Electrical safety is a general practice of workers who are exposed to handling and maintaining electrically powered equipment. It is a set of guidelines they follow to mitigate electrical hazards and prevent its dangerous effects in case of an incident. Unable to adhere to electrical safety can lead to accidents, near misses, or even fatalities.
Working around electricity can be very safe on the job site when workers properly identify and control hazards. But, inadequate training, lack of experience, and failure to recognize potential hazards could result in electric shock or death.The construction industry is most at danger from electrical hazards, accounting for 52% of all electrical fatalities in the US workplace. Most of these incidents and fatalities were caused by direct worker contact with overhead power lines and contact with machines, tools, and hand-carried metallic objects. So how do we protect ourselves against these dangers?This article provides a closer look at some common electrical hazards in the workplace and how to be safe around them. We also feature a collection of electrical safety checklists which you can use to assess electrical dangers on your worksite.
Engineers, electricians, and overhead line workers are at the top of the list of professionals who are most exposed to electrical hazards. Common tasks that put these workers at risk include electrical installation and repairs, testing of fixtures and equipment, and inspection and maintenance activities. However, people who are indirectly working with electricity like office workers are also exposed to electrical hazards.
Electrical safety precautions are specific control measures implemented to remove electrical hazards and mitigate the risks of electrical accidents and injuries. Safety precautions for working with electricity depend on the worker’s job instructions and their working environment. However, the most basic electrical safety precautions include clearly understanding how electricity works, identifying and eliminating electrical hazards such as poor cable management and lack of proper housekeeping, and wearing the appropriate PPE.
Electrical safety equipment is specialized personal protective equipment designed to protect workers from general and specific electrical hazards. Generally, the most used electrical safety equipment is insulated tools and PPEs like insulated gloves, mats, and ladders. Electrical safety equipment should also be used when doing specific types of electrical testing, repair work, installation, or maintenance such as arc flash and customized earthing and short-circuiting, among others.
Electrocution is one of the most common hazards across construction sites according to OSHA. Identifying electrical hazards can help raise awareness of the risks, their severity, and how they can harm workers.Here are common electrical hazards in the workplace and electrical safety tips on what you can do to mitigate these risks:
- Overhead Power Lines
Overhead powered and energized electrical lines have high voltages which can cause major burns and electrocution to workers. Remember to maintain a minimum distance of 10 feet from overhead power lines and nearby equipment. Conduct site surveys to ensure that nothing is stored under overhead power lines. Also, safety barriers and signs must be installed to warn nearby non-electrical workers of the hazards present in the area.
- Damaged Tools and Equipment
Exposure to damaged electrical tools and equipment can be very dangerous. Do not fix anything unless you are qualified to do so. Thoroughly check for cracks, cuts, or abrasions on cables, wires, and cords. In case of any defects, have them repaired or replaced. Lock Out Tag Out (LOTO) procedures should be performed at all times before commencing electrical maintenance and repairs. LOTO procedures are there to protect all workers on a worksite.
- Inadequate Wiring and Overloaded Circuits
Using wires of inappropriate size for the current can cause overheating and fires to occur. Use the correct wire suitable for the operation and the electrical load to work on. Use the correct extension cord designed for heavy-duty use. Also, do not overload an outlet and use proper circuit breakers. Perform regular fire risk assessments to identify areas at risk of bad wiring and circuits.
- Exposed Electrical Parts
Examples of exposed electrical parts include temporary lighting, open power distribution units, and detached insulation parts on electrical cords. These hazards can cause potential shocks and burns. Secure these items with proper guarding mechanisms and always check for any exposed parts to be repaired immediately.
- Improper Grounding
The most common OSHA electrical violation is the improper grounding of equipment. Proper grounding can eliminate unwanted voltage and reduce the risk of electrocution. Never remove the metallic ground pin as it is responsible for returning unwanted voltage to the ground.
- Damaged Insulation
Defective or inadequate insulation is a hazard. Be aware of damaged insulation and report it immediately. Turn off all power sources before replacing damaged insulation and never attempt to cover them with electrical tape.
