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Electrical Safety on the Job
Thursday, Jul 20th, 2017
Working with or around electricity exposes employees to dangers such as electric shock, fires and explosions. Fortunately, most of these dangers can be easily prevented if employees are trained to identify and avoid electrical hazards.
Electricity is all around us
Electricity exists all around us in one form or another. It lights our homes, brews our coffee, and powers the machines and tools we use to do our jobs. It makes our lives easier in many ways, but it can also pose some serious hazards. Some employees work with electricity directly, such as engineers, electricians and power line workers, and they face some of the greatest hazards. Others, such as office workers and cashiers work with electricity indirectly, but they can still face hazards from equipment that is malfunctioning or used improperly.
All workers are at risk for electrical injuries on the job. Tools and equipment with damaged or exposed wiring can cause shock, burn and fire hazards. Shocks can also cause workers to fall and injure themselves. Machines powered by electricity can also injure workers if they startup unexpectedly due to improper lockout/tagout procedures, or if they malfunction due to an electrical surge or short. Electricians and maintenance personnel who must work on energized equipment or around high voltage equipment face additional hazards. They have a higher risk of receiving a severe shock, and are also at risk from arc-flash injuries.
Electrical hazards from tools
Most electrical accidents tend to be caused by either unsafe equipment or unsafe work practices by employees. There are several signs that an electrical fixture could pose a hazard. Any tripped circuit breakers or blown fuses can indicate that there’s too much current flowing through the circuit. If tools, wires or other equipment are unusually warm after use, that could also be a sign of too much current. Wet conditions could cause an electrical hazard where one may not have existed before. A cord with broken insulation or a cord not rated or listed for wet locations can cause a shock hazard if it’s used in a wet location. Finally, if any insulation around wires or connections is worn or frayed, the exposed wiring can be a shock risk.
Electrical hazards from wiring
When conductors are too small to carry the current within them, they can overheat, damaging the insulation or even causing it to fail. For example, if you’re using a portable drill with an extension cord that is too small, the drill will draw more current than the cord can handle. This can cause the cord to overheat and start a fire. If there are too many devices plugged into an outlet, the combined electrical current can cause wires to heat up. If conductor insulation heats up enough to melt, current could arc and cause the circuit breaker to trip, which could also lead to fire.
Working on live equipment or energized parts can be particularly hazardous. Live parts must be properly de-energized and locked and tagged out before work can be performed on the equipment. If equipment absolutely cannot be de-energized for some reason, only qualified employees may work on the equipment. They must use appropriate insulated tools and equipment, and all unqualified employees must be kept away from the area while the work is being performed. Any entrances to guarded locations must be marked with warning signs to prevent unqualified employees from entering the area, and all areas containing energized parts must be properly lit so that workers can see to work safely.
Overhead power lines can also pose a significant hazard. Overhead power lines are usually not insulated, which makes them a dangerous shock hazard. Any time workers will be near overhead lines, the lines should be de-energized, or guarded so that they can’t be touched accidentally. Only qualified workers may perform any work on or within 10 feet of unguarded, energized power lines, and they must use special insulated tools and PPE.
Electricity is incredibly useful and is found in almost every aspect of our daily lives. Unfortunately it can also be very dangerous if proper precautions are not followed, so it is vital that workers understand the risks and the importance of following the rules.
If you would like more information about electrical safety on the job, a great place to start is OSHA’s Safety and Health Topic spotlight on electricity.
Another great resource is this topic spotlight from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, or NIOSH.
Finally, the National Fire Protection Association, or NFPA, provides some great information about preventing electrical fires at home and on the job.