- Identify the hazards associated with electricity: shock and fire
- Explain how electricity works regarding hazards on the job
- Describe basic safety controls and practices at work
- Identify and explain how to respond to electrical emergencies
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Electrical accidents can cause burns, shocks and electrocution, and without the proper electrical safety can lead to fatal accidents in a worst case scenario.
Approximately 230 electrical related fatalities occur each year. In one study, National Institute for Occupation Safety & Health (NIOSH) found that, “61% of electrocutions occur in two occupation divisions: 46% among craftsmen and 15% among laborers. These two groups also had the highest rates of electrocution death: 1.4 per 100,000 workers each.”
Electricity is everywhere, so reliable and useful these days that it is often taken for granted, and it is somewhat shocking how little is actually understood about its properties by the general public, another reason why electrical safety training is important.
How fatal electrical accidents typically occur in the high-risk workforce, is when an aerial lift or boom, or scaffolding set up, results in the unexpected connection with a power line, creating a circuit.
Three primary electrical hazards:
- The first is electric shock. This is contact with electricity that causes a current to run through the skin, muscles or hair, and occurs when you become part of an electrical circuit. Its effect can range from nearly imperceptible to, well, devastating, with electrocution or death as the severest form of electric shock.
- The second primary hazard of electricity is its potential as a source of ignition and cause of a fire or explosion. Static electricity, or static discharge, can also cause shocks. Generally, static events are not a likely danger in household and office situations, though they may be painful. However, in industrial situations their impact can be quite damaging.
- The final major hazard is an electrical burn. These burns are largely internal, caused by the electricity that flows through tissue or bone, which generates heat that causes tissue damage. This can occur as a result of an electric shock, or from a lightning strike. These burns occur from the inside, out.
Three types of safety controls for electrical safety:
- Engineering controls: Eliminate or reduce exposure to hazards through the use of engineered machinery or equipment. This is where the equipment you use or the environment you work in has built-in measures designed for your protection against specific hazards.
- Administrative controls: Are the rules and regulations regarding safe work practices that are put in place by the government or your employer to protect your health and safety. They can include things like requiring breaks when doing repetitive work that puts strain on the body, limiting the time a worker is exposed to certain work conditions, or requiring the use of personal protective equipment, etc.
- Personal protective equipment (PPE): Equipment worn to minimize exposure to a variety of hazards. It can include safety glasses, hardhats, steel-toed boots and gloves.
Electrical safety tips for avoiding electrical accidents:
- Before plugging in a device, examine both the device and its cord for damage. Look for corroded, loose or bent plugs.
- Examine the cord for cracks or frayed insulation at the plug end.
- Look at the tool or appliance end, too. If a tool or cord becomes hot to the touch or sparks or shocks, repair or replace it, but don’t attempt to repair broken cords or components by yourself. That is a job for a qualified electrician.
- Never hold a tool or appliance by the cord—that invites damage—and remember to keep cords away from heat and water.
- When removing plugs from outlets, pull on the plug, not the cord.
- Don’t tamper with plugs. Never break off the third (ground) prong to fit a plug into a two-plug outlet; instead, replace the outlet. If the third prong is removed, the equipment is no longer grounded. Any cord with a prong missing should be put out of service.
- Don’t overload circuits. Use a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI).
- Remember that extension cords are for temporary use only. Using them as a permanent wiring solution is a fire code violation.
- When working outside don’t forget to identify electrical sources over your head and below your feet. When using an extension ladder for instance, make sure to stay at least 10 feet away from overhead power lines.
- “Low voltage won’t hurt me.” Really? This is a common myth. Currents over 10 milliamps or 2.5 volts can paralyze muscles, impacting the ability to release grips on tools, wires, or objects you have in hand. And if you can’t let go, the current continues through your body; sustained contact can increase muscle constriction, including muscles that control your breathing.
- Have you ever seen smoky looking marks on an outlet? Pay attention to those. It’s possible the outlet was wired incorrectly (hot and neutral connections wired backwards) and presents a shock hazard. You can purchase an electrical tester to affirm correct polarity and, if you diagnose a problem, have a licensed professional correct it.
- “I can work on live (energized) parts if I keep one hand in my pocket.” The idea here is that you’ll be safe if you don’t “ground yourself out” by placing both hands on the work in front of you, because electrical current won’t be able to cross your heart. Let’s apply a smidgen of science to that myth: if you have a foot on the ground, you’re grounded.
- Stand aside. Look away. Trip. This is my favorite safety tip, taught to me by a master electrician. Picture a breaker panel; one at work or the one in your house. Let’s say you need to trip (turn on or off a breaker). Figure out which one you need to trip, stand to the side of the panel, turn your face away from the panel, and then trip the breaker. If for any reason the breaker fails while you are doing this and blows up (“arc flash”), at least you will be out of the blast zone.
- The plug that keeps falling out of the socket. Have any of those in your life? Something is plugged into an outlet yet always seems half-way out of the socket. It’s not a commitment problem; it’s a strain-relief problem. Outlets have a lifespan like everything else and outlets like this need to be replaced. Having a device not fully plugged in builds heat and risks a fire hazard.
- Breakers don’t save people; Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI) do. An overloaded circuit will cause a breaker to trip and it’s designed thus to save equipment. For example, 15 amp breakers will trip if the draw is greater than 15 amps. A GFCI will trip at 4 or 5 milliamps.
- Take it out at the source. If you want to make certain the power is off, turn the power off at its original source: breaker panels, knife switches, or main disconnects. Verify the power is truly off using an electrical tester. Remember, many devices have more than one energy source—not just electricity. Hydraulic, pneumatic, chemical, thermal, and gravity are all energy sources that occasionally need to be turned off, with residual energy drained or effectively locked out.
- Daisy chain is not a necklace. Have you ever seen one power strip pulled into another power strip, pulled into another? Is it under your desk or in your house right now? That unsafe practice is not only unfashionable, it’s a fire hazard and is building heat.
- Don’t close a door on a cord. Have any power cords running under a door? Do you keep closing the door on the cord squishing it flat and until the insulation protecting you from the live wires is worn through? Does the door frame happen to be metal? Yikes! That’s even worse, now you risk energizing the door frame once the insulation on the wire is worn through. Cords do not pass through doors.
- Also, don’t run cords under rugs—abrasion can damage them.
- Don’t duct it. Don’t duck it. Whatever you call that gray sticky tape many of us believe can fix anything; don’t use it to fix the cut on the cord you squished in the door. Don’t use electrical tape, masking tape or any tape for that matter to repair cuts, abrasions or burns in electrical cords. Why? The tape does not provide the same insular qualities as the original covering.
Electrical safety training is important and often required workplace safety training. Electrical safety training does not make you or your employees a licensed electrician. Rather it teaches you limitations as an unlicensed person and how to identify unsafe conditions so you don’t become a statistic.
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