In early 2006, the Colorado Springs Utilities' (SU; Colorado Springs, Colorado) safety and health department reviewed a new fall-protection mast for the top of the 112 transformers in its substation system. By investing in a new mast, the utility had the opportunity to improve the overall safety of working on top of transformers.

A manufacturer's representative presented the details of the product to the utility, and both the substation crews and management embraced the tool and the opportunity. The safety and health and substation departments began working with Unique Concepts Ltd. (UCL), a division of DBI-SALA & PROTECTA (Red Wing, Minnesota), to incorporate the new device to the existing system.

The weld shop designed and built the existing fall-protection system in-house. All 112 transformers have a 12-inch-tall mount welded on the top and in the middle or edge of all transformers where the fall-protection-system mast is attached. This mount was specified to the transformer manufacturers for installation on all new transformers purchased. SU installed the mount on all existing transformers in service.

Because the old mast was 6 ft long and made of high-speed steel (HSS), it was awkward and heavy to carry and place on top of the transformer. Substation department personnel can now slide the 6-ft mast onto the 12-inch mount. On the top of the mast are two D-rings for attaching self-retracting lifelines or lanyards.

Design and Testing

UCL had never tested the system to rated capacities for a fall arrest. During the evaluation phase of the mounts, the company conducted tests on the 6-ft HSS mast as it would normally rest on the mount. The goal of these tests was to determine if the existing mounts would support the loads experienced by a fall and subsequent arrest.

After the tests verified the mounts would meet the requirements of the post, the company then developed a sleeve that would act as the new mount for the new post. This new sleeve incorporated the steel anchor plate, which was attached to the mast.

Moving forward, the substation department has provided the specs to the transformer manufacturers for installation of the new anchor plate. This plate will be installed on all new transformers in at least one to three different locations based on the size and layout of the transformer. This will eliminate the need for the custom-made sleeve. Over time, the substation department crews will attempt to swap out the existing SU mount with the anchor plate on existing systems, again to eliminate the need of the custom sleeve.

The anchor plate also features a D-ring on the base. This allows workers to tie off on to the base while they attach and secure the UCL post. Once the post is secure, they can tie off on to the post on one of the three rotating D-rings with their self-retracting lifeline.

Since the substation department implemented the new system, the employees use the system 100% of the time, because they feel it is easier to use. The post system allows for up to three workers to be anchored off at the same time using any one of the three D-rings. Each D-ring has a 360-degree working zone. The mast also has four extensions with the lowest being 32 inches tall and the tallest being 57 inches.

SU purchased eight of the sleeves incorporating the UCL mounting plate and four of the posts. Because the sleeves were custom-made, the group bought enough to have sufficient quantities on hand for use by the various substation department crews at any given time. As all of the existing mounts are replaced with the new anchor plate, these custom sleeves will no longer be needed.

Dedicated to Workplace Safety

Substation work crews take safety very seriously, and SU is no exception. The entire department has embraced the new fall-protection system and procedures.

When working on top of a transformer, employees are exposed to fall risks that exceed the Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA) 6-ft rule. In some of these situations and circumstances, OSHA requires 100% fall protection. SU is not regulated by OSHA, because the utility is a municipality; however, SU's goal is to meet or exceed OSHA work practices at all times.

Another example of the support and dedication of the department to fall-protection improvement has occurred with lattice-structure climbing. In February 2006, the substation department implemented a 100% tie-off policy when climbing lattice structures. Following the fall-protection user training, SU conducted a lattice-structure climbing certification for all substation department personnel. The intent of this hands-on certification is to ensure the employees are proficient in the use of the lattice structure climbing fall-protection systems.

All SU employees who use fall-protection systems are required to attend a fall-protection user course, which covers fall-protection requirements, equipment, limitations and inspections. The substation department personnel conduct training within their crews on the application and use of the new system for new employees.

Implementation of these fall-protection improvements has been very successful. The entire department has embraced the new procedures. This has been evident in the fact that the substation personnel never have to be reminded to install and use the safety mast and fall-restraint gear. Change is always a time of growth and learning, but the successful implementation of these fall-protection best practices is a tribute of their dedication to workplace safety.

Tom Mull, a safety engineering supervisor, has been employed by Colorado Springs Utilities for more than five years. He earned his bachelor's degree in occupational safety from Illinois State University and has been in the field of occupational safety and health for 12 years. He has experience in electrical generation, transmission and distribution, water collection, treatment and distribution, wastewater collection and treatment, and gas distribution operations. He has participated in the OSHA Voluntary Protection Program (VPP), reached the VPP Merit and coordinated VPP efforts for eight previous work-site facilities.