Electrical Safety: It’s Not Just for the Pros

Safety toolsLook around your workplace. If you’re on a construction site, you probably see power saws, drills and other electrical tools. If you’re in an office, you’re surrounded by computers, telephones and coffee pots.

The point is that regardless of your industry, you use equipment that runs on electricity. If you do not have safety procedures in place, that equipment can cause serious workplace injuries, up to and including death. The most common emergencies associated with electricity are shocks, burns, fires and explosions.

Electricians are trained to avoid the risks associated with working around electricity. The rest of us can follow a few simple tips to stay safe on the job:

Inspect and maintain equipment

Damaged or malfunctioning equipment increase your employees’ risk of getting injured. Before using power tools, cords and other equipment, make sure it is in good condition:

  • Check tools for broken casings, as well as loose screws, nuts, bolts and moveable parts.
  • Inspect power cords for exposed wires, cracked casing, and bent or broken prongs.
  • Make sure receptacle outlets are not cracked or broken, and have cover plates in place.
  • Ensure breaker panels have covers, and breakers are labeled.
  • Keep equipment clean and lubricated.

Practice safe behaviors

The safest way to do the job is not always the easiest way or the quickest way. Unfortunately, shortcuts get people injured. Every employee should understand that the company expects them to practice safe behaviors:

  • Understand which tasks require insulated gloves, metal-free shoes, hard hats rated for electricity and other personal protective equipment, and wear that equipment every time you do those tasks.
  • Stop using damaged and malfunctioning equipment immediately, and report it to a supervisor. Tag this equipment as “Damaged—Do Not Use” so others don’t get injured.
  • Remember that electricity flows easily through metal and water. Avoid using electrical tools in wet conditions. Remove metal jewelry, and do not use metal ladders or tools near power lines or other sources of electricity.
  • Follow the company’s lockout/tagout procedures. If you do not know the procedures, ask your supervisor.
  • Keep at least 10 feet between you and overhead power lines, per federal regulations. Additional minimum clearance is required for power lines carrying over 50,000 volts.
  • Respect high-voltage warning signs and barricades.

Be prepared

Prompt, calm actions save lives in emergencies. Electrical shocks and burns are no exception. Everyone should know how to respond if a co-worker is in danger:

  • Create an emergency preparedness plan that includes procedures for reporting emergencies, getting medical attention for victims, evacuating the building and safely maintaining critical operations.
  • Ask for volunteer first responders (VFRs). VFRs should be trained in emergency response procedures, including CPR and other basic first aid.
  • Clearly mark the locations of escape routes, first aid kits, emergency defibrillators and fire extinguishers. Before you use a fire extinguisher, check the label to ensure it is safe to use on electrical fires.
  • Stay calm if you call 9-1-1. Make sure you know the address where the emergency happened. Let the operator guide the conversation, and respond clearly and calmly. If possible, stay with the victim while you are on the phone.

The most serious consequence of any workplace accident is the human cost of pain and suffering. Businesses also have to consider the impact accidents have on productivity and employee morale. Working together, employers and their employees can create an environment in which workplace accidents are not an inevitable consequence of doing business.

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