A lineman in Texas lays on a stretcher with his arms in bandages and his neck in a brace. He forces a smile for his mother just as he enters an ambulance. Moments earlier, the 24-year-old was badly shocked and thrown from atop a telephone pole. He has since been in the hospital for months, suffering from severe burns and other wounds. Each year, electrocution is sixth among causes of workplace deaths. It is worthwhile and easy for workplaces to re-evaluate and step up electrical safety plans.
Working in extreme weather, at great heights, and in confined spaces, linework and other electrical work are among some of the most dangerous jobs in the United States. Electrocution from high and low voltage power lines and falls from great heights are among the main causes of fatalities in the power generation industry. In 2018, there were 160 electrical fatalities. This was an 18% increase over the previous year and the highest number of fatalities since 2011, according to Electrical Safety Foundation International. Knowing these statistics and the continuous rates of injuries, it is important for businesses to evaluate where to make improvements when it comes to worker safety.
"Employers must employ hazard recognition to protect workers from harm, especially in high hazard industries," said Loren Sweatt, principal deputy assistant secretary of labor for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. She said that by ignoring safety and health requirements, workers and employers create an unsafe work environment with deadly consequences.
In electrical work, some hazards that could arise are poor wiring, defective wires, falling from ladders, lack of personal protective equipment, and failure to use lockout/tagout. To help control hazards for workers at any skill level, workplaces need to provide information through education, continuous training, and clear and obvious signage or labels. The NESC (National Electrical Safety Code), for electrical utility work, is updated every five years; the NFPA 70E standard, for general workplace electrical safety, is updated every three years. To stay up to date, workplaces should routinely audit their safety programs.
“It has been my experience that most electrical accidents involve a lack of training or a lack of awareness or both,” said Jeffrey Brown, an electrical professional in Tennessee. “Certainly, a lack of maintenance plays a part, but that should be covered under awareness. And a lack of awareness can be construed as complacency. Stay focused. Complacency kills.”
Brown is among several electrical safety professionals who took part in a Graphic Products poll on electrical safety via Facebook. The main agreement was that workplaces need to focus on developing an electrical safety program that focuses on experts as well as beginners. Here are a few more tips for improving electrical safety and workplace culture overall:
- Meet up: Start each day or job with an onsite safety meeting with all crew working on the job.
- Assessment: Conduct a site assessment and identify hazards.
- Plan: Ensure each person knows their participation plan that includes engineering, scheduling, and PPE.
- Technology: As improved tools become available, take advantage of their increased safety and efficiency. Use remote tools to help check live electrical current. Use effective lockout/tagout and grounding equipment. Another example of new tech in the workplace: Some lineworkers use video camera wearables to help ground crews below see what the lineworker is doing.
- Inform: Use a process paper that covers everything on the job, including details who is doing what and where, substation information, and safety information and emergency kit locations. Convey the worksite conditions, such as rain that could cause slippery conditions and to direct the correct type of PPE.
- Education: Renew safety on a routine basis through webinars, seminars, worker audits, and more.
Another tip that helps ensure safety on the job is commitment, according to Eddie Harris, a journeyman wireman at Miller Electric. “Every one of us are safety leaders. It all starts with you,” he said. “A professional shows up with the right equipment and the right attitude, ready to get on with the work.”
In any workplace, when it comes to the culture of engagement, leadership, and performance improvement, managers play a central role. Every day, workers head to their jobs and fully expect to return home without any injuries. This is made possible when companies put the security of their workforce as the priority. Reinforce employer and employee contribution and commitment through improving safety best practices. Stay on top of OSHA and other regulatory agency standards and treat safety as a commitment to excellence.