While electrical contracting work is rewarding, it does come with its fair share of risks. To reduce these risks, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has established standards to address electrical hazards for contractors. Unfortunately, these electrical safety standards are neglected far too often, as can be seen by looking at the top ten most frequently cited OSHA standards.
The truth is that many of the risks involved with electrical work can be significantly reduced by simply adhering closely to OSHA standards. However, with pressure on electrical contractors to get more work done in less time, these standards can be neglected. While on the job, electrical contractors should take certain precautions in order to return home safely at the end of the day:
Never Assume Electrical Devices Are De-Energized
It is important that electrical contractors never assume that electrical equipment is already de-energized, prior to work, and to treat the equipment as if it could deliver a lethal shock. Energized equipment can be extremely dangerous, and contractors need to ensure that there is no voltage and to ground the electrical equipment before work.
Many workers have been electrocuted because they believed a circuit to be “dead” because the switches were off. Electrical contractors must follow OSHA regulations while de-energizing electrical equipment and follow proper lockout/tagout procedures according to OSHA Standard 29 CFR 1910.333 to prevent electric shock.
Carry a First Aid Kit Inside Your Truck or Tool Box
Sometimes, the need for medical treatment can’t wait for medical personnel to arrive on the scene, and what you have inside your first aid kit can make the difference between life or death. This is why OSHA Standard 1910.151 requires contractors to carry adequate first aid supplies with them at all times. Contractors can find the minimum required first aid supplies in Appendix A, which includes supplies such as gauze, wound cleaning agent, Band-Aids, and tweezers, among other items. Even if the injury isn’t life-threatening, first aid kits can come in handy and help treat burns sustained from hot transformers or other electrical equipment.
Wear the Appropriate PPE
Wearing the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) can help minimize the contractor’s exposure to a variety of hazards, including arc flash and electric shock. The effects of arc flash, in particular, can be devastating and, despite not being very common, it is critical for electrical contractors to take precautions.
While OSHA specifies circumstances for when PPE is to be used, the PPE that is to be used will depend on the outcome of the hazard assessment that employers are required to do under OSHA Standard 1910.132 (general requirements). In addition to PPE, electrical workers often use insulating protective equipment (IPE) such as insulating blankets and hoods, live-line tools, and plastic or fiberglass hardcover items. These items are essential to keeping contractors safe while working on electrical equipment.
Avoid Working in Wet Areas
Most of us know that water and electricity don’t mix, but the source of water may not always be apparent. It is easy for electrical equipment to accumulate moisture, especially if the contractor is installing equipment in a bathroom or other areas that are more likely to get wet.
Both OSHA and the National Electric Code (NEC) have requirements for electrical equipment in wet areas. Per OSHA 1910.303, electrical equipment is required to be “free from recognized hazards that are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees,” while NEC requires that ground-fault current interrupting (GFCI) devices be installed in areas that are exposed to the elements or which could get wet in order to prevent shock incidents.
Look for Visible Damage to Equipment Before Use
It may seem obvious, but it is common for workers to not bother inspecting their tools for damage before going to work. When time is money, these small steps are not always a priority for electrical contractors. However, even slight damage can render equipment unsafe for use. Safety checks should be performed on plug connected equipment and extension cords according to OSHA 1910.334(a), and the equipment should not be used by any employee if damage is found. By inspecting the equipment first, the chance of electric shock can be reduced.
Although an employer can establish a work environment that meets OSHA standards, this does not mean that the risk of injury is eliminated. Electrical contractors should take precautions when working with electrical equipment to reduce the risk of injury and keep safe on the job.