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New OSHA rules affect some utility workers

Minnesota electric utility workers may be interested to know more about new safety rules put into place by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The regulations are meant to curb the commonly used practice of "free climbing." Up until now, electric utility workers were often allowed to climb electrical towers without safety straps, belts or harnesses

The new rules, which were announced in April, will take effect in July. Workers will be given until April 2015, to fully implement the rules. Electric utility workers were one of the few groups of workers who were allowed to climb towers without the use of safety equipment. Most jobs require safety devices anytime a worker is more than a few feet off the ground. Cellphone tower workers have been required to use safety devices when climbing for approximately 20 years.

According to a spokesperson with Puget Sound Energy, there have been a number fatalities associated with free climbing pretty much on an annual basis. It is believed that the use of fall protection could have prevented many of those incidents. Approximately 74 electrical line workers die each year from various accidents, including falls. In contrast, only 14 cellphone workers died last year as the result of accidents associated with cell towers.

Even as new regulations are put into place, many workers are still at risk of injury or death. However, in most cases, a person injured on the job is eligible to receive workers' compensation. When the worker dies, his or her survivors might be able to claim the benefits. Those who are seeking those benefits might work with a lawyer who could help guide a client through the filing process.

Source: KUOW, "Feds Ban Free Climbing By Electric Utility Workers", John Ryan, July 23, 2014

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