The U.S. Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration has proposed performance-oriented rules to better protect 660,000 employees of electric utilities and related services from electric shock and falls.

The proposal covers work practices for the operation and maintenance of electric power generation, transmission and distribution facilities. OSHA is proposing that it apply only to electric utilities.However, consideration is being given to extending the scope of all electric power generation, transmission and distribution installations.

Although separate regulations cover construction workers and telecommunications workers who face similar hazards, current OSHA standards do not adequately address the hazards faced by utility workers, department officials said.

"These workers encounter far greater electrical hazards because of higher voltages and more frequent exposure to energized lines and equipment," an official statement said.

OSHA officials estimate that full compliance with the proposal will prevent 24 to 28 of the 68 to 75 fatalities of the covered workers and also prevent 3,260 injuries. Electric shock accounts for about 50 percent of the serious injuries to workers in the electrical industry.