Electricity is a serious workplace hazard. It exposes employees to electric shock, electrocution, burns, fires, and explosions. Electrical safety is important in every workplace.
Electrical hazards killed four workers in Missouri and Kansas in five months in 2021. In Missouri, an electrical contractor died replacing light fixtures, and another worker while cleaning a pig barn with a pressure washer. In Kansas, a worker perished while doing heating and air conditioning work, and a contractor lost his life climbing a pole. Their circumstances differ. However, the cause of death is the same – electrocution.
Nationally, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a 3.75 percent increase – 166 workplace deaths related to electrocution – in 2019 over the previous year. Additionally, from 2018, through 2021, OSHA investigated 12 electrical-related deaths in Missouri and Kansas. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Labor is alerting all employers to review safe electrical work practices with their employees in response to a nationwide increase in workplace deaths by electrocution.
One reason these statistics are so tragic is that these fatalities could have been avoided.
“Recent tragedies in Missouri and Kansas are reminders of the danger of electrical exposures in the workplace,” said OSHA’s Acting Regional Administrator Billie Kizer in Kansas City, Missouri. “OSHA’s electrical standards are designed to protect employees from electric shock and electrocution. Employers should implement safety and health programs, and are required to train workers on identifying hazards and use required protective measures to ensure all employees end each workday safely.”
OSHA standards cover electrical hazards in many different industries. These standards cover general industry, the construction industry, marine terminals, longshoring , and also shipyard standards design, Safety Standards for Electrical Systems, Electrical Safety-Related Work Practices Standards, and Electrical Safety Requirements for Employee Workplaces.
How do electrical injuries happen?
Electricity travels in closed circuits, normally through a conductor. But sometimes a person’s body mistakenly becomes part of the electric circuit. This can cause an electrical shock. Shocks occur when a person’s body completes the current path with either both wires of an electric circuit, one wire of an energized circuit and the ground, a metal part that accidentally becomes energized, or another “conductor” that is carrying a current.
When a person receives a shock, electricity flows between parts of the body or through the body to a ground or the earth. What is the best way to protect employees from electrical hazards? Most electrical accidents result from one of the following three factors: unsafe equipment or installation, unsafe environment, or unsafe work practices.
5 ways to prevent these accidents are through the use of:
- electrical protective devices
- safe work practices.
Electrical accidents are largely preventable through safe work practices. Examples of these practices include the following: de-energizing electric equipment before inspection or repair and keeping electric tools properly maintained. Additionally, exercising caution when working near energized lines and using appropriate protective equipment are both vital practices. When working on electrical equipment there are some basic procedures to follow.
Basic procedures to follow
- de-energize the equipment
- use lockout and tag procedures to ensure that the equipment remains de-energized
- use insulating protective equipment
- maintain a safe distance from energized parts.
Electrical safety training is critical. All employees should be thoroughly familiar with the safety procedures for their particular jobs. Moreover, good judgment and common sense are vital to preventing electrical accidents.