How Can Electrical Contractors Plan for Workplace Emergencies?
Preparing for emergencies is of the utmost importance.
- By Steven John Cumper
- Jul 10, 2023
Unprotected exposure to electricity is one of the leading causes of accidents and fatalities in American workplaces. Approximately one-third of the fatalities happen directly in electrical occupations, and electricians continue to lead the top ten occupations of those involved in fatal accidents due to electricity.
Making workplaces safer for electrical contractors and other professions these contractors work hand-in-hand with is a priority. Understanding the most common workplace injuries within the electrical industry allows contractors to prepare thorough emergency plans and develop strategies to prevent further workplace emergencies.
Importance of Emergency Planning for Electrical Contractors
According to the Bureau for Labor Statistics (BLS), more than 650,000 Americans are currently employed as electricians. They maintain, install and repair electrical wiring and fixtures, or fit new equipment. The profession and the entire electrical contracting industry are regulated by OSHA.
Despite this level of regulation, thousands of workers in the industry are affected by non-fatal accidents and incidents every year, often at great personal cost to the injured person. The BLS reports that in 2020 alone, the industry suffered from more than 7,000 nonfatal injuries or illnesses. This is equivalent to nearly 130 incidents for 10,000 full-time workers.
The cases reported in this category led to days away from work, affecting employers and employees negatively. Depending on their contracts, employees may lose some of their income as a result of unplanned sick days. Employers not only lose access to a qualified pair of hands on a job site, but they may also struggle to meet project deadlines.
As if those numbers were not alarming enough, the electrical contracting industry is also affected by fatalities. Between 2011 and 2021, OSHA registered over 1,200 fatalities at work that involved electricity. Over the same period, the BLS noted more than 1,650 “electrical fatalities.” The discrepancy between the figures is most likely due to differences in categories and reporting methods.
Why Emergency Planning Matters
The industry has recognized the need to increase safety for electrical workers and others in contact with electrical work. For that purpose, various electrical industry associations founded the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) in 1994. The organization is funded by voluntary contributions and promotes electrical safety in workplaces and homes.
Part of that approach includes developing best practices for emergency planning. Being prepared for emergencies is important in any industry, but it matters most in those with a high potential for accidents and incidents. Planning for emergencies enables contractors to put strong emergency responses in place that limit the impact of incidents and help prevent fatalities. Emergency plans can also help minimize lost work days, benefitting both employers and employees.
Common Workplace Emergencies in the Electrical Industry
It is almost impossible to develop effective emergency plans without understanding what causes accidents in a specific industry and which types of accidents are most common.
Electrical shocks and electrical burns are among the most frequent injuries sustained by workers in the electrical industry. Both are caused by unplanned or unprotected contact with electric current, and either injury can be fatal or nonfatal.
The ESFI reports that most electrical fatalities happen in the construction industry. Out of all electrical and related professions, electricians, construction laborers, painters, carpenters and roofers are most frequently affected. They account for nearly one-third of all fatalities. This may be surprising, especially considering that power line installers and repairers account for less than 10 percent.
The figures leave no doubt that there is a need to improve workplace safety within the electrical contracting industries. Emergency planning is one part of that, but putting these plans into practice requires qualified personnel.
First Aid Supplies and Training
First aid supplies and training within the electrical contracting field are regulated by OSHA. The organization stipulates that employers need to provide a competent person to administer first aid in case of an incident. Employers are also responsible for providing suitable first aid supplies.
The rationale behind the rule is simple—without a qualified person and adequate materials, even a simple injury can quickly turn into a medical emergency. Take electrical burns, for example. An adequately trained emergency responder can clean and dress the wound, getting the patient ready for medical personnel to arrive.
Without that person onsite, a relatively small wound may be left untreated. In fact, the injured person may choose not to seek medical treatment, allowing the wound to fester and making an infection more likely. Once that downward spiral starts, it becomes much harder to disrupt and treat infected areas. The longer treatment is delayed, the more days the injured worker will need to take away from work to heal.
Strategies to Prevent Workplace Emergencies in the Electrical Industry
Preventing workplace injuries is in the best interest of employers, employees and their clients. It is cost-effective and prevents project delays or the complete loss of contracts.
As with most aspects of business, taking a strategic approach works best. In the electrical industry, contractors preparing workplace safety strategies need to consider these aspects:
- Most common causes of incidents within the company.Is there a pattern that needs to be disrupted?
- Adequate prevention.Does the company have enough qualified first responders, and are job sites equipped with sufficient first aid supplies? Are these supplies suited to dealing with electrical incidents? Providing the right supplies is essential to allowing first responders to work effectively.
- Status of electrical workplace safety.Is it part of the overall business objectives? Treating workplace safety as an afterthought will likely result in additional fatalities. Making safety for workers a priority signals the leadership team’s commitment to the entire workforce’s safety.
Planning for workplace emergencies within electrical contracting starts by understanding the threats the company is facing. These could include high-risk contracts, a lack of first-aid-trained personnel, inadequate first-aid supplies or a non-strategic approach. Start by analyzing in which area your organization needs to improve the most and choose a planned, well-thought-out approach to minimizing incidents and increasing safety for all stakeholders.