Wherever there is electrical energy there is a potential for an exposure to an electrical hazard. What makes a work environment safe from electrical hazards? For that matter, who makes sure that you are not exposed to electrical hazards? Is it the equipment manufacturer, your employer, or someone else? Although all of these play a part in electrical safety in the workplace, there is only one who truly has control over it. That person is you and there are steps you can take to keep yourself safe while at work.
Step One: Overcome our own ignorance. It only takes a little bit of knowledge and by reading this blog the hard part is already over. You are now aware that there are electrical hazards out there that can kill you. That was easy. Step One: done.
Step Two: Recognize when you might be exposed to electrical hazards. NFPA 70E, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace lists conditions of equipment that should permit normal operation of that equipment without exposing you to an electrical hazard. These are properly installed, properly maintained, used in accordance with the instructions, doors closed and secured, covers installed and secured and no sign of impending failure. You should know what the equipment you are working around looks and acts like when it was new. If something has changed or if anything looks out of place (i.e. broken parts, smoke, or funny smell) you may be exposed to an electrical hazard. Step Two: done.
Step Three: Recognize exposed known electrical hazards. The first hazard is a shock hazard. If there is an exposed, conductive, electrical part there is most likely a shock hazard. The exposed part could be a wire, circuit in an open enclosure or broken light bulb. There is a possibility that electrical current will pass over or through your body with fatal consequences if you contact the exposed part. The second hazard is an arc-flash hazard. If electrical equipment is not under normal operating conditions (see Step Two) there might be a possibility of an arc-flash. Unless your employer has done a comprehensive hazard assessment throughout the facility, you should not assume that the absence of an arc-flash label means that there is no arc-flash hazard. Step Three: done.
Step Four: Trust your instincts. A gut feeling often lets you know that something does not seem safe to do. You know when you are out of your comfort zone. You know when equipment appears to be acting funny. You know that is not a normal situation for everything to seem OK, but you still experience near-death experience (receive a shock). Step Four: done.
Step Five: Do not interact with the equipment. If everything is normal (see Step Two) you should be good to go. If it is not normal do not touch, operate or remain around the equipment. Step Five: done.
Step Six: Report the situation. You have recognized a problem. You may have been lucky enough to have just missed becoming a fatality when you received a shock. Without this important step the next person around the equipment could become a fatality. Make sure that you properly report the hazard and you might want to have it documented. Remember, if something is not documented it did not happen. Step Six: done.
Step Seven: Do not assume that someone has fixed the problem. If you have received an electric shock do not let someone tell you not to worry about it. The next shock may be fatal to you. I have many incident reports where the employee reporting more than one shock incident ended up being a fatality due to that same circuit. If the equipment is damaged make sure it has been repaired. Confirm that the hazardous situation has been satisfactorily addressed. Until someone assures you that the problem has been fixed do not interact with the equipment. Step Seven: done.
Step Eight: Enjoy the rest of your workday. Continue to be aware of the electrical hazards around you and how to avoid them. Step Eight: done.
Step Nine: Go home. The most important step for your family. Return home uninjured from your workday. Remember that all of these steps apply to the administrative assistant and the production line worker, as well as the master electrician. Step Nine: done?
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Next time: Smoke on the Horizon (Signs of Weaknesses in a Safety Culture).
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