PREPA allows equipment certification to expire at the height of hurricane season
By The Star Staff
The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) is allowing the annual certification of the machines that test gloves and safety equipment used by repairmen to expire, a situation that will prevent employees from being able to restore power service quickly, the union that represents most of the utility’s workforce said Tuesday.
The situation was denounced in a statement by Walberto Rolón, the secretary of health and safety of the Electrical Industry & Irrigation Workers Union (UTIER by its Spanish acronym). The certification has been expired since March.
Rolón accused PREPA of allowing the certificates to expire as part of a plan to justify the multi-million-dollar contract given to LUMA Energy to manage and operate the utility’s transmission and distribution system.
“PREPA’s administration once again demonstrates its lack of commitment to the service provided to the country by disabling its workers from restoring electricity service in the middle of the hurricane season and allowing its certification to expire since March,” Rolón said. “The machine is vital, both to protect the lives of workers and to quickly restore service. We are not at all surprised that this reckless act is a ruse to justify Luma’s [exorbitant] contract, burden consumers with delays in restoring power service, and leave the way open for LUMA.”
Rolón noted that PREPA only has two of the high-voltage testing machines (manufactured by Hanco International) to test and certify that the gloves and protective equipment of employees are safe to use and resist the high voltage of energized lines. One of these machines has had an expired certification since 2017 and the other, which is located in Monacillos, expired on March 7 of this year.
He also said that starting next week the utility’s guards and other personnel will not be able to use any of the safety gloves, since the six-month period since the last test was carried out expires. The union also filed a complaint with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
“On September 7, the last test that was done on the gloves with the certified machine expires,” Rolón said. “From next week on there will be no certified gloves to use due to the Authority’s irresponsibility in letting this annual certification … expire. Queruel Díaz, the supervisor of the testing machine, kept the expiration of the certification hidden and kept conducting tests without the machine being certified with the standards that are needed for the equipment to protect life and property. For such action, we filed a complaint with OSHA for putting at risk the lives of over a thousand workers.”
The UTIER official said PREPA personnel work on faults in energized power lines, so it is extremely important for the testing machines to be in operation so that the equipment can be tested and certified as safe and secure. The tests help protect workers from voltage running through the power lines while a fault is being repaired.
“The operation of this machine is vital. We are talking about the lives of men and women who day by day repair breakdowns with fully energized cables,” Rolon said. “This situation not only puts the lives of the Authority’s employees at risk, it also puts the country’s electrical system at risk because a fault that can be fixed with the use of the equipment will now take longer because it is not possible to work with the energized line and a job that before could be solved in hours, now it could take days because there is no protective equipment … so that people are bothered by not having electricity and continue to justify the hiring of Luma.”