Far too often, busy workers suffer serious injuries while handling electrical tasks. Electrocutions occur when people are exposed to lethal doses of electricity. One study completed for the U. S. Department of Labor stated that electrocutions are the fourth leading cause of death in construction work – responsible for nine percent (9%) of all construction worker deaths.
Other electrical injury hazards include: shocks, burns, arc flashes/arc blasts, fires, and explosions. Burns are perhaps the best-known and most common types of shock-related injuries. The three main types of burns suffered while working with electricity are thermal contact, arc/flash, and electrical.
A shock injury occurs when a worker’s body becomes part of an electrical circuit – the current enters the body at one point and then exits elsewhere. The electrical shock becomes a reflex response to the electrical current running through the body.
As for workplace fires, they often occur due to fixed wiring problems – especially when faulty electrical cords or switches are used. Specific steps must be taken to minimize these electricity-related injuries once every possible hazard has been either removed or neutralized.
Basic Checklists & Suggestions for Minimizing Workers’ Electrical Hazards
- Proper safety gear and clothing must be issued and worn. Flame retardant clothing should be mandatory. Also, dielectric gloves must be required, along with proper helmets, eye goggles, boots, and other appropriate protective gear;
- Initial (and ongoing/periodic) safety training for all workers. Mandatory safety precautions must be described in detail — and all workers informed that their supervisors will regularly evaluate their work performance based upon compliance with all OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) and other worksite safety standards;
- All electrical panels and cabinets must be properly marked, indicating the voltage present;
- All worksites should be monitored daily by supervisory personnel who must look for the following hazards and immediately correct the conditions: faulty insulation of electrical wiring/equipment; defective or worn-out parts, improper grounding, loose connections, equipment ground faults, improper/outdated or underrated equipment; improperly guarded live parts, and other similar hazards;
- Careful monitoring of all workplace atmospheric environments – always searching for and removing all unnecessary flammable vapors, gases, and liquids;
- There must be proper daily inspection of all workplace equipment being used, followed by the careful storage of tools when workers are not present.
Additional safety recommendations were made to OSHA in a UAW study completed under a U.S. Department of Labor grant. These suggestions may help many employers increase worker safety while handling all types of electrical work.
A Hierarchy of Safety Concerns All Employers Should Address
There are many basic ways to improve electrical work safety that go beyond proper training and requiring workers to use proper protective gear and equipment. In fact, the highest level of change involves eliminating certain workplace hazards and requiring workers to perform as much electrical work as possible at ground level.
In addition, engineering controls must be re-examined and improved. Employers must be willing to evaluate and properly use such devices as:
- Current-limiting circuit breakers and fuses
- More securely constructed machine guards
- Advanced and better maintained workplace ventilation systems
- Better conveyors, lift tables, and balancers
- Improved electrical enclosures, and
Although not binding on OSHA, the UAW’s “Electrical Safety in the Workplace” study also suggests improving all warning procedures. This can include building better workplace barricades; using horns to immediately advise workers of new dangers; making sure all workers can immediately smell the odor of natural gas in an area – and using proper signs and equipment labels so that no one begins an electrical work task without knowing what types of environmental hazards may be present.