It is not necessary to express that electricity has been so essential for all the aspects of life and one cannot imagine living without it. You are at home, at an office, on the road or anywhere on planet earth, you are knotted with electricity at every step of life. You need electricity at work or when taking rest, making food or doing anything. From operation theatre to simplest of medication everything heavily depends on electricity. Some of us who are electricians, engineers, electronic technicians, linemen etc. deal directly with electricity on a daily basis while others work with electricity indirectly. Due to too much intrusion of electricity into our lives, we merely incline to understand the hazards electricity possess to us, thus, we get exposed to electrical hazards very often.
Stats from HSE UK show that every year about 1000 accidents at the workplace are reported involving electric shocks and electric burns. Around 30 of these accidents are fatal. According to the Electrical Safety First Organisation, the UK, around 54.4% of fires in only England are caused by electricity. During 2015-2016 total of 28350 fires were reported out of which 15432 fires were due to electricity. These electric fires caused around 1380 fatalities and severe injuries. According to OSHA, in 1999, 278 workers died from electrocution accounting for almost 5 percent of all on-the-job fatalities that year. Stats show that only electrical hazards cause more than 300 deaths and more than 4000 injuries at workplace each year. So, it is very important, especially at work, to carefully identify and examine the electrical hazards and implement all the necessary controls to avoid consequences of exposure to electrical hazards.
Electrical Hazard: An electrical hazard is a dangerous condition where a worker can or does make electrical contact with energized equipment or a conductor. From that contact, the person may sustain an injury from shock, and there is a potential for the worker to receive an arc flash (electrical explosion) burn, thermal burn or blast injury.
Electrical injuries: there are two ways to get injured directly by electricity.
Electric shock: It is the passing of electric current through the body. Electrical contact can cause involuntary physical movements. The electrical current may do the following:
- Prevent you from releasing your grip from a live conductor
- Throw you into contact with a higher voltage conductor
- Cause you to lose your balance and fall
- Cause severe internal and external burns
- Kills you
Arc Flash: It is a release of energy caused by an electric arc. The flash causes an explosive expansion of air and metal. The blast produces:
A dangerous pressure wave
A dangerous sound wave
The flow of electricity: Electricity flows easily through the materials which offer very little resistance to electric current. Such materials are called conductors like metals. Some materials offer very high resistance to flow of electric current. Such materials are called insulators like plastic, dry wood, glass etc. Even air, normally an insulator, can become a conductor, as occurs during an arc or lightning stroke.
Effect of water on the flow of electricity: Water in purest form is an insulator but very small amount of impurities like salt, acid, solvents, or other materials make water itself and substances that generally act as insulators into conductors or better conductors. Dry wood, for example, generally slows or stops the flow of electricity. But when saturated with water, wood turns into a conductor. The same is true of human skin. Dry skin has fairly high resistance to electricity but when skin is moist or wet, it offers very little resistance to current. So working with electricity in the wet environment makes conditions too worst. This means while working in a moist or wet environment one must exercise extra caution to prevent electrical hazards.
Many organizations bear heavy damages and costs each year just because of their failure to treat electrical hazards with the deference they deserve. These hazards are continuously exposing employees to electric shock, electrocution, burns, fires, and explosions, while most of these injuries and fatalities are easily avoidable.
Working safely with electricity
Generally, workers are exposed to electrical hazards during activities involving one or more of the followings:
- Power lines
- Extension cords
Generators are commonly used as a replacement source of electricity when electrical power is lost. Overloading, poor maintenance, and misuse of the generator are conditions which increase the chances of electrical hazard to cause harm. You should always adopt best practices when operating generators.
- Maintain and operate portable generators in accordance with the manufacturer’s use and safety instructions
- Never attach a portable generator directly to the electrical system of a structure (home, office or trailer) unless the generator has a properly installed open-transition transfer switch
- Be sure the main circuit breaker is OFF and locked out prior to starting any generator. This will prevent inadvertent energization of power lines from back feed electrical energy from generators and help protect utility line workers from electrocution
- Proper grounding and bonding are a means to prevent shocks and electrocutions.
