Electric companies brace for new worker safety rules

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The new rules would update more than 40-year-old construction industry standards for power line workers, one of the nation’s most dangerous jobs.

The effort stretches back to 2003, when OSHA reviewed a report on how new rules might affect small businesses. The agency proposed new power line standards in 2005, which would add requirements for equipment and construction of the lines, giving workers space to do their jobs and technicians’ clothing and training.

“It’s a very comprehensive rule, which I believe is one of the reasons that it’s been in the making for so long,” Miller said.

She added that her organization, which represents investor-owned electric companies, supports the effort to rewrite the rules but has had some disagreements about specific provisions.

The new standards are necessary, the OSHA said in its proposal, to account for significant changes that have occurred since the rules were issued in 1971.

The agency wrote that current standards “are out of date and are not consistent with the more recent, corresponding rules for the operation and maintenance of electric power transmission and distribution systems.” 

The OSHA predicted the new rule would prevent about 19 deaths and 116 injuries a year, adding up to a $135 million benefit. It would cost about $33.9 million per year.

The rule has been stalled under review at the White House’s budget office since last summer, and is now months overdue.

During the government shutdown, most workers at both the budget office and the OSHA have been furloughed, and their rulemaking efforts have been stalled. 

In its semi-annual roadmap for new regulations, the Obama administration expected the final rule to be issued last March.