Here’s a jolting fact: Most electrical workers experience a shock while on the job and consider it normal, according to a study by Littelfuse, a circuit protection technologies manufacturer. While shocks are a known hazard when working with electricity, they can signal that a worker lacks safety understanding. Electrical safety is the law, and mistakes or lack of training can be deadly and disastrous.
Among OSHA’s annual top 10 most frequently cited violations, electrical safety is a common problem in the workplace. In 2018, there were 160 electrical fatalities, 18 percent more than in 2017, according to the Electrical Safety Foundation International. Yet, the numbers for electrical injuries and deaths are inaccurate, Littelfuse said. This is due to the misclassification in the cause of death for electrical workers in a multi-hazard situation. So, the death rate is likely much higher.
There are standards and rules defined by OSHA and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) that aim to protect those working with electricity. NFPA 70E addresses the protocol for arc flash hazard protection. OSHA regulations focus on general electrical safety and employer responsibilities.
Electricians know the dangers of their work they face each day, whether it is installing new equipment or conducting maintenance. But are shocks “a normal part of the job”? Graphic Products asked a group of electricians their thoughts on shocks, working live, and important safety habits to have.
“Sometimes it’s unavoidable,” said Doug Beaver of Missouri. Little tingles, while not frequent, are bound to happen. However, regular shocks are not normal and signal a worker is not meant for an electrical profession.
“I spent eight years at a power plant and I am now in substations,” said Cory McConnell of Lakeland, Florida. “Sometimes locked out isn’t an option and turned off may not always be dead.”
“You don’t shut down a million-dollar-an-hour line to tie in a new device,” said Joel Bradle of Cincinnati. “You just take your time. Always treat hot.”
“Electrical is a great life coach,” said Matt Ward of Denver. “Never trust someone else, always self-verify, move like the worst could happen, take pride in how you do things, send it!”
“I’ve been hit by 120 and 277,” said Justin West of Pennsylvania. “I learned from those experiences.” The mistakes he said he made early in his career have made him the electrician he is today. “I don’t work on anything hot now,” West said.
“I got hit by 120V and missed a circuit,” said Jerry Roland of Maryland. He said he has permanent tingling from his hand to his elbow. “Any voltage can be serious.”
The Littelfuse study shows that preventing shocks requires an increase in safety and work culture. Improving workplace conditions for electricians means having the right, perhaps newer, tools for the job, including personal protective equipment for the type of electrical work and arc flash protection. A few more safety methods that help prevent shocks:
- Lockout/tagout: When possible, power down. Lock and tag machinery and equipment to prevent startup or energization before servicing.
- Testing: Use safety precautions while working live and test electrical before any work.
- Technology: Implement better design components and newer, more forgiving systems to help in times of human error.
- Training: Conduct training on a routine and regular basis. Make sure workers understand what they learn and can demonstrate that safety knowledge on every job. Electrical safety training should cover electrical current and voltage, testing, PPE, zero-energy work, and lockout/tagout.
The best way to reduce shocks is to prevent them. Effective employee training for electrical work should include a thorough job hazard analysis and mitigation using the Hierarchy of Controls. Workplaces can support electrical safety by improving communication and creating a more intuitive work culture. Reinforce safety messages through relevant electrical signs for arc flash and identification. Outline incident energy and safe working distance with floor markings. Replace or update information as the job or equipment changes.
Develop and implement a lockout/tagout (LO/TO) program in any facility. Download our free guide.