2022 Plans

2022 annual research portfolio

Key Research Question

Because electricity distribution involves multiple risks for public and utility workers, utilities put in place many risk-reducing procedures and processes. Improvements are always possible; new practices, protective approaches, equipment, tools, and technologies must be assessed carefully to evaluate the impact on worker and public safety. The goal of this research is to evaluate risks, protective approaches, and protective equipment. New technologies to improve safety are also considered. Key research areas include grounding and personnel protection, arc flash, and downed conductors.


The operation of distribution circuits exposes workers and the public to hazards, including contact to energized objects (shock), arc flash from a system fault (burns), and step-and-touch voltages. This project aims to focus on these risks with research on:

  • Grounding and personnel protection
  • Arc flash analysis and protection
  • Detection and reduction of live downed conductors
  • Stray and contact voltage
  • Manhole events
  • Evaluation and use of protective equipment
  • Technologies to improve worker safety
  • Work methods impacting worker safety


Research will be provided in multiple forms, including:

  • Results from experimentation and analysis
  • Reference guides, practical manuals, and training videos
  • Workshops, meetings, and webcasts

This project examines the safety of utility workers and the public while they are on or near utility distribution equipment. Focus areas include work methods, equipment, and technologies to help utilities improve safety. The Safety research project for 2021 consists of the following tasks:

  • Grounding and Personnel Protection: In 2020, EPRI produced a grounding and personnel protection guide. This research covers many areas of grounding and personnel protection, including overhead scenarios, underground scenarios, and vehicle contacts. The plan for this area is to extend this guidebook to cover grounding distribution lines in the vicinity of transmission lines. An app to model different grounding and personnel-protection approaches for overhead systems is also planned for the grounding guide. A training video for vehicle grounding is also planned.

  • Downed Conductor Prevention and Detection: Downed conductors remain a challenge for electric utilities. EPRI has investigated and evaluated various approaches to downed conductor detection, including electrical measurement, high-speed signal processing, and methods based on advanced metering infrastructure (AMI). This led to a Web-based reference guide in 2020. In 2021, plans are to extend this with updates on pilots from members and laboratory tests of new technologies for detecting downed conductors. Other plans are to test the performance of mobile detection of backfeed locations to AMI meters. Backfeeds from distributed generation to downed conductors are an increasing safety hazard to the public.

  • Arc Flash: Arc flash is a hazard to workers, and an effective worker-protection program involves many facets that touch on work methods, personnel protective equipment, system protection, and analysis. In 2020, EPRI produced an arc-flash guidebook that covers recent changes in the industry, including a new version of IEEE 1584 (“Guide for Performing Arc-Flash Hazard Calculations”) and upcoming updates to the National Electrical Safety Code. For 2021, EPRI plans to add application examples and a calculation guide for dc arc flash for photovoltaic systems. EPRI also plans to develop a training video on arc flash.

  • Protective Equipment: Utility workers rely on many types of protective equipment to enhance their safety, including insulating gloves and sleeves, hotsticks, rope, flame-resistant clothing, insulating boots, and more. In 2021, EPRI intends to produce a personnel-protection guide and database.

  • Technology for Workers: EPRI intends to continue to investigate digital systems to improve safety for workers. One approach is to use images to verify good usage of insulating covers and otherwise identify safety issues on structures. This could be based on image processing, artificial intelligence, or other advanced technologies.

  • Safety Impacts of 5G Telecom Equipment: In 2020, EPRI evaluated safety and work-method impacts associated with the rollout of 5G telecommunications equipment in the primary and telecommunications space. Based on the issues identified, EPRI plans to coordinate with Program 62 (Occupational Health and Safety) and Project 180.001 (Overhead Assets) to provide updated guidance for telecom attachments based on work to quantify radio-frequency emissions and impacts on structures (clearances and pole loadings, for example).

  • Practices: The task force for this project has identified issues related to abandoning underground infrastructure. EPRI plans to work with the task force to identify the main issues and compare options.

Research will be provided in multiple forms, including:

  • Results from experimentation and analysis
  • Reference guides, practical manuals, and training videos
  • Workshops, meetings, and webcasts

Research Value

These research tasks can help utilities improve safety for the public and utility workers. Specifically, the research results could help utilities:

  • Improve grounding approaches
  • Improve public and worker safety through leading approaches for downed conductor detection
  • Reduce hazards to workers from arc flash
  • Better use protective cover-up
  • Protect workers from contact to energized lines by enabling technology to reinforce better practices for line coverings
  • Effectively implement voltage-detection technologies to warn of hazards
Last modified July 22, 2020