Minimizing Common Electrical Hazards
When Does Electricity Become Hazardous?
What To Know About
Electrical Safety Standards
May is National Electrical Safety Month, which presents an excellent opportunity to go over some essential topics in electrical safety. Electricity can present serious hazards. Therefore, government agencies such as OSHA have set forth strict requirements for precautions such as proper signage and labeling.
Workplace safety is governed by OSHA standards as well as by state and local laws, which may be stricter than federal requirements but cannot be more lax. As part of its initiative to improve electrical safety in the workplace, OSHA requested the National Fire Protection Association to set forth relevant standards. As a result, the NFPA published its 70E Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace in 1979. It updates this standard on a regular basis.
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.
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 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.
Role of Signs and
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-complaint 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 OSHA and other relevant standards. Contact us online or call us at (877) 748-0244 to learn how we can help.