An electric shock can kill or maim an electrician for life. Workplace safety is a legal responsibility, but for those who work with electricity, it is doubly important. Electricity is one of the most lethal elements any worker will ever have to deal with, and it must be treated with respect.
Common-sense precautions are important defenses against electrical accidents, but these are not always enough. Fortunately there are institutions out there that can help your company and team put together safe working practices.
Electrical hazards can be avoided by learning guidelines to follow on the work site. In-house standards will radically reduce the danger of electrical injury. Read on to learn key electrical safety tips that can help electricians survive and prosper.
The number-one caution that electricians must take is to respect the dangers of electricity. If not handled properly, high-voltage lines not only can kill you, but could also cause equipment and buildings to explode. However, don’t get complacent when dealing with low-voltage applications. Any contact with live wires can cause permanent burns or long-term heat damage.
You should always avoid live wires. No matter how experienced you are, and no matter how routine the task, don’t take risks. Focus on your work as much as you did the first time you approached that type of job — never assume you could do it with your eyes closed. Familiarity makes people complacent and careless. Don’t fall into that trap.
Cut the Power
Basic electrical practices tell you to isolate a circuit before you work on it. Shut the power down and make sure all wires in the area where you are working are dead. If necessary, shut the power for the entire building to ensure your work site is free from electrical hazard.
The progress of your work will probably include stages that require you to cross over wires and replace contacts. Doing so will introduce hazards of short circuits that can damage equipment and cause a safety hazard. Plan your work to eliminate power from circuits you may come into contact with during the course of your job, as well as those you have been specifically tasked with.
Be aware that danger may lie with nearby wires, even though you are not working directly with them. Electric panels are often located in tight spaces with other, unrelated wiring close by. You may have to squeeze past other electrical circuits in order to get to your task. Lying under other electrical wiring or equipment to access your work can also increase the hazard of your job.
Try to avoid backing out of tight spaces and make sure all the circuits in the wiring closet or distribution room are dead. By taking this step, you avoid the dangers that can occur when bumping into nearby wiring or reaching out to steady yourself when negotiating difficult spaces.
Be careful about where you place equipment and supplies for your task. You need to avoid any metal surfaces in the workspace as well as exposed contacts and wires. Wherever possible, bring along an assistant to hand you equipment and supplies as you work. That way, you can avoid the temptation of groping around or reaching behind you to grab something in a hurry.
Avoid taking drinks or other fluids into the workspace. Most liquids are conductors, and if spilled, they can create a path from nearby live equipment.
To reduce the chance of getting injured by sparks and arcs, remove all metal from your body and clothing. Use protective clothing that includes insulating material, such as rubber. Your main safety requirements are to wear insulated gloves, because your hands are at the most risk when working with electricity. Wear protective eyewear and shields when you are likely to encounter excessive sparking.
Water conducts electricity, causing shorts and shocks that can damage equipment. If you are called to repair a circuit panel or wiring that has been exposed to water, make sure the entire area has been shut off from the power supply before entering.
Do not work on electrical wiring while there is still water in the immediate vicinity. Dry out all puddles and ensure all surfaces — including the floor, walls and ceiling — are dry before you start work. Bear in mind that inner wall areas may still be wet, and you may come into contact with these areas during your work. Check for leaks and drips before you start your repairs. You don’t want water falling on you or the wiring while you work.
Be just as cautious about water in cold environments, such as cold storage. Condensation can cause water to drip on to you or the wiring. Just as cold locations can cause condensation, hot environments can create sweat. Sweat dripping from your forehead can be just as lethal as water dripping from a leaky pipe.
Don’t use tools or equipment that don’t have insulated handles. Don’t be tempted to speed things up by abandoning insulated tools and handling the wiring yourself. If you are working in a tight space, use smaller tools. Choose the appropriate equipment for the task and make sure you possess a good range of tools in various sizes. Metal rulers, scribes and hammers are great for the shop, but don’t put equipment with all-metal surfaces in your electrician’s toolbox.
Tangled masses of cables and disorderly patching can make investigating a problem that much harder. Plan out any new circuits you install to avoid complicated cable stretches. Try to assign sequenced contacts to the appropriately located cable source. This prevents you from crossing cables over each other or passing a wire through a group of other wires. If you are approaching an adaptation or existing wiring repair, reorganize badly planned schemas to make the wiring diagram easier to follow the next time you need to make a repair.
Placing labels on each wire and contact will avoid making mistakes, such as hooking up the wrong wire to the wrong contact. Tidiness of wiring pays dividends in speed further ahead and reduces the danger of mistakes. Tight clumps of wires may force an electrician to yank at the cables to get them loose. This presents the hazard of unintended loosening of live wires, which can cause arcing and short circuits, leading to injury.
