Electrocution remains one of the most common causes of death in workplaces in the U.S. Companies need to ensure that their employees know how to protect themselves. Electrical safety aims to prevent anyone or any pet from injuries in the workplace. At Lakeview Electric, we help you understand how to teach your employees about electrical safety.
How does electricity affect the human body?
Electricity is hazardous to the human body. Our body regulates itself on electrical impulses and conducts electricity by resistance. The first barrier or conduction electricity meets is the skin. Dry skin offers greater resistance to electrical current than wet skin. In fact, wet skin is an electricity conductor.
Internal electrical impulses control the human heart, making it easily disrupted by external electrical interference. It can cause the heart to fibrillate and disturb it to the point that the heart stops pumping blood. An electrical current of 5 mA is enough to put the heart into ventricular fibrillation.
Electrical impulses also control human muscles. An electrical shock can cause loss of muscle control and the inability to release an electrical lead. Currents greater than 10 mA can cause paralysis.
When someone is exposed to electrocution, that person will not be able to release anything they are holding. This results, in most cases, in holding the electrified object even tighter. This long-time exposure will lead to a more severe injury.
When being electrocuted, the severity of the shock depends on the amount of electric current flowing through the body. The path of the electric current and the duration of electricity through the body also determine the seriousness of the shock.
Electrical shocks can cause much more damage to the body than is visible. They often in burns, which occur due to the electric current passing through the tissues or bones of the body.
How can employers protect their employees?
Employers are responsible for ensuring that employees recognize and avoid unsafe working conditions. Employers must understand applicable regulations and know how to control or eliminate electrical hazards.
In the United States, employers must follow standards set out by federal OSHA regulations. Electrical safety in the workplace is regulated by:
- General Industry 29 CFR Part 1910.32 to 1910.308.
- Design Safety Standards for Electrical Systems and 1910.331 to 1910.335.
- Electrical Safety-Related Work Practices Standards.
OHSA also has electrical standards for the construction and marine industries. However, the organization recommends that employers in these industries follow the general electrical standards to the extent possible for hazards not covered by their industry-specific standards. In addition, there are 28 OSHA-approved state plans that administer statewide occupational safety and health programs.
OHSA also relies on national consensus standards, which provide more specific guidelines to follow. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) establishes minimum recommendations for electrical safety work practices, safety-related maintenance requirements, and other administrative controls for employee workplaces. It helps achieve practical protection of employees from hazards associated with electrical energy during installation, inspection, operation, maintenance, and demolition of electrical equipment.
The NFPA standard also includes guidance for hazard identification and risk assessment, selecting appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), establishing electrically safe working conditions, and worker training.
Ensuring qualification of employees
For OSHA, a qualified worker is someone who has been trained and is familiar with the construction and operation of equipment and the hazards involved. For NFPA, a qualified person is someone who has demonstrated skills and knowledge related to the construction and operation of equipment and facilities, and has received safety training to identify and avoid hazards.
Considering these definitions, non-qualified employees must be trained and knowledgeable in all other electrical safety practices necessary for their safety. For example, if employees are involved with electrical work in the workplace, they must understand the hazards and know the electrical safety requirements.
Tips to ensure electrical safety in the workplace
Discussing basic electrical safety
By introducing your employees to basic electrical safety protocols, the dos and don’ts of working with electrical circuits, lines, and systems are explained. It’s the best way to guide new hires or refresh an existing team’s knowledge of their worksite conditions, various electrical hazards, and safe practices to follow when working around electricity.
This electrical safety training topic can also be used to familiarize workers who are not typically exposed to electrical hazards. However, they could be concerned if they work around electrical systems or operate electrical equipment.
Avoiding contact with live electrical current
Staying away from electrical hazards is the best way to stay safe. Unqualified personnel should not interact with or approach electrical currents greater than 50V. A safe distance is required if someone must work in the same area or room as an electrical hazard. All panel doors should be closed, and there should be no exposed wires around the work area before beginning the operations.
Exposed and energized electrical parts must be de-energized before anyone works on or near them. It’s recommended to prevent accidents and isolate electrical energy by locking out and tagging the electrical system or parts of the system following the company’s lockout/tagout policy. The purpose of lockout/tagout is to protect employees from electrical hazards during service and maintenance activities. Professionals should be called for this kind of work.
Ensuring safe use of electrical equipment
Proper use of electrical equipment can help keep everyone safe in the workplace. Cords must be taken care of properly. Therefore, they must always be unplugged by pulling on the plug head rather than the cord. It’s recommended not to press or overstretch these cords. They should not be secured with staples. Electrical appliances should not be hung from cables.
All cords and plugs in a workplace should be visually inspected for external defects before use. Any damaged cord or plug should not be used.
Installing appropriate physical barriers
Physical barriers should always be used to protect employees from electrical hazards. Electrical panel cabinet doors should always be closed, and panels should not have holes where an employee could come in contact with exposed wires.
If a cabinet cannot be closed or an electrical hazard cannot be fully contained, shields, barriers, or insulating materials should be used. This also includes exposure to temporary hazards. If work is being done on an electrical panel, the technician must put barriers or caution signs up every time he leaves the area.
Being careful with conductive cleaning tools and materials
People working in areas where an electrical hazard is present should always assume that electrical parts are energized and act accordingly. Therefore, they should not use conductive tools and materials in that area.
When cleaning the area, it’s important to note that some cleaning products are also conductive and require extra care. Solvent and water-based cleaners are electrically conductive, as are steel wool and metalized fabrics. It’s advisable to keep these cleaners, and any conductive tools, away from energized electrical parts and equipment.
Being careful of power lines
When performing work or maintenance overhead, it’s vital to watch for power lines. In most workplaces, there is the potential for live electrical equipment and parts above ground that can only be accessed by ladders or elevated platforms.
Technicians or workers should use a portable ladder with non-conductive side rails and stay at least 10 feet away from any exposed power lines when performing work at heights.
Watching out for flammable materials
Electrical equipment that can cause ignition should not be used in the presence of flammable vapors, gases, or dust. The only exception to this rule is when qualified personnel take steps to lockout and isolate sources of electrical energy before these potentially flammable materials can be used.
Only qualified personnel should access live electrical wires
If a live electrical wire is discovered at the workplace, everyone should stay away. Only properly trained and qualified personnel should work on live electrical wires. This electrical safety precaution also applies to hazardous electrical equipment.
Any live electrical hazards should only be addressed and managed by qualified personnel. If any unattended, live, electrical wire is discovered, the appropriate electrical safety personnel must be immediately notified, who must then put physical safety barriers in place.
Following the company’s electrical safety practices
Each company has its own electrical safety work practices, depending on the electrical equipment and hazards in your area and workplace. Following your company’s specific electrical safety work practices is important to ensure the safety of everyone.
Electrocution can cause severe injury and even death. All employers need to protect their employees from the risk of electric shock in the workplace. At Lakeview Electric, we provide you with 30 years of experience in the electrical industry. Reach out to us for any repair, maintenance, or checking you need to get done.