Hazards are always present in the workplace. Regardless of industry or nature of business, threats to occupational safety should be an essential consideration for employers. For electrical contractors dealing with risks daily, this is especially true.
With electrical work, hazards exist in many forms. But, at the same time, electrical contractors may foster a safety culture by implementing various possible solutions to reduce or eliminate the risks associated with this specialty.
Slips and Falls
In this article, we will go through different ergonomic hazards of working with electrical equipment, as well as the best ergonomic solutions for electrical workers and professionals to avoid these in the workplace.
Ergonomic hazards are environmental factors that cause musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) brought by the wear and tear on the body due to repetition, physical strain from poorly-designed equipment and prolonged postures, flawed lifting and handling practices, and extreme workplace noise and temperature. Such hazards can lead to severe disabilities if not prevented or addressed.
Ergonomic injuries are the leading cause of worker injury, responsible for more workers' compensation claims than any other hazard. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has determined that work-related MSDs are one of the most frequently reported grounds of lost or restricted work time. For electrical contractors, this means financial losses that come in the form of compensation claims and hits to productivity due to lost workdays.
Additionally, according to the 2021 Contractor Risk Report data released by AmTrust Financial Services, Inc., a property and casualty insurer, electrical workers accounted for 19% of AmTrust claims filed - only second to the 28% of insurance claims from plumbers. This statistic indicates the presence of more workplace or task-related dangers than any other contractors or specialties.
Electrical contractors face exposure to ergonomic issues when transporting tools and equipment around shops, worksites, and storage areas. When it comes to handling materials, lifting heavy objects is one of the leading causes of injuries in the workplace because of overexertion and cumulative trauma. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than one million workers suffer back injuries each year, and back injuries comprise 20% of workplace injuries.
Use suction devices to lift junction boxes or any smooth and flat-surfaced materials.
Ensure proper lifting practices are performed by workers. Maintain neutral and straight spine alignment by bending at the knees, not the waist.
When lifting loads more than the prescribed weight, enlist the help of two or more people. The rule of thumb is one person for every 50 pounds.
Store materials that must be manually lifted and transported in "power-zone" height. Be mindful to keep the vertical distance of lifts between mid-thigh and shoulder height.
Use templates made of lightweight materials to mark holes for drilling when mounting heavy objects. This ensures that heavy items such as junction boxes and services panels are not carried or held for a prolonged period.
Use stands or mechanical lifting devices to hold large materials for fastening.
Take regular breaks and divide work into shorter segments. Allowing the body to rest will give muscles ample time to recuperate.
Pre-assemble fixtures or boxes to minimize the time workers spend handling them.
Maintain a correct posture when operating transport devices.
Avoid pulling when possible, as it may cause injuries from carts hitting the shins or ankles. Generally, pushing takes less effort.
Use vertical handles instead of horizontal ones to allow employees of different heights to maintain a neutral posture.
Use pneumatic wheels for trucks and carts to provide more stability when transporting materials over bumpy, rough terrain.
The farther the materials are stored, the more it affects risk factors, efficiency, and productivity.
Deck platforms also provide a convenient waist-high workspace.
In cramped spaces, lift materials in a kneeling position and push and pull while crouching.
Use a vehicle with hydraulic lift equipment.
Install truck ramps to make loading in and out of the back of the vehicle easier.
Move materials closer to the tailgate to make manual lifting in the "power zone" easier.
If possible, work during daylight hours.
Electrical workers often carry out general maintenance, installation, and electrical repair works several times at several locations. As such, workers performing these tasks must stand for long periods, work in awkward postures, or manually lift heavy objects, increasing the risk of ergonomic injuries, particularly musculoskeletal problems.
Use a mechanical wire puller to eliminate the need for manual pulling by several workers, thereby minimizing the risk of overexertion and preventing cumulative trauma disorders in the workplace.
Appropriately positioned movable pulleys allow workers to exert more force and work in proper postures. Combined with mechanical pullers, this reduces overhead reaches and force requirements of the task.
