Minimizing Common Electrical Hazards

Posted by Clarion Safety Systems on 12th May 2020

Minimizing

What is National Electrical Safety Month?

Electricity can present serious hazards. That’s why, each May, Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) commemorates National Electrical Safety Month – to raise awareness about critical electrical safety topics. This annual campaign helps to educate key audiences – including homes, schools, communities and workplaces – about steps that can be taken to reduce the number of electrically-related fires, fatalities, injuries, and property loss.

Electrical Safety Month 2020: Smart Homes
ESFI’s 2020 campaign focuses on home safety with a “Smart Home” theme, highlighting the lifesaving devices that keep homes safe, secure and efficient. With many jobs currently being performed in a “work from home” environment due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the home safety campaign offers timely tips to keep people and homes safe from electrical hazards while working remotely. The campaign advocates for getting homes compliant with the 2020 National Electric Code (NEC) and provides a list of requirements to get homes up-to-date.

Electrical Codes, Standards and Regulations
While electrical standards and codes like the NEC are important for home safety, they’re even more critical for workplaces. Standards serve as an important foundation for safety, efficiency and interoperability. They’re put into place through safety codes, like the NEC, which sets the minimum standards for safe electrical installation in the U.S. in one single, standardized source. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and the National Electrical Manufacturer's Association (NEMA) are available on a regional basis to support NEC adoption efforts.

At the same time, workplace safety is governed by OSHA regulations, as well by state and local laws, which may be stricter than federal requirements but cannot be more lax. As part of its initiatives to improve electrical safety in the workplace, in the late 1970’s, OSHA requested the NFPA to develop relevant standards that would assist employers and employees in complying with the government’s rules on the operation and maintenance of electrical systems. One of the results: NFPA 70E Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace. The NFPA family of codes and standards that deal with electrical issues are comprehensive and dynamic – updated on a regular basis to adapt with evolving industry needs and technological developments. In addition to NFPA 70 National Electrical Code and NFPA 70E, they include NFPA 70B Recommended Practice for Electrical Equipment Maintenance, NFPA 79 for Industrial Machinery, and many more.

Minimizing Electrical Risks
Realistically, when working with electrical equipment, it is not always possible to completely eliminate risks. For example, although it is optimal, in terms of safety, to cut off power to equipment before beginning to work on it, some operations do demand working live. NFPA 70E sets forth a range of risk control options, which starts with the elimination of the risk and ends with using appropriate protective equipment. Other risk-control options include engineering controls that reduce potential harm, as well as awareness and administrative controls. These two latter measures can include providing electrical safety training and appropriate signage and labeling.

Common Electrical Hazards
Electrical shock incidents continue to be a major source of workplace accidents, especially for those in the construction industry. There are several factors that can contribute to the risk of injury or fatality stemming from electricity. Major causes of injury include:

  • Faulty equipment or tools. These may suffer from a manufacturing defect; more often, they sustain damage and do not undergo proper inspection and maintenance.
  • Failure to properly ground. Electrical safety training should include grounding procedures.
  • Overloaded circuits.
  • Contact with overhead power lines. The high voltage of these lines can make them extremely dangerous. Signs and barriers can reduce risks by preventing non-electrical workers from accessing the area or storing materials in proximity to it.

Lockout/Tagout
A common scenario leading to injury is when a piece of equipment or a line thought to be depowered starts up unexpectedly. Lockout and tagout refers to a set of procedures set forth by OSHA in order to minimize the likelihood of such an occurrence.

Employers must establish a procedure for workers to follow before beginning to work on electrical machinery. These steps generally consist of:

  • Going through a pre-shutdown checklist
  • Shutting down the equipment
  • Disconnecting the equipment from its power source (or isolating it)
  • Putting a locking device on the disconnected or isolated power source; if the power source cannot be locked, placing a tagout device alerting others to the electrical hazard
  • Tagging the lock with the name of the person who placed it so that no one else opens the lock
  • Properly handling any potential stored power (typically by releasing or restraining)
  • Verifying the equipment has been completely depowered

Some types of machinery can start accumulating stored energy even after this process is followed. When dealing with this type of equipment, it is important to regularly check to make sure this is not happening throughout the duration of the service procedure.

Before removing the lockout or tagout device, workers must check that the machine is safe to power back on. Before actually powering it on, they must follow procedure to apprise others that the machine is about to be powered back on.

Arc Flash Hazards and Risks
An arc flash happens when an electrical discharge flashes between conductors or between a conductor and the ground. They occur very quickly and are likely to cause serious injuries. Common causes of arc flashes include failure to properly depower equipment before working on it, improperly operating a load break switch and tools coming into contact with live components.

In recent years, the NFPA has updated its standard to focus on preventing arc flash. In particular, the 2018 edition has new provisions aimed at addressing the human error element of these occurrences. These situations can include failing to properly set forth or follow lockout/tagout procedures. In other situations, a worker can make a mistake when testing whether the machine has been depowered. The NFPA recommends electrical safety training that focuses on these aspects. In addition, it also requires a "qualified person" to perform functions such as training, incident analysis and job site review.

Workplace Electrical Safety Incidents in Focus
Annually, workers in a broad array of industries continue to suffer injuries on the job due to electrical hazards, with 9% of all electrical injuries in 2018 being fatal. In 2019, “lockout/tagout” placed 4th on OSHA’s top workplace safety violations list, while “eye and face protection” took the 10th spot. To further highlight the critical need for safe electrical practices in the workplace, here is a snapshot of electrical accidents that occurred between 2003-2018.

Fatal Electrical Injuries:

  • In 2018 there were 160 electrical fatalities (an 18% increase from 2017 and the highest rate since 2011). All fatalities in 2018 were caused by electrical shock
  • 3% of fatalities in 2018 were caused by contact with/exposure to electrical currents
  • The construction industry saw the highest rate of electrical fatalities at 54% with the professional and business sectors seeing 28% of electrical fatalities
  • Primary sources of fatalities: parts and materials (41%), tools, instrument and equipment (17%), (machinery) 14% and vehicles (14%)
  • Overall, there was an 18% increase in fatal electrical injuries between 2017 and 2018

Nonfatal Electrical Injuries:

  • 2018 saw a record low of nonfatal electrical injuries with 1,560, decreasing 29% from 2017
  • The sectors that saw the highest number of nonfatal injuries include construction (20%), manufacturing (16%), leisure and hospitality (13%), education and health services (11%) and accommodation and food services (10%)
  • 1,080 injuries were caused by electrical shocks while burns accounted for 490 nonfatal accidents

Role of Signs and Labels
The NFPA's focus on the human error element of electrical accidents acknowledges that, in addition to training, other factors affect whether a worker is likely to make a dangerous mistake. Clear, regulation-compliant signs and labels help employees remember their training and follow procedure to avoid danger. Clarion Safety Systems offers a wide range of signs and labels to improve electrical safety and help you comply with relevant standards, codes and regulations. Reach out to us to learn how we can help.

This blog was originally posted on 5/13/19 and has been updated with new information throughout. 

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