Are you making these critical electrical safety mistakes?

March 28, 2016
Overcome four top barriers to electrical safety excellence.

Your plant has a responsibility (and a regulatory duty) to minimize workers' exposure to electrical risks. But as standards and technologies change, are you keeping up with the actions you need to take to keep workers safe?

Here are four barriers to achieving electrical safety excellence and how to address them:

Problem: You haven't conducted an arc-flash risk assessment yet.

Fix it: Last year's update to NFPA 70E requires that organizations conduct an arc-flash risk assessment before any person is exposed to electrical hazards to determine whether an arc flash hazard exists. If a hazard is identified, the organization must determine appropriate safe work practices, the arc flash boundary, and the level of PPE required.

Companies that don't comply with updated risk assessment requirements run the risk of OSHA penalties (to say nothing of the costs associated with an arc flash incident, which, in the event of a fatality, can run to the millions of dollars for an employer, according to the Electrical and Power Research Institute).

Third-party analysis of arc flash incident energy, completed under the supervision of a registered professional engineer, can support successful completion of an arc flash risk assessment. 

Problem: You're not using testing tools that have been independently proved to meet safety standards for test and measurement equipment.

Fix it: Sure, a lot of tools can be designed to meet safety standards, but that doesn't mean necessarily that they do so. The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) and Conformite Europeenne (CE) testing standards are among the most commonly recognized in industry, but neither IEC nor CE is responsible for enforcing its standards. Makers of multimeters and other testing equipment can self-certify that they meet these standards and use IEC or CE symbols on their products without having gone through the rigors of independent testing and verification.

To ensure that your tools live up to the specifications set for them, look for them to carry a symbol and listing number of an independent testing laboratory, such as UL (Underwriters Laboratories), CSA (the Canadian Standards Association), or TUV (the Technical Inspection Association). These symbols signify that a product successfully completed testing to laboratory standards, which are based on national or international safety standards.

Problem: You're unsure of exactly how to meet new OSHA, NFPA 70E, and NEC standards, or you don't know whether what you're doing is correct.

Fix it: If you're bogged down by unclear language or aren't sure how a standard applies to your facility, don't just guess and hope for the best. Outside electrical safety experts can help you conduct assessments and follow-up analysis and customize training courses to your organization and your facility's specific risks. Just like anything else, electrical safety is about continuous improvement, and if tracking evolving electrical safety standards and best practices isn't your area of expertise, make sure you partner with someone for whom it is.

Problem: Workers aren't applying their electrical safety training because they think it takes too long, is too inconvenient, or is unnecessary to follow standard safety procedures.

Fix it: This is a leadership issue. Managers and supervisors need to demonstrate the safety behaviors they expect others to follow in every applicable situation – no exceptions. Moreover, they must model an attitude about safety that they want to see reflected in the workforce. Expressions of frustration or impatience with the time it takes to suit up in personal protective equipment – face shields, jackets, pants, gloves, etc. – or grab insulated tools encourages workers to take shortcuts. If individuals believe management values speed over safety, they may be likely to respond accordingly.

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