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Practicing Safety While Working on or Near Electrical Equipment

Brianne Deerwester, Contributor

Electricity drives our everyday lives as demand and connectivity increase in this rapidly changing digital world. As our phones, homes, and workplaces get even smarter, a greater focus should be placed on utilizing electricity safely, especially on the worksite. Workplace electrical injuries and fatalities continue to disrupt the lives of workers and families yearly. These preventable injuries and fatalities can be avoided by providing proper training for electrical and non-electrical occupations and educating workers about the activities and hazards causing accidents in the workplace.

Every year, the Electrical Safety Foundation International compiles data on electrical injuries and fatalities using the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) and Survey of Occupational Injuries (SOII). This data provides insight to better promote electrical safety in the workplace. The data in ESFI’s reports covers U.S. occupational electrical accidents, including the total number of electrical injuries and fatalities, the industries and occupations in which they occurred, and the rates of injury for selected industries. ESFI compiles the data to track electrical injury trends and to identify occupations and industries where electrical training, provided by the NIOSH and OSHA, can be applied to reduce the number of occupational electrical injuries.

The BLS found that between 2011 and 2019, there was a total of 19,055 workplace injuries caused by contact with or exposure to electric current; 17,680 of these were nonfatal injuries, while 1,375 were fatal. This accounts for an average of 2,177 injuries a year, or 5.9 injuries a day. In looking at the most recent data, 2019 recorded the highest number of fatal electrical injuries since 2011. There was a 3.75% increase in fatal injuries over 2018. Contact with or exposure to electric current accounted for 3% of all fatalities, maintaining the same percentage as in 2018. Electrical fatality rates were 0.11 fatalities per 100,000 workers, while the rate for all fatalities was 3.6 per 100,000 workers. In 2019, 8% of all electrical injuries were fatal.

There were 1,900 nonfatal electrical injuries involving days away from work in 2019, which was a 22% increase over 2018. In 2019, 0.21% of all nonfatal injuries resulting in days away from work could be attributed to electricity, compared to 2018, when 0.17% could be attributed to electricity. The industries with the leading number of nonfatal electrical injuries were construction at 20% of the total, manufacturing at 16%, leisure and hospitality at 13%, education and health services at 11%, and accommodation and food services at 10%. Electrical shocks accounted for 1,340 of the nonfatal electrical injuries, while burns accounted for 470.

The construction industry had the highest rate of fatal electrical injuries, 0.7 fatalities per 100,000 workers, followed by the utility industry, 0.4 fatalities per 100,000 workers. All industries had 0.1 fatalities per 100,000 workers. The number of electrical fatalities varied between age groups. Eleven percent occurred in workers aged 20 to 24, 30% occurred in workers aged 25 to 34, 27% occurred in workers aged 34 to 44, 17% occurred in workers aged 45 to 54, and 13% of electrical fatalities occurred in workers aged 55 to 64.

Combatting Injury

An infographic highlighting Temporary Power Safety was created to help combat preventable electrical injuries in the construction industry. OSHA states that contact with electricity is one of the leading causes of construction workplace fatalities. However, temporary power is essential to worksites but poses a great risk to workers. The proper steps must be followed to ensure proper safety procedures are met when working with or around temporary power. Temporary power must be removed when a project is completed. Temporary wiring must be removed immediately upon completion of construction or the purpose for which it was installed and is only allowed for: construction, remodeling, maintenance, repair or demolition of buildings, structures, or equipment, or similar activities, emergencies, tests, experiments, and developmental work.

Temporary wiring should be designed and installed according to OSHA, NEC, and NFPA 70E requirements and must be installed by a qualified electrician. Temporary power equipment should be located on a worksite protected from vehicle traffic, accessible only to authorized persons, and suitable for the environmental conditions that may be present. Always calculate the electrical load demand to ensure the temporary power can supply all connected loads. Ensure all unused openings are covered and closed to afford protection substantially equivalent to the wall of the equipment. Unused panelboard disconnect and breaker openings must be effectively closed to prevent any foreign objects from getting inside. Establish a timeframe of when temporary power will be removed or switched over to permanent power.

Before using temporary power, always inspect cords and wiring to ensure there is no damage or alterations. Temporary wiring must be maintained in a safe, code-compliant manner. Ensure all equipment, receptacles, and flexible cords and cables are properly grounded. Use equipment rated for the environment where supplied by temporary power. GFCI protection is required for all 125-volt, 15-, 20-, and 30-ampere receptacle outlets. Listed cord sets or devices incorporating listed GFCI protection for portable use are permitted. Other receptacle outlets shall be GFCI protected or be included in an assured equipment grounding conductor program. Be sure to test GFCIs monthly. Keep a test and maintenance log of the equipment and cord sets being used. Always disconnect power and lockout/tagout when maintaining, repairing, extending, or re-routing temporary power. Maintain circuit directories to ensure worker safety.

Contact with overhead power lines continues to be one of the major worksite hazards and causes of electrical injuries and fatalities. Overhead power lines cause 40% of all electrically related fatalities in the workplace, and a majority of these accidents occur with workers that have little to no electrical safety training. Before conducting any work on a worksite, it’s important to always look up to survey the area for any overhead power lines. Always carry equipment horizontally, such as ladders, to avoid bumping into any overhead lines. Ensure you are at least 10 feet away from any overhead lines and 35 feet away, or about two dump truck lengths, from any downed power lines. If weather conditions are wet, you may need to move even further.

If you contact a power line and you’re in a vehicle, stay inside and warn others to stay away, then call 911. Do not exit unless you see smoke or fire. If you must exit the vehicle, do not touch the ground and the vehicle at the same time. You must jump from the vehicle and land with your feet together. Then avoid lifting your feet as you slowly shuffle away from the vehicle and downed line. Remember, if you see a downed power line, stay away and call 911. But to avoid major accidents in the first place, be sure to always look up.

As the world becomes more electrified and the U.S. construction sectors continue to grow, the average worker has a greater risk of unintentionally encountering hazardous electrical current. This is why all workers, whether they are working on and near electrical equipment directly or not, need to be trained on the importance of working safely with electricity. No matter if the work takes place in an office, industrial facility, or construction site, all workers should be aware of the hazards of their worksite and how to avoid electrical injuries and fatalities. For free-to-share materials you can use throughout your workplace to prevent these avoidable injuries, visit esfi.org. ESW

Brianne Deerwester is the Communications Coordinator at Electrical Safety Foundation International (www.ESFI.org).

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