Ensuring Workplace Electrical Safety

The Electrical Safety Foundation International designates every May as National Electrical Safety Month. This campaign was created to educate employers and individuals about the various steps to reduce the risks of electrical-related fires, injuries, fatalities and property damage.

Work-related electrical incidents contribute to over 3,500 injuries every year, costing employers an annual total of more than $1 million. These injuries may include burns, lacerations and electrical shocks—the latter of which can be fatal. Electrical incidents are especially prevalent among employees who frequently use electrical tools and equipment. To reduce hazards and keep your employees safe amid electrical tasks, give them these tips:

  • Keep electrical tools and equipment on a regular inspection and maintenance schedule. Never use broken or damaged items.
  • Wear the proper personal protective equipment for all electrical tasks.
  • Ensure portable electrical tools are equipped with three-prong plugs to deter shocks.

Causes of Shocks
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), electricity travels in closed circuits, normally through a conductor. However, sometimes a person’s body – an efficient conductor of electricity – mistakenly becomes part of the electric circuit. Shocks occur when a person’s body completes the current path with:

  • Both wires of an electric circuit;
  • One wire of an energized circuit and the ground;
  • A metal part that accidentally becomes energized (such as a break in its insulation); or
  • Another “conductor” that is carrying a current.

When a person receives a shock, electricity flows between parts of the body or through the body to the ground.

Inspect Your Tools
Accidental grounding is one of the most common preventable incidents occurring when working with electricity. One way to avoid this is by always examining your tools for these conditions:

  • Defective or broken insulation
  • Improper or poorly made connections to terminals
  • Broken or otherwise defective plugs
  • Loose or broken switches
  • Sparking brushes

If any of these conditions exist, have the tool repaired before using it, report it to your supervisor and above all, do not use it!

Additional Safety Rule

  • Do not attempt to repair or adjust portable electric tools while they are plugged in.
  • Do not use portable electric tools in the presence of flammable vapors or gases, unless they are designed for such use.
  • When using a tool to handle energized conductors, check to make sure it is designed to withstand the voltage and stresses to which it has been exposed. 

If you or a co-worker does receive a shock, it is important to seek immediate medical attention. Even if the victim does not exhibit signs of injury or stress, internal injuries may have resulted from the shock. Low voltage shocks can actually be fatal. 

Knowing how to work safely with portable electric tools can save your life. Stay alert on the job, always check equipment prior to use and do not take any unnecessary chances. Click here for additional electrical safety resources.