Electricity is an all too common source of serious injury in the workplace. Find out why all workers should be trained to recognize sources of electrical hazards, as well as understand preventative measures to stay safe on the job.
Virtually every employee has the potential for exposure to hazardous forms of electricity, whether by directly working on electrical components or through accidental contact with uncontrolled or unexpected energy sources. The consequences of these exposures may include shock, thermal burns, falls and electrocution, which are frequent sources of tragic workplace injuries and fatalities.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses there were over 4,700 nonfatal electric shocks and burns in private industry for 1995 alone. Each of these occupational electrical injuries cited in the survey were serious, resulting in time away from work.
In fact, roughly 4 to 6 percent of the annual admissions to burn units are attributed to electric-source injuries and a significant percentage of the 1,000 average electrocutions that occur yearly are work-related.
Regardless of the occupation, most workers are not impervious to these dangers on the job. Through developing catastrophic events or during the process of routine job duties, workers have potential exposure to numerous sources of electrical hazards, including power lines, energized equipment or lightning strikes.
Employees should be taught to recognize hazards such as:
- The presence of combustible dust, flammable liquids, gases or vapors
- Sources of ignition such as sparks, energized parts or static electricity
- Downed power lines (particularly after storms or severe weather)
- Duties that may have accidental contact with overhead power lines, such as climbing ladders or ascending on platforms.
- Items that may have contact with energized power and be conductive hazards (such as overhead booms, equipment, and ladders).
- Defective electrical equipment, including damaged cords or plug-ends
- Factors that increase hazards of electricity like moisture, humidity or water pooling near electrical sources.
Most vulnerable are untrained or poorly informed workers who are unaware of the potential for electrical hazards in their workplace.
Countless research studies have demonstrated the correlation between well-trained workers who follow designated safety precautions and a lower rate of work-related injuries and illnesses. As an example of this, I’d be wiling to bet that the average facility has at least one frayed cord, broken grounding prong or hot piece of equipment in operation that has not been reported or removed from service. These are common hazards and they often go unnoticed, leaving workers prone to injury. Safety education and training are proven methods to prevent electrical-source injuries, (if for no other reason than employees gain awareness of potential dangers).
However, training alone isn’t enough to protect workers. Employees must also adhere to known safety protocol, particularly when related to electrical hazards in the workplace. (In general, all areas of compliance requires a one-two punch that combines training with control methods). Employers must apply a comprehensive approach that integrates hazard analysis, assigning appropriate personal protective equipment and developing procedures to maintain electrical safety.
OSHA’s electrical work practice standards (found in the Code of Federal Regulations, under 29 CFR 1910.302 to 1910.335) offer general safe practice methods and information on electrical hazard prevention. Many employers mistakenly believe that electrical safe practice training is limited to the workers who actually perform maintenance or work directly with electrical equipment. However, in the standards, OSHA is careful to note additional tasks that may involve electrical hazards, including housekeeping and the use of portable ladders. Employers should also instruct workers on the proper types of apparel when working around any exposed energized parts.
“Portable ladders.” Portable ladders shall have nonconductive siderails if they are used where the employee or the ladder could contact exposed energized parts.
“Conductive apparel.” Conductive articles of jewelry and clothing (such a watch bands, bracelets, rings, key chains, necklaces, metalized aprons, cloth with conductive thread, or metal headgear) may not be worn if they might contact exposed energized parts. However, such articles may be worn if they are rendered nonconductive by covering, wrapping, or other insulating means.
“Housekeeping duties.” Where live parts present an electrical contact hazard, employees may not perform housekeeping duties at such close distances to the parts that there is a possibility of contact, unless adequate safeguards (such as insulating equipment or barriers) are provided. Electrically conductive cleaning materials (including conductive solids such as steel wool, metalized cloth, and silicon carbide, as well as conductive liquid solutions) may not be used in proximity to energized parts unless procedures are followed which will prevent electrical contact.
The control of hazardous energy (also known as Lockout and Tagout or 29 CFR 1910.147) is another section of standards pertinent to electrical safety and is required for those workers authorized to perform maintenance and routine service of equipment that puts them at risk for exposure to hazardous sources of energy.
In a nutshell, all workers should be receive electrical safe practice training which includes education on the nature of electricity, common sources of hazards and injury types and specific methods to avoid dangerous situations. Workers involved in maintenance type tasks must also have Lockout and Tagout training.
Various local and state legislation may apply unique policies and procedures in regard to electrical hazards. For further information, consult OSHA standards for specific guidelines on electrical safe practices as related to your state protocol.