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Don’t Be Shocked, How to Recognize and Prevent Electrical Hazards

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According to data from the Workplace Injury & Fatality Statistics at ESFi, electrocution was among the top 10 causes of fatalities reported from 2003 – 2020. Here’s how to recognize and take prevention measures of electrical hazards on your job site.  

Top Electrocution and Electrical Hazards In Construction 

According to OSHA, some of the most common reported electrocution hazards in the construction industry are the following: 

  • Contact with overhead power lines 
  • Contact with energized sources (e.g. live parts, damaged or bare wires, defective equipment or tools) 
  • Improper use of extension and flexible cords 

Contact With Power Lines 

Overhead and buried power lines are hazardous because they carry extremely high voltage. However, burns and falls from elevations are also hazards those workers are exposed to while working in the vicinity of high voltage power lines.  

While most workers who operate cranes usually come into contact or close proximity with a power line, cranes are not the only equipment that reaches overhead power lines. Working on a ladder or in a man-basket suspended under or near power lines also poses a risk of electrocution. All of these scenarios should be considered when making safety plans and observing workers.  

Note: The purpose of the covering on an overhead power line is primarily for weather protection. Workers need to be aware that if they touch a power line, covered or bare, injury and death is probable. 

Contact with Energized Sources 

Another electrical shock hazard is contact with energized sources, which leads to electrical shock and burns. The effects of an electrical shock depend on many factors. This can include the pathway through the body, the amount of voltage, the length of time of the exposure, and whether the skin is wet or dry. Water is a great conductor of electricity, allowing current to flow more easily in wet conditions and through wet skin. 

Electrical burns can be arc burns, thermal contact burns, or a combination of burns. Electrical burns are among the most serious burns and require immediate medical attention. 

Improper Use Of Extension And Flexible Cords / Electrical Equipment In Poor Condition 

The normal wear and tear on extension and flexible cords can loosen or expose wires, creating a safety risk. Cords that are not 3-wire type, not designed for hard-usage, or modified, increase the risk of contracting electrical current. 

Since they are exposed, flexible, and unsecured, they are more susceptible to damage than fixed wiring. Hazards are created when cords, cord connectors, receptacles, and cord- and plug-connected equipment are improperly used and maintained. 

To reduce hazards, flexible cords must connect to devices and fittings in ways that prevent tension at joints and terminal screws. Door or window edges may damage a flexible cord, staples and fastenings, abrasion from adjacent materials, or simply by aging. If the electrical conductors become exposed, there is a danger of shocks, burns, or fire. 

How To Recognize and Prevent Electrocution Hazards  

Staying away from power lines is the best option. OSHA has a guideline for how many feet of distance is considered safe per voltage for workers to operate around a power line. Please communicate with the utility company to ensure the power lines have been de-energized. And also ensure they’re visibly grounded or installed insulated sleeves.  

Flagged warning lines should be installed to mark horizontal and vertical power line clearance distances and that tools and materials used are nonconductive and in good condition.  

In general, it is important to control contact with electrical voltages and the currents they can cause. Safe work practices such as using caution near energized lines, de-energizing equipment before inspection and repair, properly maintaining tools and equipment, and using appropriate PPE are all important. When using temporary electric power on construction and renovation sites, make sure you plan the system properly and use ground fault interrupters (GFCIs). 

It’s also important to ensure that contractors comply with and comply with all OSHA (29 CFR 1926 subpart K). Along with that, also NFPA electrical safety standards (NFPA 70E) and to train workers on the Focus Four Hazards.

By taking these steps and following lockout/tagout procedures, you can ensure you and your staff are safe from electrocution hazards on the jobsite.