Watch Out for These Electrical Hazards in Your Construction Site

Workers should ask for assistance if they’re not trained or confident in performing a task rather than try to fix something themselves.

By Rick Pedley, Contributor

Construction sites typically need power to function, and power is likely to become a part of any completed jobsite. Tasks using electricity involve risks, including nerve damage, injury, and death. To protect yourself and your workers, be aware of these nine potential electrical hazards.

1. Overhead Power Lines

Transmission line voltages range between 44,000 to over 765,000 volts. When possible, stay at least 10 feet away from wires and away from power line structures where possible. Don’t store anything near or underneath power lines; set up warning signs and safety barriers around potential danger zones. Until proven otherwise, assume that all downed power lines are live, and let a local utility company take care of any issue relating to them.

2. Damaged Gear

Everyone should know how to identify damaged tools and how to report them. Workers should have time to inspect their gear before every shift. Anything with cracks, cuts, rips, or tears should be replaced. Use double-insulated tools and cut connectors off damaged portable power tools until they can be repaired or replaced. When doing maintenance or repairing large machines or equipment, use a lockout/tagout system.

3. Faulty Wiring

Label electrical equipment, outlets, and cords by amperage and voltage levels. Store power tools with the proper cord to avoid hazardous mix-ups. Inadequate wiring, tangled cords, frayed or exposed wires, and other damage may mean that something isn’t connected properly, so notify a supervisor if this happens.

4. Overloaded Circuits

In addition to other electrical hazards, an overloaded circuit can catch fire if it overheats. Use circuit breakers when powering more than one device per outlet to protect the circuit. Don’t use surge protectors or power strips on your site—three-way extensions with GFCI provide the best protection.

5. Exposed Electrical Parts

Hanging wires, loose connections, or dangling outlets are warnings that should be reported to a manager as soon as possible. Stay alert for faulty parts and equipment. The outer insulation of wires should be intact to prevent exposure. Any openings should be shut and temporary lighting guarded.

Electrical problems can be difficult to spot but are one of the most dangerous hazards on a construction site.

6. Improper Grounding

Avoid unwanted transmission by grounding, which should come with wires and electrical equipment just in case a connection is bad. Your site should have a ground pin to return electricity to the ground, and no one should touch the ground pin to avoid electrocution, shock, and rendering the system unsafe.

7. Damaged or Inadequate Insulation

Never use poorly insulated wires. Tape does not count as a repair, so replace any damaged wires. Keep your wires away from any hazards that could damage the insulation to keep them in good shape. Don’t hang wires on sharp objects, tuck them into windows, or leave them in high-traffic areas.

8. Water

Keep moisture and water away from electrical parts and equipment. Don’t go near equipment or power lines that may have been exposed to moisture. This is especially true if the insulation is damaged. When working in wet or hazy conditions, protect circuits with GFCIs, keep tools and equipment away from damp areas, and set up a shelter to reduce moisture.

9. Lack of Training

Workers should ask for assistance if they’re not trained or confident in performing a task rather than try to fix something themselves. New team members should shadow senior members to increase comfort and competence. Allow extra time to inspect the surroundings and equipment before working.

Electrical problems can be difficult to spot but are one of the most dangerous hazards on a construction site. Basic knowledge of electrical safety is a must before starting a shift, as is proper inspections of the site and equipment. If everyone knows what to look for, everyone can be safer from electrical hazards at work.

Rick Pedley, PK Safety’s President and CEO joined the family business in 1979. PK Safety, a supplier of occupational safety and personal protective equipment, has been operating since 1947 and takes OSHA, ANSI, PPE, and CSA work safety equipment seriously (www.pksafety.com).

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