Occupational Safety and Health Administration OSHA

Back to Standard (1910.269)

This is the version of 29 CFR 1910.269 that was in effect on April 11, 2014. As of July 10, 2014, this version of 29 CFR 1910.269 is no longer in effect. In accordance with OSHA's temporary enforcement policy dated June 20, 2014, compliance with this version of 29 CFR 1910.269 will be accepted as compliance with the current versions of 29 CFR 1910.269 and 29 CFR 1926, Subpart V through October 31, 2014.

• Part Number: 1910
• Part Title: Occupational Safety and Health Standards
• Subpart: R
• Subpart Title: Special Industries
• Standard Number: 1910.269 App C
• Title: Protection from Step and Touch Potentials.

Appendix C to §1910.269 -- Protection From Step and Touch Potentials

I. Introduction

When a ground fault occurs on a power line, voltage is impressed on the "grounded" object faulting the line. The voltage to which this object rises depends largely on the voltage on the line, on the impedance of the faulted conductor, and on the impedance to "true," or "absolute," ground represented by the object. If the object causing the fault represents a relatively large impedance, the voltage impressed on it is essentially the phase-to-ground system voltage. However, even faults to well grounded transmission towers or substation structures can result in hazardous voltages.(1) The degree of the hazard depends upon the magnitude of the fault current and the time of exposure.

II. Voltage-Gradient Distribution

A. Voltage-Gradient Distribution Curve

The dissipation of voltage from a grounding electrode (or from the grounded end of an energized grounded object) is called the ground potential gradient. Voltage drops associated with this dissipation of voltage are called ground potentials. Figure 1 is a typical voltage-gradient distribution curve (assuming a uniform soil texture). This graph shows that voltage decreases rapidly with increasing distance from the grounding electrode.

B. Step and Touch Potentials

"Step potential" is the voltage between the feet of a person standing near an energized grounded object. It is equal to the difference in voltage, given by the voltage distribution curve, between two points at different distances from the "electrode". A person could be at risk of injury during a fault simply by standing near the grounding point.

"Touch potential" is the voltage between the energized object and the feet of a person in contact with the object. It is equal to the difference in voltage between the object (which is at a distance of 0 feet) and a point some distance away. It should be noted that the touch potential could be nearly the full voltage across the grounded object if that object is grounded at a point remote from the place where the person is in contact with it. For example, a crane that was grounded to the system neutral and that contacted an energized line would expose any person in contact with the crane or its uninsulated load line to a touch potential nearly equal to the full fault voltage.

Step and touch potentials are illustrated in Figure 2.

(For Figure 1, Click Here)
(For Figure 2, Click Here)

C. Protection From the Hazards of Ground-Potential Gradients.

An engineering analysis of the power system under fault conditions can be used to determine whether or not hazardous step and touch voltages will develop. The result of this analysis can ascertain the need for protective measures and can guide the selection of appropriate precautions.

Several methods may be used to protect employees from hazardous ground-potential gradients, including equipotential zones, insulating equipment, and restricted work areas.

  1. The creation of an equipotential zone will protect a worker standing within it from hazardous step and touch potentials. (See Figure 3.) Such a zone can be produced through the use of a metal mat connected to the grounded object. In some cases, a grounding grid can be used to equalize the voltage within the grid. Equipotential zones will not, however, protect employees who are either wholly or partially outside the protected area. Bonding conductive objects in the immediate work area can also be used to minimize the potential between the objects and between each object and ground. (Bonding an object outside the work area can increase the touch potential to that object in some cases, however.)
  2. The use of insulating equipment, such as rubber gloves, can protect employees handling grounded equipment and conductors from hazardous touch potentials. The insulating equipment must be rated for the highest voltage that can be impressed on the grounded objects under fault conditions (rather than for the full system voltage).
  3. Restricting employees from areas where hazardous step or touch potentials could arise can protect employees not directly involved in the operation being performed. Employees on the ground in the vicinity of transmission structures should be kept at a distance where step voltages would be insufficient to cause injury. Employees should not handle grounded conductors or equipment likely to become energized to hazardous voltages unless the employees are within an equipotential zone or are protected by insulating equipment.

(For Figure 3, Click Here)

Footnote (1) This appendix provides information primarily with respect to employee protection from contact between equipment being used and an energized power line. The information presented is also relevant to ground faults to transmission towers and substation structures; however, grounding systems for these structures should be designed to minimize the step

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