out from a safe vantage point, removing the worker from the point of danger. For example, remote cable cutters can complete cuts by handheld remote from a safe distance.
  • Vibration or noise damping tools – Looking for jackhammers, tampers, post drivers, and other tools that have built-in damping technology will greatly aid in reducing resulting potential ergonomic issues.

Pairing a few of these new ergonomically designed tools with voltage detectors and standard PPE will go a long way in enhancing the safety of utility and electrical professionals in both the immediate and long-term environments when working on high voltage jobsites. ESW

Ryan Berg is Director of Product Management at Greenlee, a leading manufacturer of high-quality tools for electrical and utility trade professionals (Greenlee.com).

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