Avoid Quick Fixes
If you are presented with untidy wiring, you may be tempted to just trace the wires you need for your job and ignore the rest. In theory, that approach is not a bad idea. However, you need to investigate an entire panel to isolate the problem you were hired to fix, and your initial diagnosis may not be correct.
You need to make sure all of the circuit is functioning properly, not just the stretch you think you have identified as the problem. Your fix may overload a different section of the circuit, equipment, or breakers, causing long-term hazard to the client and a potential death risk to any electricians who approach the circuit in the future.
Don’t be tempted to bridge across a problem circuit just to get things running and get paid. Grounding can mask a fault. Adding in larger breakers won’t fix a problem — they just introduce preventative failure.
The power supplies into buildings and high-voltage overhead wires are probably the most hazardous electrical wiring you will ever have to deal with. If you are a household or premises electrician, know your limits and don’t try to deal with work that is usually assigned to specialized electrical engineers.
Typically, power lines belong to the electricity supplier and are impossible to shut down without the intervention of the utility company. If you can’t cut off the power in a wire or cable, don’t deal with it. Call the supplier and get them to fix the problem.
If your work brings you close to power lines, remember that they carry lethal voltages. Give them a wide birth and never touch them assuming they are dead. Keep well away from fallen or loose power lines and stay at least 10 feet away from them during the course of your activities.
You probably know not to touch metal surfaces or wet areas around loose, fallen or sparking wires. However, there are a number of other touch hazards you might not think about.
Capacitors retain a charge and should be drained before you handle them. If a colleague gets a shock, don’t touch him. Don’t even unplug whatever equipment is discharging and don’t try to pull out any wiring. The best way to help your colleague is by going to the circuit breaker and cutting the power there.
Always use insulated tools and equipment. Cover any hazardous contacts and wires with tape to avoid an accidental shock.
Whenever possible, work with just one hand. Your body can complete a circuit — if you touch live wires with both hands, the current will pass through your arms and chest, endangering your heart and other vital organs. Try to keep one hand by your side or in your pocket, and never have anything metal in your pocket.
Don’t take on work you are not qualified or experienced to complete. If you are a regular household electrician, don’t be tempted by an offer to fix a power line into a house. If you are an employer, don’t assign tasks to workers who have no experience in that field. Team up if a job requires hybrid skills and you don’t have all of them.
You won’t be wasting your time by taking courses and training for new areas of work. Adding to your skill set will get you more work if you are a contractor. Employers also benefit from education for electricians — well-trained workers with a wide range of skills enable the company to bid on more work.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, known as OSHA, is the government agency tasked with producing workplace safety standards and enforcing them. The organization produces a number of guidelines. They also provide workplace electrical safety tips you need to implement at your company.
If you are a small or medium-sized business, you can get a free on-site inspection from OSHA. They will give you feedback about your workshop so you can improve the safety of your employees and prevent electrical hazards.
Codes of Federal Regulations
OSHA’s safety standards are legally enforceable. You could be imprisoned if you are an employer and you don’t follow the standards. Additionally, if you don’t inform yourself of the regulations, you lay yourself open to litigation from your employees.
The OSHA electrical safety standards are contained in a document called NFPA 70E. You need to get a copy of this book, which also has the title “Electrical Safety in the Workplace Standard.” The code “NFPA” comes from the National Fire Protection Association, which is the standards body that produced NFPA 70E.
Study the Standards
You are legally obliged to know and apply the OSHA safety standards. If you are prosecuted for not following them, you can’t use lack of time or money as an excuse. While busy people would much rather take on more work than handle paperwork or read through guidelines, you must make studying the standards a priority.
If you are an employer, and you don’t play a direct role in the contracts, you need to make sure your foremen and senior electricians study these standards as well. Sending key staff to safety standards training will go a long way towards protecting yourself from litigation or prosecution.
NFPA 70E Training
We offer NFPA 70E training through our Technical Skills Development Services. There is a one-day course for electricians and another for those who come into contact with electrical equipment, but are not trained electricians.
If you have many employees who need to be trained in NFPA 70E, Technical Skills Development Services can come to your premises and train all of your staff together in one day though our On-Site Arc Flash/NFPA 70E training class program. Each attendee receives a Certificate of Completion. Being able to show that your electricians are fully conversant with the OSHA standards will help protect you against prosecution.
You need to keep yourself, as well as your assistants and employees, aware of safety issues. Electrical work is very hazardous if not approached with caution. There are many procedural methods and rules that will help you ensure workplace safety compliance.
It is a legal requirement to be aware of the standards of electrical safety — training in NFPA 70 E is not optional. Although it may seem like a non-essential expense and a loss of time, think of this safety training as an insurance policy. In the long run, it will save you the expense of medical bills, legal costs, and the defense costs and fines of possible prosecution.
Any employee knows that labor laws have to be followed. The OSHA safety standards are legally enforced and should not be disrespected. Keep your business in good shape by respecting the power of electricity and the power of OSHA.