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New federal rules affect North Carolina utility workers

According to reports, the Obama Administration is addressing a common safety hazard through new rules that restrict electric utility workers from free climbing transmission towers. Most workers in jobs that require climbing must wear safety harnesses, but several electric utility companies allow free climbing. As an example, cellular tower workers have been required to use harnesses since the 1990s. It is not uncommon for utility workers to reach heights of 180 feet or more using step bolts.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration passed new rules in April to go into effect in July that restrict free climbing except in very few circumstances. Companies will have until April 2015 to comply with the new rules. According to OSHA, an average of 74 electrical workers die every year in workplace accidents. Industry experts believe that safety measures like bucket trucks and safety harnesses are quite effective. OSHA estimates that the new rules should save 20 lives a year if companies follow them.

Companies that fail to follow OSHA guidelines can create very hazardous working conditions. It's not uncommon for employees in certain professions to have a major fear of an accident on the job that leaves them unable to work. A ladder fall is an example of one type of accident for which utility workers are greatly at risk.

Workers should be able to trust their employers to comply with safety regulations. However, not every company has a commitment to worker safety. Some employers also take shortcuts to save time and money, leading to unsafe conditions for workers. When employer negligence does lead to an injury, a worker might have options beyond a standard workers' compensation claim.

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

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