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Risks, hazards hide in confined spaces for novice and veteran utility crews, Public Power reports

From the April 5, 2013 issue of Public Power Daily

Originally published April 5, 2013

Confined spaces pose safety challenges and hazards for even the experienced worker, according to a recent article for Public Power magazine.

While new workers may be unfamiliar with all the hazards associated with confined spaces, veterans of the trade risk complacency that can lead to tragedies, so utilities need to make sure all workers know and adhere to all of the requirements every time they work in confined spaces, writes William Atkinson in the magazine article.

"When I worked on the investor-owned side, we had underground crews and overhead crews," said Mike Hyland, APPA senior vice president of engineering services. "The overhead crews went around in bucket trucks. The underground crews went around in what we called 'bread trucks.'"

While large utilities delegate duties throughout larger staffs, many public power utilities have only a few people to handle the overhead and underground: lineworkers. Problems can arise when workers who spend most of their time climbing poles occasionally have to do some work underground.

"Since they don't specialize in it, they aren't experts, and they often don't realize all of the things that can happen and that need to be done," Hyland said.

The APPA Safety Manual and the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration have definitions and best practices assigned for confined spaces. Both note that an enclosed space is different and perhaps less risky, as confined spaces contain or have the potential to contain a hazardous atmosphere.

The hazards are not always obvious.

"When a guy goes down into a vault, he doesn't know what's in there," said Hyland.

Learn more about safe practices in confined spaces in the article, "Confined spaces harbor hidden challenges, hazards," posted on

Subscriptions to the electronic and print editions of Public Power and all other APPA periodicals are free to all employees and governing board members of APPA member utilities and associate members. An online subscription signup form is on


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Senior Vice President, Publishing 
Jeanne Wickline LaBella

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