Powering Up Safety: Strategies for Improving Electrical Safety

Powering Up Safety: Strategies for Improving Electrical Safety

Implementing effective electrical safety strategies is crucial for protecting workers and maintaining operational integrity in industrial environments.

There’s a reason children are all taught early on not to play with electrical outlets or use corroded batteries. Electric power is an essential part of life, but when something goes wrong, it can be among the most dangerous situations people face. The need for electrical safety is important to everyone across residential, workplace or industrial environments. But at the industrial level, potential exposure is magnified to life-threatening energy levels, significantly increasing the risk.

In a facility setting, an electrical safety event not only affects the people directly involved with the incident but can also result in equipment damage and downtime as that equipment gets replaced. The risks of electrical safety events are both a personal and business threat. From a personal sense, there is the initial hazard to the person performing the work at the time of an electrical safety event, along with the safety of the people nearby. When considering the specific action needed to protect the public and the individuals in the facility, consider the amount of energy that could be released to determine if they need to restrict the physical access of “non-qualified” individuals to that area. The exception to those restrictions would be a “qualified” individual with significant training, PPE and the ability to accurately assess the risks in a given situation.

Generally, there are two types of dangerous situations when it comes to electrical safety: shock hazards and flash hazards. With shock hazards, physical contact is needed with the electrical conductors. If subjected to that voltage, the results can range from a slight annoyance to cardiac arrest, contact burns or even death. Flash hazards occur when a large amount of electrical energy is released into the surrounding areas during a short circuit. This can happen with batteries or charging equipment and the energy release can create an explosion large enough to physically move someone across the room. This can result in burns or internal damage to your body, making this one of the greatest risks in the direct current (DC) power world.

With these massive risks in mind, safe practices around electrical equipment are integral to keeping workers safe and the facility operational. When it comes to improving a facility’s electrical safety mindset, culture and behaviors, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • There needs to be a focus on using the right tools and equipment for the task at hand. In organizations with multiple facilities, setting the standard safety practices starts with ensuring each facility has the latest safety equipment in functional shape. The tools and PPE a facility has should be aligned with the kinds of work that take place and the hazards that could potentially come.
  • Non-qualified workers need to have protections and considerations in place to shield them from risks they aren’t familiar with. These people will be exposed by their geography within the facility to electrical issues should they arise, without the proper training to assess the risks they face. Everyone in the facility needs to be aware of the obligation to protect non-qualified people.
  • Subcontractors need to be taken into consideration when it comes to setting facility expectations. In many instances, organizations will stick to an overarching statement for subcontractors to work in a safe manner compliant with the law without giving it much more thought. A facility’s leadership team is responsible for hiring these subcontractors, but it’s important to set the minimum requirements in terms of safety training and expectations both with the subcontractors and facility employees. The standard safety practices one expects from their employees should extend to subcontractors, and their instructions should include specific training programs that are industry standard and available from third parties. OSHA training is a great example and should be kept up-to-date and documented. 

Having an established electrical safety mindset is critical to having a safe and productive workplace. Working around electricity can be dangerous, not just for those working directly with electrical equipment but for others who may be indirectly exposed to electrical hazards by being nearby. Electricity has been recognized for a long time as a serious workplace hazard and one of OSHA’s key areas. Set the tone for the team. Build a safety culture to help create behaviors that further safety.

About the Author

Rod Saunders is Director of Operational Excellence at Concentric, the first national industrial power services and maintenance organization delivering a dedicated Technician model with uninterrupted, sustainable facility power and equipment electrification.

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