Working with electricity can be dangerous. Engineers, electricians, and other professionals work with electricity directly, including working on overhead lines, cable harnesses, and circuit assemblies. Others, such as office workers and sales people, work with electricity indirectly and may also be exposed to electrical hazards.
Electricity has long been recognized as a serious workplace hazard. OSHA's electrical standards are designed to protect employees exposed to dangers such as electric shock, electrocution, fires, and explosions. Control of Hazardous Energy (Lockout/Tagout) is always an OSHA Top 10 violation. Even in the absence of a workplace injury, OSHA is very likely to issue a substantial citation to any employer who fails to have a Lockout/Tagout program. Employees trained in Lockout/Tagout and electrical safety should be able to anticipate and avoid injury from these job related hazards. Download Beacon's Lockout/Tagout Safety Alert which provides device requirements as well as the employer responsibilities and a checklist to follow.
Many workers are unaware of the potential electrical hazards present in their work environment, which makes them more vulnerable to the danger of electrocution. The following hazards are the most frequent causes of electrical injuries:
- contact with power lines
- lack of ground-fault protection
- path to ground missing or discontinuous
- equipment not used in manner prescribed
- and improper use of extension and flexible cords.
A variety of possible solutions may be implemented to reduce or eliminate the risk of injury associated with electrical work. Examples of solutions include the use of insulation, guarding, grounding, electrical protective devices, and safe work practices.
Electrical hazards can cause burns, shocks and electrocution (death). Below are OSHA Electrical Safety tips.
- Assume that all overhead wires are energized at lethal voltages. Never assume that a wire is safe to touch even if it is down or appears to be insulated.
- Never touch a fallen overhead power line. Call the electric utility company to report fallen electrical lines.
- Stay at least 10 feet (3 meters) away from overhead wires during cleanup and other activities. If working at heights or handling long objects, survey the area before starting work for the presence of overhead wires.
- If an overhead wire falls across your vehicle while you are driving, stay inside the vehicle and continue to drive away from the line. If the engine stalls, do not leave your vehicle. Warn people not to touch the vehicle or the wire. Call or ask someone to call the local electric utility company and emergency services.
- Never operate electrical equipment while you are standing in water.
- Never repair electrical cords or equipment unless qualified and authorized.
- Have a qualified electrician inspect electrical equipment that has gotten wet before energizing it.
- If working in damp locations, inspect electric cords and equipment to ensure that they are in good condition and free of defects, and use a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI).
- Always use caution when working near electricity.
Flexible cords are perhaps one of the most common, widely used and necessary tools at any work site. Because they are exposed, flexible, and unsecured, they are more susceptible to damage than is fixed wiring. Hazards are created when cords, cord connectors, receptacles, and cord- and plug-connected equipment are improperly used and maintained.
To reduce hazards, flexible cords must connect to devices and to fittings in ways that prevent tension at joints and terminal screws. Flexible cords are finely stranded for flexibility, so straining a cord can cause the strands of one conductor to loosen from under terminal screws and touch another conductor.
The OSHA construction standard requires flexible cords to be rated for hard or extra-hard usage. These ratings are derived from the National Electrical Code, and are required to be indelibly marked approximately every foot along the length of the cord.
A flexible cord may be damaged by door or window edges, by staples and fastenings, by abrasion from adjacent materials, or simply by aging. If the electrical conductors become exposed, there is a danger of shocks, burns, or fire. Download Beacon's Extension Cord Safety Alert with tips to avoid short circuits, overloading, damage, and misuse.
Extension cords must be 3-wire type so they may be grounded, and to permit grounding of any tools or equipment connected to them.
When a cord connector is wet, electric current can leak to the equipment grounding conductor, and to humans who pick up that connector if they provide a path to ground. Such leakage can occur not just on the face of the connector, but at any wetted portion. Limit exposure of connectors and tools to excessive moisture by using watertight or sealable connectors.
For more information on electrical safety and protecting workers from the hazards of uncontrolled energy, visit OSHA’s Electrical Safety.