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New safety law for electrical workers across the country

Minnesota residents might not know what a dangerous job it is to keep the state's electricity running, but the Occupational Safety and Health Administration does. Electrical lineworkers install and fix towers, power lines and poles by climbing up structures without safety harnesses, and this "free climbing" tactic will no longer be allowed because of a new federal law that takes effect this month.

It is safest when workers wear safety equipment during any job that involves climbing even a few feet off the ground, but electric workers have been using bolts on the legs of a towers as steps; these workers are not attached to anything until they get to their destination. There will be limited exceptions for free climbing in the future, and employers have until April 2015 to enforce this change.

Over 100,000 people are electrical lineworkers, and OSHA reported that about 74 lineworkers die on the job each year. Not every death is fall-related, but the new rule is estimated to save 20 lives per year. However, companies have been lax about following strict safety rules in the past, and the law will not help unless contractors comply with it.

Employers and workers may feel pressure to get a task done quickly by skipping safety procedures, but workers are entitled to a safe work environment. When a work accident occurs, workers' compensation can provide an employee with medical benefits and wages while the worker recovers. Employees are also protected from losing a job while injured and may receive benefits if they are permanently incapable of work after an accident.

If a company knowingly violates the free climbing law or another safety standard, a worker could file a lawsuit because of employee negligence instead of filing for workers' compensation.

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

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