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Electric utility workers banned from free climbing

In April, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration revealed new safety regulations for electric utility workers that prohibit them from free climbing. Under this practice, electrical workers climb up power poles without a safety harness to protect them from falling along the way. The new rules were implemented as of July 2014 in every U.S. state, including Illinois.

Federal law requires that employees in most occupations wear harnesses or some type of safety equipment while climbing. These regulations have reportedly been in place for cellphone tower workers since the mid-1990s. However, electric utility workers have been allowed to climb transmission towers without safety gear.

There are around 110,000 workers in the United States who install and repair power lines, towers and poles. OSHA statistics show that an average of 74 workers die every year from multiple causes, including falling and electrocution. The agency estimates that 20 lives will be saved every year if electric companies and contractors comply with the new regulations by April 2015. There is reported concern about full compliance; although cellphone tower workers have been required to wear safety equipment for nearly 20 years, ProPublica reports that 14 people died in accidents in 2013.

Injured workers and families of those who perish on the job could be entitled to benefits under workers' compensation insurance. Injured employees in Illinois could receive medical care, temporary total or partial disability and permanent total or partial disability benefits. They might also receive benefits for vocational rehabilitation and maintenance. The families of deceased workers may receive burial benefits of up to $8,000.

Source: Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission, 'Handbook On Workers' Compensation And Occupational Diseases"

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

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