Use spool rollers to allow the spools to move naturally, reducing the force requirement of the task and cable damage during payout.
Provide workers with platforms, lifts, or scaffolds to avoid overhead or low-location pulls.
Lubricate wire as it enters chases and conduits to reduce friction and force requirement of pulling.
Use platform ladders instead of a regular ladder to provide workers a surface where they can stand and turn to face work direction while pulling. Doing so will allow workers to exert force in ergonomically correct postures that improve efficiency and reduce fatigue.
Conduct pre-planning to ensure that all works are provided with suitable height ladders.
Remove obstructions such as tables and power equipment to improve access. Use platform ladders or lifts to get closer to the work area.
Use stab-in switches and outlets. For smaller-scale jobs (residential), use self-locking stab-ins. For larger-scale jobs, use stab-ins with a side screw fastener.
Use tool-less connectors as they are easier and faster, reducing safety risks.
Use proper size or spring-loaded strippers with sharp teeth when stripping wires to reduce the pulling force required.
Purchase tools with handles appropriately sized and shaped for the workers. The handle should be padded and made of slip-resistant material such as plastic or rubber. They must also be light and fit well in hand.
Use powered or ratcheting tools for repetitive tasks whenever possible. Ensure that powered devices have variable speed, torque limiters, or stop bars to avoid spraining workers' hands.
Use spring-loaded pliers, crimpers, and snips for repeatedly done tasks. Make sure that the spring is just enough to open the tool, as excessive spring force might increase the grip force required to use the tool.
Use appropriately designed tools and equipment with proper handle orientation to promote neutral posture of the wrist and hand. An inline tool is best suited for horizontal surfaces; a pistol grip for vertical surfaces; and bent-handled tools can accommodate varying angles and work positions.
Select electrical tools with padded grips and handles extending along the entire palm to reduce contact pressure.
Keep electrical tools well-maintained and in good repair. Replace electrical tools if handles are damaged.
Use torque bars on tools such as pipe threaders and drills to minimize the effort exerted to control the instrument.
Use trigger levers on power tools as these have a longer trigger to accommodate three fingers instead of those with single finger trigger action.
Use overhead or under-tool supports to sustain the weight of heavy tools.
Maintain tools in good working order. Avoid poorly-designed older power tools not suited for ergonomic use. Consider reduced-vibration tools when making new purchases. Keep cutting surfaces of tools sharp and well lubricated.
Learn safety practices and proper tool usage. Wear appropriate anti-vibration gloves when using power tools and only use enough finger force to provide adequate control of the device.
Sit on a stool when working on lower areas to reduce crouching and kneeling. Wear kneepads if kneeling is required.
Limit continuous use of vibrating tools to 15 minutes, with no more than 2 hours of total operating time per day. Workers should still observe other means of reducing the vibration, even during shortened sessions.
Use a mobile toolbox or a bucket-style tool bag instead of a tool belt. Select a backpack-style tool bag if tools need to be carried, so the weight of the devices is distributed over the body.
Use padded belts and suspenders to distribute the weight between the shoulders and the waist evenly. Keep the tool belt light by only keeping the necessary tools for the tasks.
Use mechanical conduit benders on conduit with a diameter larger than 1.5 inches.
Prefabricate as many conduits as possible when power equipment is unavailable to minimize on-site bending. If manual bending is required, use longer handles to improve leverage and reduce the force needed to bend a conduit. Wear gloves to minimize contact stress and avoid cuts.
Place conduit in a fixture to maintain stability when cutting. Use a table or sawhorse to support the line.
Use a lightweight, flexible conduit that doesn't require bending, where code allows.
Use an angle drill for large holes to provide a more extended lever arm to control torque forces.
Choose drilling tools with a built-in kickback clutch.
Apply even pressure on the bit and do not force it. Make sure tool bits are sharp before use. Sharpen and replace frequently.
Use ladders or lifts to reach higher work areas so that arms may be kept close to the body and safely support tools in the "power zone." Use bit extensions to minimize reaching.
