All employers should plan to reduce risks with workers who may be exposed to dangerous conditions if adequate precautions are not taken. Workers that operate, perform maintenance on, install electrical equipment, or work directly with electricity are injured or killed every year due to occupational accidents involving exposure to electricity. When shortcuts are taken and safe procedures are not followed, loss of life, permanent disfigurement, lost work time, increased workers’ compensation costs, and lawsuits can occur.
When workers are asked to operate, repair or install electrical equipment, there is the threat of shock and or electrocution, arc flashes, falls, and thermal burns. Shock can occur even without physically contacting live electrical parts when there is enough voltage. It is the rate of current flowing through the body, more than anything else, which determines how severe the shock will be. Effects on the body could range from a minor shock to paralysis of vital organs such as the lungs and heart. How severely the body is affected by electric shock depends on the rate, length, and path of current flow through your body.
The rate of current flow depends on how good of a conductor of electricity the human body can be. If you have dry hands and are standing on a nonconductive surface such as a rubber mat, your body will not be a good conductor and you may not even feel the shock. However, if you have wet hands, are perspiring or standing in water, your body will become a good conductor and you may get a severe shock or be killed.
A shock can cause you to stay attached to the electrical equipment and you could receive severe internal injury. The longer the employee stays in contact, the longer the exposure to the current flow, and hence the more severe the shock. The most dangerous paths through the body are those where the current goes through vital organs. For example, current which runs from hand to hand, hand to head, or foot to hand or head and passes through vital organs can cause severe internal damage to vital organs such as the heart and lung.
Workers need to recognize and identify all the potential hazards involving their work. They need to know that the chances of being electrocuted go up when working with high voltage, around water, while sweating, and without wearing or using proper protective clothing. Before any work begins, it is important to identify and recognize if any of the hazardous conditions exist so you can take precautions.
Required safety practices specify that only qualified employees can work on electrical equipment or systems. Workers must be trained in the hazards involved and the specific techniques in their job and personal protective equipment including insulating gloves and eye protection has been issued and all necessary barriers, barricades, tags or warning signs are in place. You also need to always assume that circuits are energized unless you have locked them out and tested them to ensure they are deenergized.
Electrically powered equipment is used daily by most workers. Power tools, metal and woodworking machines, restaurant equipment, computers and many other types of electrical equipment are found in the workplace. Failure to use the equipment correctly can create hazards to employees. Generally, there are instructions from the manufacturers on the use and maintenance of each piece of equipment. Workers need to follow the instructions while using and maintaining the equipment in order to work safely. Workers also need to follow industry safe practices on how to work safely in jobs involving electrical works. The following list includes some of the common safe practices:
- Maintain access and working space around all electrical equipment as required
- Only use equipment that has been approved by a national testing laboratory.
- Do not use electrical equipment or appliances near water or wet surfaces.
- Do not use outlets or cords that have exposed wiring
- Use only equipment that is properly grounded or double-insulated.
- Do not overload outlets.
- Never use extension cords as permanent wiring.
- Do not disconnect power supplies by pulling or jerking the cords from the outlets.
- Have a qualified electrician inspect electrical equipment that has gotten wet before energizing it.
- Post enough warning signs to make people aware of any safety hazard.
As with all workplaces, protecting employees by eliminating or controlling hazards should be everyone’s goal, employer and employee alike. A good first step is to conduct a safety assessment of your workplace. Having a professional walk through your facility, can help identify hidden hazards, and create a plan to correct those issues. Schedule a call with one of our electrical safety experts today and take the first step towards making your workplace safer.