The Ultimate Guide to Safety in Utility Work

Utility workers face unique hazards and challenges during their work. As they handle equipment and components that could electrocute them or catch their clothes on fire, utility workers rely on their company to provide them with appropriate equipment and gear. It's also important for a company to set clear safety procedures for crew members to follow and create a work environment encouraging safety.

With high costs and productivity losses often associated with utility work, you may want to consider ways you can improve your crew's safety. Learn more about the need for safety at utility work sites and some of the most common hazards utility workers face. Additionally, it's often a good idea to understand the best safety standards and practices workers should be following.

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Why Safety Is Needed in Utility Work

Utility workers have a fairly dangerous job. The work often requires crew members to do tasks high off the ground. Additionally, crew members regularly work with electrical components and parts that could electrocute them. The Bureau of Labor Statistics collected data on the utility sector and found 2.2 percent of all utility workers faced injuries and illnesses in 2019. Additionally, they found that there were close to 200 total deaths from 2015 to 2019.

While it's likely that some injuries and illnesses will affect utility workers every year, companies can take steps to reduce the rate of injury and death. Besides the concerns of wanting to keep employees safe, using greater safety standards can also reduce the frequency of workers' compensation claims and save your company money. Utility work standards also help companies keep their workforce fully staffed and able to handle tasks efficiently, instead of having to run on a skeleton crew while workers recover.

 

Most Common Utility Work Hazards

Utility crews often work in roadways and other busy locations that could lead to accidents. Various hazards and bad practices commonly lead to injuries. The first step of keeping your workers safe is to be aware of the dangers utility workers regularly face.

Review some of the top hazards for utility workers below:

1. Tripping, Slipping and Falling

Utility work sites regularly feature potentially hazardous surfaces and conditions that can result in slips, trips and falls. If a utility worker falls, slips or trips in a dangerous environment, they could be seriously injured. These injuries can cost the company money in workers' compensation claims and prevent key members from working on a job while recovering.

The fall and winter can be especially dangerous to workers. Falling leaves and icy surfaces can lead to workers slipping. Additionally, if a worker is doing work overhead on a platform, icy conditions and other slippery surfaces could cause them to fall while working high over the ground. Fallen leaves and snow can hide potholes and other potential obstructions, leading to workers tripping.

Improper equipment use can also cause trips, slips and falls. For instance, some utility workers will use a ladder as a scaffold or a bridge. These improper uses of a ladder are much more likely to cause a worker to fall. Additionally, sometimes workers don't wear the right equipment, especially non-slip-resistant shoes, which leads to more employees slipping on the work site.

2. Not Using PPE

Another cause for concern during utility work is a company that doesn't have strict PPE (personal protective equipment) requirements. Since utility work can be dangerous, companies must outfit their crew members with the appropriate gear. Not wearing the appropriate work gloves, masks and goggles or glasses can lead to injuries and make accidents even more harmful to workers.

Besides not outfitting workers with specialty products like masks, gloves and glasses, some utility workers put themselves in danger by not wearing protective clothing. For instance, shirts and pants can catch on fire while workers do electrical and other types of utility work. When workers don't wear fire-retardant uniforms, they put themselves at more risk of injury in the event of a thermal or electrical fire. If a company doesn't provide these uniforms and mandate their use, they can be held responsible for injuries.

Additionally, electric shocks can occur when workers don't wear clothing with a high enough arc rating. Not wearing the appropriately rated clothing while working with high voltage can lead to serious injury and even death. Not mandating mask-wearing in certain situations can also be an issue if a utility worker is handling materials that can be inhaled, potentially making a worker sick.

3. Failing to Check the Weather

The weather isn't controllable, but companies can ensure they keep an eye on it. Since utility workers do most of their work outdoors, weather can be a major factor in the safety of a work site. For instance, an overcast or foggy day can be a safety issue if a company is working on a busy road. If workers don't have reflective vests or proper lighting at their work site, the chance of an accident increases.

Another common challenge results in the winter when it's snowing, or the ground is icy. A company that doesn't account for icy conditions can put their workers in danger of slipping and falling. Additionally, colder seasons can be a problem if companies don't outfit their workers with warmer gear. Likewise, hotter seasons can lead to workers overheating in their uniforms if a company doesn't provide breathable clothing to their crews.

Thunderstorms and rainy days can also be dangerous. After all, it's not a great idea to do electrical work while there's lightning close by. When companies don't check the weather and have a plan of action, they put their workers at risk.

