Electrical Safety in the Workplace

Electrical Safety in the Workplace

You would think electrical safety in the workplace would be common sense for a majority of people who work in high risk areas while on the job, yet statistics have shown otherwise. The National Institute of Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH) conducted a study in 1998 on all electrocutions that happened between 1982 and 1994. They investigated 224 electrocutions which resulted in 244 fatalities in the workplace. That is 7% of all workplace deaths during that period. Admittedly, this is sad news, but it paints a stark picture of the value of electrical safety in the workplace. Fortunately, we can learn important lessons from the discoveries of the NIOSH researchers, the most notable revelations of their investigations being:

  • Young males died the most often. Of all the victims ranging from 17-70 years of age, 99% of them were men, 64% died prior to age 35, and 99% of the incidents were associated with alternating current (AC).
  • New hires were noticeably more prevalent in electrical incidents, making up 41% of all electrocution victims. A new hire was considered someone who had been working with the company for less than a year.
  • Construction workers were the most affected, making up 40% of all electrocutions. Transportation/communication/public utility workers made up 16%, manufacturing made up 12%, and agriculture/forestry/fishing made up 11% of electrocutions.

Ironically, utility workers, or linemen, usually receive the most extensive training in electrical safety, yet they accounted for more fatal injuries than any other occupation. The sad fact is that those fatalities could have been prevented with the proper protective gear. 55% of fatalities were utility workers because they failed to wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) like gloves, sleeves, mats, and blankets.

electrical safety in the workplace

NIOSH also classified 5 different situations for the 244 fatalities:

  1. Direct worker contact with an energized power line (28%).
  2. Direct worker contact with energized equipment (21%).
  3. Boomed vehicle contact with an energized power line (18%).
  4. Incorrectly installed or damaged equipment (17%).
  5. Conductive equipment contact with an energized power line (16%).

It should be obvious that electrical safety in the workplace is definitely no laughing matter, and one of the worst things that can happen to a company is having someone die on the job. Not to mention the effect it has on friends of the victim, families of the victim, and co-workers who were unfortunate enough to be present when the incident occurred. We don’t want ANYONE to suffer through and ordeal like this, so we think it’s important for EVERYONE to brush up on their basic electrical safety practices to prevent occupational electrocution. We’ve already mentioned how even the most skilled and most trained workers have fallen victim to electrocution, so don’t take these tips lightly!!!

Basic Safe Electrical Practices to Prevent Occupational Electrocution

These are the questions EVERY supervisor and employee should ask themselves before working with electricity in the workplace.

  • Are employees given and REQUIRED to use PPE and tools when working near or around electrical threats and hazards?
  • Is there an effective tag/lockout procedure intended for work on electrical circuits and equipment?
  • Have all employees been notified of the locations of threats and hazards and have they been advised on the correct protective measures needed to avoid contact with energized circuits?
  • Are safe practices used to prevent electrical shock and other injuries? These can include de-energizing live parts, discharging capacitors, lockout, etc.
  • Are all portable electric tools and equipment double insulated or grounded?
  • Are all electrical boxes and equipment fitted with approved covers?
  • Are all damaged, frayed, or defective electrical cords immediately replaced?
  • Are you using ground fault circuit interrupters and/or assured equipment ground programs on the construction site?
  • Have electrical installations in hazardous areas been approved for those specific locations?
  • Does someone from the National Electric Code regularly come and inspect your electrical system?

Below is a PPE category level chart to reference when determining which type of PPE you should be wearing when dealing with different categories of electricity.

Electrical PPE Chart

We’ve said this before and we’ll say it again, electrical safety in the workplace is NOT TO BE TAKEN LIGHTLY! A majority of electrical incidents in the workplace happen due to ignorance, laziness, or failure to adhere to the rules, regulations, or requirements set forth by regulatory committees as well as on-site rules and industry best practices. Failure to take electrical safety seriously could result in a consequence that is definitive and irreversible. Yes, following a bunch of rules can be a hassle and tiresome, but it is a small price to pay when your life is what is at stake.

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About The Author
Brett Gordon is a writer for Safety Partners, LTD.

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