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Safety for Electrical Workers
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 March 2006 Feature
Jeffrey Adkins is the ASTM International staff manager for Committee F18 on Electrical Protective Equipment for Workers.

Safety for Electrical Workers

Everyone from utility companies to their employees to consumers benefit when ASTM International standards from Committee F18 on Electrical Protective Equipment for Workers are used.

When you wake up in the morning, what is one of the first things you do? Turn on the lights? Or when you come home from work, do you turn on the television, listen to your phone messages, or throw something in the microwave for dinner?

These are everyday events that most people take for granted. But how are they possible? They are possible because of the hard work of public utility and electrical workers. And how are these people able to perform their jobs safely and efficiently? Most of their work is done with the application of ASTM International standards from Committee F18 on Electrical Protective Equipment for Workers.

Committee F18 was formed in 1974 when a need was identified for standards to help protect electrical workers; it was understood that this need would best be served within the framework of the ASTM voluntary consensus standards development process. F18 standards are written by utility workers, product manufacturers, safety officers, and the laboratory technicians who test the products. The interaction of this diverse group has resulted in the development of 39 standards, with several others in various stages of development.

Committee F18’s standards cover a wide variety of needs for the protection of workers in the electrical industry. There are standards for personnel protective equipment, which cover such things as rubber insulating gloves and sleeves, leather protectors, personal climbing equipment and dielectric footwear. Additionally, workers are protected by fire resistant clothing that has been manufactured to meet or exceed F18 standards. Equipment made and tested to these standards is used every day in the field by more than 100,000 utility workers and electricians.

Fire Resistant Clothing
These employees perform required maintenance on a number of types of electrical equipment. For example, workers routinely climb utility poles or towers to replace insulators or repair conductors, where they are exposed to energized wires that can carry up to 500,000 volts of electricity. During these maintenance procedures, incidents can occur that may expose workers to electric arcs, commonly referred to as flashovers. Members of F18 have seen these events happen in the field a number of times. There have been incidents where the outcome has resulted in a fatality or serious injury and, in the vast majority of these incidents, equipment and clothing governed by F18 standards were not being used.

Conversely, F18 members can also cite an accident that resulted in improved protection. In one case, an organization did not require their workers to wear FR clothing. Unfortunately, a flashover event occurred that resulted in the worker being severely burned, although he did recover.

As a result of this incident, the company reviewed its policies and revised them to include an FR clothing program requiring all of its employees to wear FR clothing. A few years after the worker was injured, one of his co-workers was performing the same type of maintenance and another flashover occurred. However, the result of this incident was dramatically different. The worker was wearing FR clothing and was spared from burns. His clothing performed as the ASTM standards indicated it would, absorbing the heat and saving the worker from serious injury.

The standards that spared this worker from injury were F 1506, Performance Specification for Flame Resistant Textile Materials for Wearing Apparel for Use by Electrical Workers Exposed to Momentary Electric Arc and Related Thermal Hazards; F 1958/F 1958M, Test Method for Determining the Ignitability of Non-Flame-Resistance Materials for Clothing by Electric Arc Exposure Method Using Mannequins; and F 1959/F 1959M, Test Method for Determining the Arc Thermal Performance Value of Materials for Clothing. The standard for rubber gloves, D 120, Specification for Rubber Insulating Gloves, a worker’s first line of defense from exposure, was also instrumental in preventing harm to the worker in this example.

Committee F18 also develops standards for the equipment that electrical workers use on a daily basis. These standards range from rubber insulating matting to test methods for the acoustic emission of aerial personnel devices.

Another real-world example where ASTM standards were used to prevent injury comes from a utility’s work in installing power to a new apartment building. In this case, an electrical contractor had prepared the building for routine connection from the utility.

The day began as any other day. The overhead construction crew line was set to supply new electric service to the building. In doing so, they used a lift to get to the top of the utility pole where the connection was to be made. The crew needed to make three connections. The first two connections were made without incident. However, when the third connection was made, the transformer started to rumble and instantaneously a flash occurred at the top of the pole, engulfing the worker. Fortunately, the worker was wearing equipment manufactured to F18 standards and he escaped injury.

After a formal review of the incident it was discovered that wires had been crossed by the electrical contractor. Further review showed that the worker was spared injury because the crew prepared for and carried out the work in a process that was covered by 11 F18 standards. These included the FR clothing and rubber glove standards previously mentioned, as well as F 914, Test Method for Acoustic Emission for Insulated Aerial Personnel Devices; F 887, Specification for Personal Climbing Equipment; and F 2178, Test Method for Determining the Arc Rating of Face Protective Products.

Public Welfare
F18 standards not only protect utility workers from injury, but they also protect the needs and interests of the general public. When severe weather hits, consumers are often faced with a break in service, and this is unacceptable to the utilities providing the service. Therefore the utilities make every effort during these interruptions to restore power. This includes repairing damaged lines in hazardous conditions. One would think that working in these conditions would expose the worker to greater risk of injury, yet there are very few inclement weather incidents of injury.

While this seems counterintuitive, the primary reason for the utilities’ excellent safety record in these working conditions is because they are aware of the risk and take the appropriate safety measures to ensure that the worker is protected. These measures include utilizing F18 standards, such as F 1891, Standard Specification for Arc and Flame Resistant Rainwear; F 2321, Specification for Flexible Insulated Temporary By-Pass Jumpers; F 1742, Specification for PVC Insulating Sheeting; F 1825, Specification for Fixed Length Clampstick Type Live Line Tools; F 887, Specification for Personal Climbing Equipment; and F 117, Specification for Dielectric Overshoe Footwear.

The general public and utility workers benefit from the standards developed in Committee F18 in a number of ways. If power is interrupted, the protected utility workers work in a safe environment in order to restore the service as expeditiously as possible. Consumers benefit from their efforts. Utility workers, utility companies, or electricians using the F18 standards are protecting themselves or their employees from injury. The main goal of all involved is safety, resulting in lives saved. //

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