Keeping Electrical Safety Simple

Because workplace conditions can change daily, inspection becomes very important in order to maintain an established safety effort.

FIRE, jolts, arcs, thermal burns, flash burns . . . . There are few workplace scenarios as potentially deadly as those that involve work with electricity or electrical items. Yet we all have a tendency to overlook the most basic of hazards in the workplace, too.

Normal wear and tear of a busy production line, abuse from hurried or disgruntled employees, ignorance, or apathy can spell disaster for unattended electrical safety on many job sites. From upscale office space to the muddiest of construction sites, consistently safe electrical use and the need for constant safety awareness touches almost every workplace daily.

Training Rules to Live By
Few employees have the knowledge (or interest) to understand the electrical code. This is all the reason you need to make your electrical safety training program simple, reasonable, and straightforward. There is no way to cover all necessary topics at one time, so pick those items most needed for your employees. Also, provide training in some form on a regular basis--which can include video, discussions or toolbox talks, handouts with the employees' paycheck, or even structured classroom time.

One place to start is OSHA's Electrical Safety and Health Topics page (www.osha.gov/SLTC/electrical/index.html). Other worthwhile resources to help you develop your training presentations include the Electrical Safety Foundation International (www.electrical-safety.org), Underwriters Laboratories Inc. (www.ul.com), and the editorial archives of Electrical Contractor magazine (www.ecmag.com) and EC&M magazine (www.ecmweb.com).

How much each employee knows about electrical safety may depend on his or her job duties. Because workplace conditions can change daily (such as the addition of an unapproved electrical item purchased at a yard sale, running a cord through a wall, etc.), inspection becomes very important in order to maintain an established safety effort.

Inspections and Essential Policies
As part of your facility's monthly (or more frequent) safety inspection, have different employees look for violations after instructing all of them about what to inspect for. Make inspections everyone's responsibility, too, in order to have a complete effort by employees.

Put into place associated policies that support electrical safety, including (but not limited to) these: No unapproved personal electrical appliances or devices are allowed that have not been inspected for leaks or damage; No space heaters may be used; Report damaged cords or items immediately; etc. And if your workplace has electrical hazard potential, improve your first aid kit to accommodate possible injuries requiring attention.

Keeping electrical safety manageable is a must for most employees, who never realize the potential for injury from the simplest of electrical violations. The most common injuries in the workplace include:

  • Direct contact with the electrical energy. Often, the injured parties describe this as a jingle, tingle, or jolt. At times employees do not take this seriously because the pain may be minor, so no action is taken. After the injury, several employees may comment, "Yeah, that one has had a short in it for months" or "It shocked me last week, too!"
  • Electrical arcs (jumps) to a person who is grounded (providing an alternative route to the ground for the electricity).
  • Thermal burns, including flash burns from heat generated by an electric arc and flame burns from materials that catch on fire from heating or ignition by electrical currents. These can range up to fatal injuries, depending on the situation.
  • Muscle contractions, or a startling reaction, can cause a person to fall from a ladder (for example). The fall can cause serious injuries, especially back and head injuries.

No electrically related injury should be ignored or regarded as "minor." The next injury with the same frayed cord or other similar situation may cause serious or life-threatening injuries. For example, the next person who is handling that frayed cord may have wet hands . . . .


Electrical Safety Checklist
While no checklist is complete, the following may provide some guidance for employees inspecting your jobsite:

Yes

No

Are regular job site inspections conducted on at least a monthly basis and documented?

Yes

No

Do employees understand that all breaker panels are to be kept clear and unobstructed?

Yes

No

Are all breakers and fuse boxes clearly and completely labeled? Each switch should be positively identified as to which outlet or appliance it is for.

Yes

No

Is office equipment manufactured with grounded plugs (three-prong plugs) used in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions?

Yes

No

Is the third (grounding) prong never removed from any three-prong piece of equipment? Are items where the third prong is removed reported by employees for repair and removed from service?

Yes

No

Has every employee been trained that if electrical equipment malfunctions or gives off a strange odor or sound, he should disconnect it and call the appropriate maintenance personnel? (This is a great item for new employee orientation.)

Yes

No

Are cracked, frayed, or broken electrical cords promptly disconnected and replaced?

Yes

No

Are extension cords kept clear of doorways and other areas where they can be stepped on or otherwise damaged?

Yes

No

Have employees been instructed that extension cords are never plugged one into another or fastened with staples, hung from nails, or suspended by wire?

Yes

No

Are all worn or frayed cords and cables removed from service and labeled "do not use"?

Yes

No

Are items removed from service destroyed or otherwise tagged out of use--not simply discarded or given to employees to take home?

Yes

No

Do you ensure that cords are not pulled or dragged over nails, hooks, or other sharp objects that may cause abrasions in the insulation?

Yes

No

Are cords never wrapped tightly or folded, in order to prevent damage to internal wiring?

Yes

No

Are cords never placed on radiators, steam pipes, walls, windows, or under carpets or rugs? Furniture must not be placed over cords.

Yes

No

Do you ensure electrical machines are disconnected before cleaning, adjusting, or applying flammable solutions?

Yes

No

Are lockout/tagout and assured grounding programs in place if required and needed?

Yes

No

Are employees instructed to inspect tools, power cords, and electrical fittings for damage or wear prior to each use?

Yes

No

Do your maintenance workers always use fuses of the correct size? (Replacing a fuse with one of a larger size can cause excessive current in the wiring and possibly start a fire when least expected.)

Yes

No

Do personnel always use ladders made of non-conductive materials when working with or near electricity or power lines?

Yes

No

Do employees know where the breakers and boxes are located in case of an emergency and have keys if needed for access?

Yes

No

Do employees know to pull the plug, not the cord, when disconnecting electrical items?

Yes

No

Do you ensure they do not disconnect power supply by snapping or jerking the cord from the outlet (such as when the outlet is under a table or in a hard-to-reach location)? Pulling the cord causes wear and may cause a shock.

Yes

No

Do you use extension cords only to temporarily supply power to an area that does not have a power outlet? (Remember to define "temporarily" for employees!)

Yes

No

Are multi-outlet strips not plugged into other multi-outlet strips ("daisy" chained)? Are multi-outlet strips used as intended?

Yes

No

Are space heaters, microwave ovens, and other high-current devices plugged directly into wall receptacles and not into strips or extension cords?

This article appeared in the November 2005 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

This article originally appeared in the November 2005 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

Download Center

HTML - No Current Item Deck
  • Free Safety Management Software Demo

    IndustrySafe Safety Management Software helps organizations to improve safety by providing a comprehensive toolset of software modules to help businesses identify trouble spots; reduce claims, lost days, OSHA fines; and more.

  • Get the Ultimate Guide to OSHA Recordkeeping

    When it comes to OSHA recordkeeping there are always questions regarding the requirements and in and outs. IndustrySafe is here to help. We put together this page with critical information to help answer your key questions about OSHA recordkeeping.

  • Safety Training 101

    When it comes to safety training, no matter the industry, there are always questions regarding requirements and certifications. We put together a guide that’s easy to digest so you can ensure you're complying with OSHA's training standards.

  • Conduct EHS Inspections and Audits

    Record and manage your organization’s inspection data with IndustrySafe’s Inspections module. IndustrySafe’s pre-built forms and checklists may be used as is, or can be customized to better suit the needs of your organization.

  • Track Key Safety Performance Indicators

    IndustrySafe’s Dashboard Module allows organizations to easily track safety KPIs and metrics. Gain increased visibility into your business’ operations and safety data.

  • Industry Safe
comments powered by Disqus