Electricity has long been recognized as a serious workplace hazard, exposing employees to shock, electrocution, burns, fires and explosions. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), electrical accidents rank sixth among causes of work-related fatalities in the United States, with more than 300 deaths and 4,000 workplace injuries reported each year. OSHA statistics indicate that between 2003 and 2007, more than 13,000 workers required time off from work caused by injuries from electrical accidents. The fact that most of these accidents could have been avoided easily makes these statistics all the more needless and tragic.
Electricity is a necessary source of energy that we depend on for our daily functions. When it’s installed and maintained properly, it can be controlled easily and effectively. However, when electricity is taken for granted and there is a lack of understanding of the hazards it can produce, non-electrical workers are far more likely to become exposed unknowingly.
Employers should ask this simple question: Are your employees trained to protect themselves from exposure to electrical hazards? If you think your electrical hazards are covered by your qualified electrical workers, think again. Non-electrical workers also can face serious electrical hazards in their daily tasks. A job as simple as picture-hanging can be a source of dangerous electric shock if workers are unaware of wiring behind the walls. Examples of potential exposure to electrical hazards by non-electrical workers include:
- Saw-cutting and core-boring concrete walls and floors
- Seismic anchoring into walls and floors
- Making penetrations into metal/wood framed and drywall covered walls and ceilings
- Working in suspended ceiling areas where exposed electrical hazards are present (i.e., openings in electrical boxes, missing protective covers, abandoned circuits that are still energized)
While many employers focus on providing comprehensive electrical training and evaluation for their qualified workers, often they overlook the potential exposure risk to non-electrical personnel. Because many employees and contractors aren’t directly involved in the maintenance and repair of electrical systems, they’re often unaware or unmindful of the potential exposure to a variety of electrical hazards.
OSHA standards require that employees who work near any part of an electrical power circuit or are exposed to electrical hazards be protected. OSHA 1910.331 through 1910.335 specify that employers provide training to employees — both electrical workers and non-electrical workers — who can be exposed to electrical hazards and to offer retraining or updating as needed to maintain safety awareness. Employers that implement electrical safety awareness training for non-electrical employees can not only ensure their compliance with OSHA safety standards but, more importantly, reduce the risk of electrical accidents and enhance the level of protection for all their workers.
Orientation, training and awareness
Because many companies provide a general orientation program as part of the new hire process, including electrical hazard awareness training along with general workplace safety instruction is the best way to guarantee that new employees are alerted to potential electrical hazards. A well-designed initial orientation enhances worker safety awareness, can help prevent serious injury or worse, and sends a strong message that the employer is serious about establishing and adhering to safe work practices. Keep that in mind if you have non-electrical workers that don’t have electrical hazards awareness training and will be working in and around hazards.
An effective electrical safety and hazard awareness program provides an overview of potential electrical hazards, strategies for protection and avoidance, and instruction on company policies and procedures that support safe work practices. While the specific elements of an awareness program vary depending on the industry, facility, machinery and equipment, a useful training curriculum could include a variety of elements.
- General electrical awareness
- Consequences of electrical hazards
- The safety model
- Major hazards and prevention strategies
- Lockout/tagout (LOTO) awareness
- Basic personal protective equipment (PPE) awareness
- Reporting hazards to a supervisor
- Follow-up training
Because electricity is such a familiar part of everyday life, this powerful energy source often is used with minimal caution and little thought regarding its potential hazards. Workers are especially vulnerable to electrical hazards because they’re often operating in fast-paced situations involving intricate machinery, power tools, crowded work areas, and exposure to variable weather and other environmental factors.
Because the average worker often lacks basic electrical knowledge, a general overview of how electricity works is a good place to start electrical safety awareness training. Just as the fire triangle provides the three elements that produce a fire — oxygen, heat and a fuel source — there are three basic elements that comprise a complete electrical circuit — a source of energy, a load and a complete path. The primary goal of awareness training is to keep workers from becoming part of this electrical circuit.
Topics that can be used in electrical awareness training include:
- Electrical hazard awareness: (see Safety Model)
- What is the hazard?
- What are the risks and dangers?
- How can it be controlled?
- Basic electrical terms
- Voltage and current
- Insulators and conductors
- Alternating and direct current
- How a transformer works
- Protected and exposed
- Energized and deenergized
- Ground fault circuit interrupters and assured grounding program
- Working clearances
- Use of flexible cords and extension cords
- Overhead power lines and underground utilities
- Barriers, approach boundaries and signage
- Required PPE and its proper use
- Inspection process for each worker’s tools, extension cords and ladders. This process can happen at the same time that the workers are getting their needed tools out and placing them in their work area.
Another important topic to incorporate into the training is a job hazard analysis (JHA), which allows workers to meet at the beginning of their shift to identify the hazards they’ll be facing in their tasks. JHA also identifies the tasks other workers will be doing so that affected workers are aware of the work going on around them. A communication process also should be included so that if changes occur in the work or the process, workers would be notified.