Electricity is a tricky hazard. Even the most deadly power lines seem innocuous until the wrong person touches them. The lack of warning signs puts workers at ease when they should be their most cautious, and the biggest risks aren’t the people who work with electricity, but those passing by.
If you are a maintenance worker, busy minding the grass and weeds you’re responsible for, and you happen to come in contact with the 13,800 AC voltage of a transformer station, there are no second chances. While working for USDOL/OSHA, I remember the scene photos of a man who tested that theory. The arc he caused charred his entire body a crispy black and burned his clothes away.
Those weren’t the only casualties I encountered. I remember construction workers meeting their end after being jolted by the 110 AC volts and 220 AC volts found in every house. Those men didn’t end up barbequed, but the damage was still done.
I’ll say it again, electricity is tricky. More people die from touching the wrong socket in their homes than the big transformers. It isn’t the number of volts that kill you, but the amperage. Most police tasers release 50,000 volts but are designed to be nonlethal. They keep the number of amps very low, about 2-5 milliamps.
A shock can be lethal at currents as low as .1-.2 amps. Most wall outlets are wired for either 15 or 20 amps and the main connection with the power grid might be set for 100-200 amps. When it comes to electricity, even the place you plug in your toaster could be deadly. That’s why caution is paramount and comfort is the enemy.
Remember too that it isn’t just the electricity itself that is a hazard, electrical hazards can cause other types of loss and workplace injuries, like fires or explosions.
Being well trained in how to use the proper safety equipment isn’t enough. Equipment like LOTO tags, LOTO locks, LOTO hasps, and LOTO kits, are important tools to keep everyone safe, but they are only effective when they are used and used properly.
To give you an idea of the many electrical hazards out there, here’s a list of the most common violations found on industrial sites:
- Not having proper access to disconnects, breakers, or the breaker box.
- Improperly labeled disconnects or breakers, not having any label counts too.
- Having a difficult time reaching emergency shut-offs
- Insulation cords that have been compromised. The most serious offense is to have bare conductors showing, but it is also a problem if the cables are stripped, gouged, crimped, split cut, or burned.
- Allowing loose cables to become potential slipping or tripping hazards.
- Using flexible cords that don’t have sufficient insulation or improper repairs.
- Using electrical cords that are not properly secured to equipment.
- Leaving live parts exposed. There must never be any way to accidentally contact bare copper parts, which includes inside breaker panels, below dials in timer boxes, and knife switches.
- Leaving wiring open, meaning the inner conductors or even capped wires are visible.
- Hiding flexible cords as where they run through ceilings, floors, walls, and doorways.
- Not protecting flexible cords where they attach to buildings, leaving them vulnerable to damage.
- Not protecting flexible cables as they run through or against abrasive surfaces and sharp edges.
- Working with improper splices in use.
- Not using extension cords as they are intended.
- Using underground equipment that is not double-insulated.
- Having receptacles with reversed polarity
- Knockouts in electrical boxes are missing, which exposes electrical connections to the elements.
- Using boxes intended to be permanently mounted to temporarily connect cords.
- Not using proper strain reliefs and grommets on boxes that will receive strain.
- Not having the proper cover plates for boxes, switches, receptacles, and other fixtures.
- Continuing to operate with damaged parts, including parts that cover connections.
- Using damaged receptacles, switches, covers, plates, or frames.
- Not using weather-proof covers for all receptacles that could come into contact with the elements.
- Running power strips in series.
- Allowing cranes and tall vehicles too close to overhead lines.
- Using the equipment in hazardous conditions that is not rated for the hazard.
- Not having properly grounded connections, especially in places that will be exposed to moisture.
- Not having the proper stops in place. This is particularly important for moving machinery like woodworking machines and mechanical presses. These machines need to have magnetic controls, manual resets, or equivalent safety measures in place and functional.
These are not all of the electrical-related safety considerations you should keep in mind, only the most common. The guidelines might seem excessive, but they are there to ensure that there won’t be a chance for safety to go south. You may be able to get away with a minor violation temporarily, but if they start compounding then an accident is bound to happen. Keeping safe 100% of the time is the reason for such stringent guidelines in using electricity and with electrical lockout.