4. Electrocution

One of the most common dangers to a utility worker's safety is electrocution. Workers who aren't aware of overhead wires can be put in harm's way when operating large, heavy machinery. Additionally, workers who aren't trained to follow safety standards from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) might take greater risks and not handle sensitive electrical work properly.

Additionally, using the wrong equipment can raise the chances that an employee accidentally touches energized equipment and components. This accidental contact can shock and injure them. Improper practices and equipment on a work site can also cause workers to contact energized conductors featuring a grounded surface. Without the proper equipment and protective gear, this sort of contact can also cause injuries.

Another primary danger in electrocution occurs when a company doesn't use covers on conductors and wires. These covers provide a barrier to the flow of electrical current. Some companies don't provide their workers with enough covers, forcing them to move covers constantly while they work. This constant movement of covers can cause workers to make mistakes or try to complete a job without using enough covers to do their work safely.

5. Non-Reporting of Workplace Hazards

Utility worker injuries are often the result of negligence. Companies that don't encourage employees to report potential hazardous practices can foster a dangerous environment where employees cut corners or conduct tasks incorrectly. Some companies will overlook improper practices due to the time and money these practices might generate in the short term, even though they put their employees at risk.

While some companies have a method for employees to report safety hazards, they sometimes don't encourage it. Some companies even create a culture that discourages reporting. As a result, workers don't feel comfortable reporting on hazards or believe their reports would be ineffective. Common items that go unreported include the lack of proper PPE, hazard communication standards, fall protection and proper equipment.

 

Tips for Utility Work Safety

With all of the hazards utility workers have to contend with, many utility companies implement strict safety practices to keep their workers as safe as possible. Some common safety practices include workers changing their pace to the terrain, using equipment that stops falls, wearing appropriate clothing and preventing inadvertent electrocutions with proper equipment and procedures. By putting the right safety practices in place, companies can protect their workers from injury and keep the work site running smoothly.

Check out the top tips for improving safety in utility work below:

Adjust Pace to Terrain

When utility workers face conditions that could lead to tripping, falling and slipping, it's a good idea for them to change their pace. By slowing down and assessing the environment, workers can better spot hazards and avoid slipping on ice or tripping on uneven terrain. If the ground's covered in leaves or snow, workers might try to slide their feet across the ground so they don't accidentally step on something dangerous.

Take Steps to Prevent Falls

One of the most common causes of falls is the improper use of a ladder. Workers should never use a ladder as a scaffold or bridge, with the rule strictly enforced. Additionally, workers should be trained on how to use any ladder they're given, and they should only ever place the ladder on a solid, even surface. Utility workers should also use ladders with slip-resistant feet.

Alongside making sure workers are using ladders properly, companies can also protect against falling by implementing fall protection systems at the work site. These systems keep a worker safe in the event of a fall and should be required. Anytime crew members enter a potentially dangerous location, they should use a fall protection system to keep them safe. Any platform off the ground should also be kept clean and free from hazards that could cause a worker to trip or fall.

Outfit Workers With the Right PPE and Clothing

Top utility companies outfit their workers with the right PPE for the type of work they do. Common pieces of PPE include fire-resistant shirts, coveralls and pants. Additionally, companies often provide their workers with face protection, gloves and boots. To know what type of clothing utility workers require, companies often evaluate the types of hazards workers will be exposed to and then provide clothing that meets those hazards.

Learn more about some of the primary tips companies follow to ensure their utility workers are outfitted with the right equipment:

  • Evaluate work sites: To select the right PPE for their workers, a company can start by evaluating the job site where crew members will be doing tasks. In this evaluation, a company should pay special attention to whether workers will be exposed to electric arcs and flames. A proper evaluation also regularly estimates the amount of electric arc or heat energy a staff member will be exposed to.
  • Wear flame-resistant clothing: If the evaluation finds that employees will be working in an environment where electric arcs or flames are possible hazards, workers should never wear clothing that can melt onto the skin. Additionally, they should avoid clothing that ignites easily and is likely to continue to burn when it catches fire. When flames are more likely to occur, many companies provide their employees with flame-resistant outer clothing to protect them better.
  • Use clothes made to handle electric arcs: Companies often give their workers arc-rated clothing and equipment to protect them against electric arcs. This clothing and equipment should be equal to or greater than the estimated electric arcs or heat energy the workers could encounter.
  • Give workers season-appropriate clothing: To prevent workers from freezing or overheating, companies also regularly provide their crew members with season-appropriate clothing. The clothing should still provide the flame and electrical resistance needed to do the job while also keeping them comfortable.

