|NOIRA on Heat Illness Prevention
|Ended on 6/9/2021
Virginia’s electric distribution cooperatives (“Virginia’s Electric Cooperatives” or the “Cooperatives”) are grateful to be consulted regarding, and have an opportunity to comment on, the Notice of Intended Regulatory Action (“NOIRA”) regarding heat illness. Certainly, heat illness has been a concern of Virginia’s General Assembly for at least the past few years, if not longer, and we are pleased to report that Virginia’s Electric Cooperatives have comprehensive safety programs in place that work to educate workers on heat illness symptoms, and to prevent and treat heat illness when it occurs. In fact, the electric utility industry as a whole is conspicuous for its absence of fatalities across the electric line worker job category, both in the 2008-2014 OSHA fatality list and the 1999-present VOSH fatality list.
The Cooperatives are comprehensively regulated in this area by the federal Rural Utilities Service, a federal government agency that prescribes, in this area, various operational safety standards (or their equivalents) by which the Cooperatives must abide. Heat illness is part of this comprehensive safety program, which includes everything from arc flashes to blood borne pathogens. Job briefings are a part of our safety culture, and during periods of extreme heat, each employee is reminded during the regular briefing on awareness and how to react. The Association of Electric Cooperatives also provides safety and training services to the Cooperatives on heat illness, among other topics. We are also willing to lend our support and experience to the Regulatory Advisory Panel that is being established on this topic and have submitted a request in that regard to DOLI’s Jay Withrow.
For decades since their founding, electric utilities have been the standard-bearers for safe workplace conduct, and the Cooperatives’ occupational safety programs are inspected annually as part of the Rural Electric Safety Achievement Program, or RESAP. Each Co-op in Virginia is RESAP-certified to meet these high standards.
We respectfully ask that the Department and the Board not doubly regulate us in this area, where we already have responsibility through the RESAP program and to a federal agency. We ask that an exemption be placed into any proposed regulation that exempts employers with preexisting heat illness training, prevention, and treatment programs—especially when those programs are required and guided by federal regulation.
Safety is part of our culture—part of everything we do as electric cooperatives. Our own industry safety regimen as mandated by other applicable state and federal law must take precedence over any DOLI standard. We have recently experienced the difficulty that can result from duplicative safety regimens competing with one another in a single workplace; we urge the Board not to impose this on us again. Thank you for your kind attention to this matter and consideration of these comments, and if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.