- Use ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) as per the manufacturer’s instructions
- Visually inspect the equipment before use, remove defective equipment from service, mark or tag it as unsafe for use
- Turn off generators and let them cool prior to refueling
Overhead and buried power lines are especially hazardous because they carry dangerously high voltage. Fatal electrocution is the main risk, but burns and falls are also hazards. Knowing your limits and applying the best electrical safety practices can help reduce the risk of electrical shock and death. It is safer to work within your scope of expertise instead of taking the risk of working beyond your capacity. If you are not confident to do the job, don’t hesitate to call for help from an authorized person. Also, instead of relying on your memory, use a checklist when applying electrical safety practices in your workplace.
- Look for overhead power lines and buried power line indicators
- Stay at least 10 feet away from overhead power lines and assume they are
- De-energize and ground lines when working near them
Use non-conductive wood or fiberglass ladders when working near power lines
- Use a checklist when applying electrical safety practices in your workplace
- A digital checklist is a powerful tool which can serve as a guide for performing work near electrical equipment and hazards
Electrical appliances need electrical power and most common and convenient way to power them is the use of extension cords. Similarly, many tools and piece of equipment are attached with extension cords. Where these cords are providing so much ease and benefit in supplying power wherever it is needed, they are also the most hazardous and misused piece of equipment. Their misuse is one of the most common causes of electrical fires, electric shocks, and other injuries. According to data from the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Fire Protection Association, each year electric extension cords account for:
- 3,300 residential fires killing and injuring over 300 people – The most frequent causes of these fires are short circuits in the cord, overloading, damage or misuse
- 4,000 cord-related injuries treated in hospital emergency rooms. About half of these injuries are from people tripping over the cord
- $1.4 billion in property damage
- 1,100 electrical burns and 1,480 electrical shocks to workers
- A large percentage of work-related electrical accidents on construction job sites
- A large proportion of structure fires are caused by cord damaged or overloading
These injury and property damage statistics can be avoided through the use of some fairly basic safety practices when using electrical extension cords. Key safety practices include:
- Try to avoid the use of extension cords instead use outlets where possible
- Always select the right cord for a specific job
- Use equipment that is approved by a nationally recognized testing laboratory
- Do not modify cords or use them incorrectly
- Use factory-assembled cord sets and extension cords that are a 3-wire type
- Use cords, connection devices, and fittings equipped with strain relief
- Remove cords from receptacles by pulling on the plugs, not the cords
Electrical equipment, in different industries, come from dynamic range and rugged nature of different works like construction work, make wear and tear in insulations of electrical equipment. These equipment lead to short-circuits and exposed wires. The absence of electrical protection systems like ground-fault protection may cause severe consequences. Taking some basic safety precautions and adopting best practices can avoid any unwanted incidents. It is recommended to Use ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) on all 120-volt, single-phase, 15- and 20-ampere receptacles that are not on an existing building’s permanent wiring, or have an
assured equipment grounding conductor program (AEGCP). Some good practices to work safely with electrical equipment are given below:
- Use double-insulated tools and equipment, distinctively marked
- Visually inspect all electrical equipment before use
- Disconnect the power source before servicing or repairing electrical equipment
- Remove from service any equipment with frayed cords, missing ground prongs, cracked tool casings, etc.
- When it is necessary to handle equipment that is plugged in, be sure hands are dry and, when possible, wear nonconductive gloves, protective clothes, and shoes with insulated soles
- Drain capacitors before working near them and keep the short circuit on the terminals during the work to prevent electrical shock
- Be aware that interlocks on equipment disconnect the high voltage source when a cabinet door is open but power for control circuits may remain on
Electricity is a hidden enemy which will not let you escape easily if it held you. Be remembered if your power supply to the electrical equipment is not properly grounded, fault current may travel through your body, causing electrical burns or death. Always spare some time to visually inspect your electrical equipment before every use. Never hesitate to take any defective equipment out of service immediately. Concluding the argument, always:
- Ground all power supply systems, electrical circuits, and electrical equipment
- Frequently inspect electrical systems to ensure that the path to ground is
- Do not remove ground prongs from cord- and plug-connected equipment or extension cords
- Use double-insulated tools and ground all exposed metal parts of equipment
- Avoid standing in wet areas when using portable electrical power tools