Keep an Eye on the Weather

Since the weather can be dangerous to workers, supervisors should regularly check the weather. If the weather could present a safety hazard to workers, supervisors should take action to make the work site safer. Reflective gear can be helpful on darker days, and using signage on busy roadways can help drivers slow down and be aware a team is working. Additionally, requiring certain clothing for the weather is another way supervisors can keep their workers comfortable and safe.

Put Procedures in Place to Prevent Electrocution

Preventing workers from electrocution while on a job is one of the biggest concerns for companies. Instructing workers on how to avoid electrocution can reduce the risk significantly. This instruction can include information about avoiding overhead wires while using heavy machinery. Training on OSHA safety standards is also essential, as it prepares workers for how they should handle electrical equipment properly and work with electrical components.

As mentioned before, workers should have arc-resistant uniforms and equipment. Utility crew members also need equipment that prevents them from accidentally touching energized equipment and parts. Proper equipment also keeps workers from making contact with energized conductors featuring a grounded surface.

Cover-ups are also crucial for safety. Companies wanting to keep their workers safe on the job will provide them with enough covers so workers don't have to move them while doing their tasks. A good supervisor will evaluate the job site and ensure their crew has enough cover-up equipment before beginning their work.

Encourage Reporting of Workplace Hazards

Companies that encourage their workers to report workplace hazards do a much better job keeping their staff safe. Workers should have a clear procedure for reporting others who break safety rules and for expressing safety concerns on a work site, like improper gear or damaged equipment. Supervisors and others on the management team should make it clear they want to receive safety complaints and make job sites safer.

After receiving a safety complaint, a company should also act on it. Simply encouraging reporting isn't adequate, as employees need to know their concerns are being addressed. If the complaint is valid, a company should resolve the issue quickly and adequately.

Encouraging reporting of workplace hazards can also save the company from OSHA investigations. If management ignores complaints, a worker can go directly to OSHA, filing an anonymous complaint with them. Once OSHA receives the complaint, they'll send an inspector to the company to investigate their practices. If the OSHA investigator determines the company is negligent, they can force the workplace to make needed changes.

Keep in mind that common OSHA violations include unsafe ladders, improper eyewear, a lack of proper hazard communication standards and insufficient fall protection. Proactively addressing possible violations can also help reduce the number of reports and complaints a company receives.

 

The Importance of High-Quality Utility Equipment for Safety

High-quality utility equipment is crucial to safety. Malfunctioning equipment can lead to injured employees and damages at the work site. Additionally, using utility equipment for a task it's not designed for can cause injuries as employees try to complete dangerous tasks. The Cat® Rental Store understands just how important safe and reliable equipment is for utility workers. As a result, we provide our customers with equipment that has their backs.

We thoroughly inspect every machine you rent from us to ensure it runs at peak operating condition. We also keep our machines well-maintained so our clients don't have to work with damaged equipment that could put workers at risk. In the unlikely event of a mechanical breakdown, we offer on-site emergency services to get you back up and running fast, without having to consider using equipment that's not working appropriately.

 

Top Utility Equipment From The Cat® Rental Store

As you search for equipment, The Cat Rental Store can help you find the best equipment for your work site. There are several options to choose from, making it easy for you to rent a piece of equipment that meets the exact needs of a job. Some of the most popular pieces of utility equipment include digger derricks, boom lifts and pipelayers.

Digger Derricks

Sometimes, workers need to put in new utility poles. When the work site calls for new posts, a digger derrick rental is a great option, as it's designed to dig deep post holes to keep the posts secure in the ground. Besides the standard options, you can also find mini digger derrick rentals for times when you need to dig post holes in hard-to-maneuver areas.

Boom Lifts

When workers need to do electrical work high off of the ground, boom lifts are some of the best options. Articulating boom lifts have platform heights ranging from 30 to 120 feet so you can rent a boom lift that's tall enough for your needs. Straight boom lifts can even reach up to 180 feet for especially high jobs. With all of the boom lifts offered, you'll never face a utility height challenge you can't solve.

Pipelayers

When a company needs to do pipe-laying work, pipelayer rentals are an excellent choice. These machines are designed to pick up heavy pipes and place them in an appropriate location safely. They come in different lift capacities and horsepower options, so you can always have the power you need for a job.

Choose The Cat Rental Store for Your Utility Equipment Needs

With all of the equipment that The Cat Rental Store can provide your company, you may want to check out our offerings. We're proud to offer rental equipment to companies that have a surge of work or only need equipment temporarily. Our local dealers work closely with companies to help them find the right equipment rentals for their needs at a cost-effective price.

Browse our utility equipment rentals today. If you have any questions or need help finding a piece of equipment, locate your local Caterpillar branch to get in contact with a knowledgeable representative.

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