Request builders to use materials that do not require drilling, such as engineered wood products with knockouts. Using spacers while laying fresh concrete can also minimize drilling after curing the concrete.
Use mechanical means such as trenchers or backhoes.
Move the feet instead of twisting the torso to turn the whole body.
Use long-handled tools to minimize the bending in the torso.
Divide digging tasks into segments no longer than 15 minutes and mix them with non-digging tasks. Shoveling must be alternated from left to right sides of the body. The interval might be shorter depending on environmental conditions and the difficulty of digging work.
Place wheelbarrows close to the digging area to reduce throwing distance. The optimal throw distance is approximately three feet and no farther than four feet.
Use the right shovel for the job. For sand and dry earth, use round-bladed shovels; for coarse-grained materials, use square-bladed shovels; and for digging in hard ground, use shovels with a rolled step. Use trenching shovels to minimize the weight of the material lifted.
Wear PPE, including protective gloves and shoes with steel shanks.
Many buildings and facilities are built today with the help of prefabricated elements in concrete, wood, and steel. Because of the many benefits prefabricated construction presents for businesses and customers, many consider it a modern construction solution.
The construction may often go faster than building on-site, but it entails several other significant hazards during installation. While prefabrication can manage some ergonomic-related risk factors, it can still expose workers to dangers unique to this setting. This includes heavy manual lifting, static postures, repetitive movements, and contact stress.
Store conduits in containers or racks when delivered. Refrain from placing it on the floor.
Ensure that work areas are clear of obstructions to minimize inferences when moving large conduits. This includes both overhead and ground-level blocks.
Use mechanical assists such as cranes and forklifts to move materials and finished pieces.
Use containers with handles, carts of waist height, or attachable handles to make hauling larger pieces of conduit easier.
Seek help when materials need to be moved manually, especially in handling large sections after the conduit is bent.
Maintain all wheels, rollers, and cart guides to minimize rolling resistance. Note that the bigger the wheel, the less force is required to move carts. Recommended size is at least 6 inches in diameter.
Conduct pre-planning to ensure that smaller wire spools are placed on work surfaces of appropriate height to minimize bending and lifting.
Use mechanical means such as forklifts, overhead cranes, and hoists to move and lift large spools. If automated means are not available, make sure that two or more employees share the load.
Ensure sufficient access to all spool racks. Frequently used spools must be placed between weight and shoulder height in convenient locations.
Use spool rollers instead of elevated racks when removing wire from the spools as these do not require to be moved to high locations.
Provide adjustable-height tables and jigs that hold the piece in a position where workers can maintain a neutral posture.
Furnish workstations with anti-fatigue mats and shoe inserts to help reduce discomfort caused by prolonged standing on hard floor surfaces.
Do not conduct welding on low-level areas. Pre-plan welding tasks to minimize awkward postures. Provide a stand to get welding equipment to an appropriate height to eliminate awkward stances.
Use stools instead of kneeling. When required, wear knee pads.
Consider the weight of PPE or clothing items such as helmets, jackets, and aprons to reduce the load the workers need to support when bending the neck or trunk to perform tasks.
Pad areas of tools and work surfaces that come into contact with body parts.
Provide adjustable workstations to give workers the option to adjust the height and tilt of the work surface. Use adjustable fixtures or clamps to hold parts during assembly.
Provide lighted, modifiable magnifying glasses to increase visibility while assembling smaller parts.
Provide sit/stand stools so employees can rest while remaining upright. Try to alternate stance between sitting and standing when executing tasks.
Increase the scope of tasks to give employees a variety of assignments to do. This ensures that workers are not doing the same functions for an extended period. Take regular breaks.
Use a broad range of pneumatic tools, especially for crimping, stripping, and pruning wires, as these ease the risk of injury.
Use a balancer for tools weighing 5 pounds or more or when heavy tools are used for a long duration.
For electrical contractors, the key to building a safety culture and minimizing occupational hazards in the workplace is understanding the risks and ensuring that workers are trained, informed of best practices, and have ample time to perform routine electrical tasks safely.