Electrical accidents rank sixth among all causes of work-related death in the United States according to the Electrical Safety Foundation International. Companies can take several steps to better protect workers from electrical hazards as well as avoid the financial and regulatory consequences that result from these devastating incidents. Safety awareness and how to recognize electrical hazards should be a ‘way of life’ for electrical workers…literally.
In the United States, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) mandates that work on electrical equipment must be performed in a manner that does not expose workers to undue risk of injury. OSHA enforces the requirements outlined in the NFPA 70E, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace®, which is a five-step process.
- Develop and audit an Electrical Safe Work Practices (ESWP) policy.
- Conduct an electrical system study to determine the present degree of arc flash hazards and label the equipment.
- Ensure adequate supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) and proper tools.
- Conduct regular safety training and employee assessments.
- Maintain all electrical distribution system components.
Additional Best Practices
Complying with the safe work practices outlined in NFPA 70E presents an opportunity to re-examine your electrical system and procedures. Incorporating the following best practices will: 1) complement the compliance process, 2) enhance workplace safety for employees, and 3) reduce the financial risk for your organization.
- Appoint an electrical safety program manager who is familiar with electrical code requirements.
- Make all workers, whether employees or hired contractors, aware of the known dangers of working on electrical equipment. Companies are responsible for electrical workplace safety for all electrical workers. Contractors are responsible for wearing PPE and abiding by the information on the labeled equipment.
- Ensure that electrical system documents are current. This important step is often overlooked when system components change or facility expansions occur. Crucial documents include the electrical one-line drawing (essential to safety when performing the lock-out/tag-out process), short circuit and time current coordination studies.
- Develop and follow strategies to reduce and control arc flash hazards whether through engineering controls or removing workers’ from harm’s way.
Finally, it is important to remember that electrical workplace safety is a never-ending process and requires top-down commitment as well as the commitment from those who actually maintain the equipment. Lives are at stake!