Health & Safety in the Utilities Industry Case Study

Reducing risk when working at height on high voltage transformers, a case study


In 2017, our Coyle Group consultant observed a safety risk at our client’s workplace, related to high voltage (HV) transformers whilst undertaking a site visit for a separate piece of work. Network Technicians were working on HV transformers without having the required control measures and were consequently exposed to a risk of falling from a height. Our consultant raised this risk with the local and senior managers at our client’s workplace.

Legal Compliance

Not only was this an unsafe practice, putting employees and contractors at risk, but additionally the ‘Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Applications) Regulations 2007, Part 4 – Work at Heights’ was at risk of being breached.

Establishing a working group

A high voltage working group was then established. A Coyle Group safety consultant was invited to join the group. The working group’s role was to develop solutions to mitigate or eliminate the falls from a height risk that had been identified with the older high voltage transformers. The Coyle Group consultant played a critical role in the group, acting as the health and safety specialist, providing risk assessments, legislations expertise and safety insight from other sectors and industries.

Further Investigation

This prompted a closer look at working practices, which showed that a safe system of work on older HV transformers was not in place. The older high voltage transformers did not have a manufactured designed proprietary guard rail system or fall arrest anchorage system attached.

Finding the right solution

Over the next year, the working group trialled a few possible solutions to mitigate the risk. It was not an easy risk to address as there was no available solution specifically designed for these older transformers.

Additionally, constraints around the way these transformers work and have been designed, made it even more difficult. For example, because these transformers only have limited outage durations (1-2 days) it may not be practical to erect scaffolding around the whole perimeter of the transformer. Also, access to these transformers can be difficult, making other sorts of scaffolding impractical and anchor points for safety systems away from leading edges can be limited.

A lifeline anchor system, a type of fall arrest temporary horizontal lifeline system, that works by anchoring to existing lifting eyes on HV transformers, was eventually found to be the best solution.

Coyle Group was at the clients side throughout the development of the solution, attending site visits and trials across Ireland, assessing whether the proposed solution would sufficiently improve the safety of the sites and reduce exposure to breach of legislation.


Horizontal lifeline system

A temporary horizontal lifeline system allows an individual to attach his/her retractable lanyard to a fall arrest lifeline. This ensures that the user is fully secured to the system at all times. Once secure, the user can move freely to perform work tasks while being totally secured to a fall arrest system. During trials, the working group identified an additional safety requirement – the need for a rescue plan in the event of a fall and suspension in a harness. So, once a fall arrest system was selected, a rescue plan was developed and put in place by the working group. With a new fall arrest system and rescue plan in place, it was clear that the business also needed a clear and documented national working procedure so that network technicians work in a consistently safe and controlled manner whilst aloft on an HV transformer. The working group established a national procedure, which was reviewed and approved by the clients senior manager and implemented nationwide. Our consultant was a key contributor to this procedure, developing content within it, answering management questions and being part of the final presentation team to senior managers.

A safer national working practice

Over the course of this work, Coyle Group played a pivotal role in the client’s working group to plan, implement and assure the following:

  • temporary horizonal lifeline systems nationwide
  • a rescue plan
  • a new procedure for installation and use of the system

These actions reduce the risk of falling from a height and thus significantly improve the safety of Network Technicians working on high voltage transformers. It gives their staff and contractors the confidence that their safety is protected.
The client can now clearly demonstrate that they have put measures in place for their technicians to work safely and securely as per the general application regulations.

Examples of Work

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