- Wet Conditions
Never operate electrical equipment in wet locations. Water greatly increases the risk of electrocution especially if the equipment has damaged insulation. Have a qualified electrician inspect electrical equipment that has gotten wet before energizing it.
After learning about electrical hazards and tips on how to safeguard against them, it pays to also know about electrical safety rules that can be followed in the workplace and at home. Here are 10 electrical safety rules:
- Keep water and other liquids away from electrical equipment and sources of electricity.
- Pull the plug, not the electrical cord, when disconnecting electrical equipment from the outlet.
- Keep electrical cords out of the way (and out of reach of pets that can chew on them). Untidy cords that are all over the place can also become trip hazards.
- Avoid using one outlet or extension cord to power multiple equipment as this can overheat and cause fire.
- Do not pour water on an electrical fire. Fire extinguishers with class C label can be used for electrical fires.
- Be aware of power lines before climbing a tree or a ladder, and especially when working at height.
- Use outlet covers when there are children around to avoid electrocution.
- Have flickering lights checked and fixed as it can be caused by loose connections somewhere or the bulb itself needs to be secured or replaced.
- Use clear visible signs when there’s high voltage in the vicinity that people need to be warned about.
- Always ask an expert to handle any electrical issues.
Electrical safety encompasses a huge area of general safety guidelines such as personal protective equipment (PPE) and lockout/tag-out procedures, among others. Project managers, site supervisors, and safety officers can improve electrical safety onsite when they make sure that workers are adequately trained, team leaders regularly facilitate safety meetings, and teams talk about the specifics of a job (or have toolbox talks). Listed below are a few examples of electrical safety topics organized by scope:
- General Electrical Job- or Site-specific Safety Measures
- Working near High-voltage Energized Electrical Lines
- How to Deal with Downed Power Lines Safely
- Basic Arc Flash Safety Precautions
- Reviewing Sources and Causes Electric Shock
- Safe Behaviors that Minimize the Risk of Electrical Injuries
- Effectiveness and Improvement of Electrical Safety Controls
- Lessons Learned from Electrical Incidents and Safety Outcomes
- Fundamentals of Electricity and a Job Task or Site
- Hand and Power Tools Electrocution Prevention
- Identifying and Eliminating Common Electrical Hazards
- Emergency and First Aid Procedures for Electrical Accidents
Knowing your limits and applying the best electrical safety practices can help reduce the risk of electrical shock and death. It is safer to work within your scope of expertise instead of taking the risk of working beyond your capacity. If you are not confident to do the job, don’t hesitate to call for help from an authorized person.
Electrical inspections are conducted by electrical servicing companies to ensure a property’s compliance with electrical safety laws and regulations. An electrical app aids these firms to simplify their processes, from scheduling inspections to the issuance of Electrical Certificates of Compliance (COC).
During an electrical inspection, a property’s electrical equipment undergo quality and safety checks to ensure that they are in working condition before being operated. Inspections are often accompanied by site walkthroughs to detect and record electrical hazards. Reports generated after electrical inspections should provide an overall assessment of the worksite, training provided, and equipment used and present general recommendations on areas for improvement. Failure to conduct regular electrical inspections can lead to accidents caused by electric shock or even death.
Traditionally, the electrical inspector’s findings and observations are recorded manually on paper. Further, they have to go back to the office, review all observations, and create an Electrical Certificate of Compliance if the client’s property has been proven to be compliant. This cumbersome process makes critical data susceptible to damage and loss, in addition to the storage and organization issues it presents.
A good electrical inspection software such as iAuditor by SafetyCulture can solve this problem by converting paper forms into digital ones. The convenience of using digital checklists can speed up and improve the overall inspection and reporting process. As technology evolves, the electrical inspection service industry has turned to digital and mobile solutions to improve its inspection workflows. Electrical apps have made the management of electrical inspections, from scheduling to the issuance of electronic Certificates of Compliance (COCs), more efficient and systematic. These apps yield businesses invaluable time savings, productivity boosts, improved communication, and upgrades in operational efficiency.