Electricity has long been recognized as a serious workplace hazard, exposing employees to shock, electrocution, burns, fires and explosions. The fact that most of these accidents could have been avoided easily makes these statistics all the more needless and tragic.
Electricity is a necessary source of energy that we depend on for our daily functions. When it’s installed and maintained properly, it can be controlled easily and effectively. However, when electricity is taken for granted and there is a lack of understanding of the hazards it can produce, non-electrical workers are far more likely to become exposed unknowingly.
Employers should ask this simple question: Are your employees trained to protect themselves from exposure to electrical hazards? If you think your electrical hazards are covered by your qualified electrical workers, think again. Non-electrical workers also can face serious electrical hazards in their daily tasks. A job as simple as picture-hanging can be a source of dangerous electric shock if workers are unaware of wiring behind the walls.
Examples of potential exposure to electrical hazards by non-electrical workers include:
Saw-cutting and core-boring concrete walls and floors
Seismic anchoring into walls and floors
Making penetrations into metal/wood framed and drywall covered walls and ceilings
Working in suspended ceiling areas where exposed electrical hazards are present (i.e., openings in electrical boxes, missing protective covers, abandoned circuits that are still energized).
While many employers focus on providing comprehensive electrical training and evaluation for their qualified workers, often they overlook the potential exposure risk to non-electrical personnel. Since many employees and contractors aren’t directly involved in the maintenance and repair of electrical systems, they’re often unaware or unmindful of the potential exposure to a variety of electrical hazards.
Orientation, training and awareness
Since many companies provide a general orientation program as part of the new hire process, including electrical hazard awareness training along with general workplace safety instruction is the best way to guarantee that new employees are alerted to potential electrical hazards. A well-designed initial orientation enhances worker safety awareness, can help prevent serious injury or worse, and sends a strong message that the employer is serious about establishing and adhering to safe work practices. Keep that in mind if you have non-electrical workers that don’t have electrical hazards awareness training and will be working in and around hazards.
An effective electrical safety and hazard awareness program provides an overview of potential electrical hazards, strategies for protection and avoidance, and instruction on company policies and procedures that support safe work practices. While the specific elements of an awareness program vary depending on the industry, facility, machinery and equipment, a useful training curriculum could include a variety of elements.
General electrical awareness
Consequences of electrical hazards
The safety model
Major hazards and prevention strategies
Lockout/tagout (LOTO) awareness
Basic personal protective equipment (PPE) awareness
Reporting hazards to a supervisor
Since electricity is such a familiar part of everyday life, this powerful energy source often is used with minimal caution and little thought regarding its potential hazards. Workers are especially vulnerable to electrical hazards because they’re often operating in fast-paced situations involving intricate machinery, power tools, crowded work areas, and exposure to variable weather and other environmental factors.
Just on account of the fact that the average worker often lacks basic electrical knowledge, a general overview of how electricity works is a good place to start electrical safety awareness training. Just as the fire triangle provides the three elements that produce a fire — oxygen, heat and a fuel source — there are three basic elements that comprise a complete electrical circuit — a source of energy, a load and a complete path. The primary goal of awareness training is to keep workers from becoming part of this electrical circuit and ultimately ensuring the safety of everyone involved.