Reply to this statement if you are capable of being truthful to yourself. I have always followed my electrical safety training. Unfortunately, for majority of us, the honest answer is no, I have not always followed my safety training. For some of us it may have been when working on a 120-volt circuit. For others it may have been a 13.8 kV system. It really doesn’t matter what the voltage, current or incident energy was. Nearly 25% of the electrical contact fatalities occur at or below 220 volts. Most of us work on electrical systems that have the capacity to kill. A fatality has probably been recorded for the type of electrical system you work on. It would be surprising to meet someone who did not know that contact with electricity can be fatal. Yet, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, since 2003 there has been an annual average of 186 electrocutions in the workplace.
The first question is why do we put ourselves at risk of becoming a fatality? We have been trained to recognize and avoid electrical hazards but still we put ourselves at risk. We know that our death is a potential outcome of performing the task the way we intend to do the work. We know that the circuit should be deenergized regardless of voltage or incident energy. If energized work is justified, we know we should get the appropriate tools and use the correct personal protective equipment. However, at some point in our career we do not shut off the system or take the trip out to the truck to get the proper gear. The next question is why do we decide to risk our life?
Over my career, the most common answer is that we can’t be bothered: we can’t be bothered to shut the system down; we can’t be bothered to walk downstairs to the panelboard; we can’t be bothered to take the time necessary to correctly don the protective gear; we can’t be bothered to come back tomorrow to finish up the work; we can’t be bothered to take time to explain to our employer that being at risk is wrong; we can’t be bothered to forego accepting a job that puts us at risk, and/or we can’t be bothered to protect ourselves when a task will only take a few moments.
So, we justify risking our lives to ourselves: the disconnect is too far away; I know what I am doing; they will not let me shut the production line down; the protective gear makes it difficult to work; I have never been injured doing it this way; I shut it off so it must be off; my shift is done in a few minutes; I won’t make a mistake; I’ve been shocked before; it’s only 277 volts, and/or if I don’t do it someone else will. Unfortunately for many of us, we justify putting a paycheck ahead of our life.
Sometime during our career, many of us have put ourselves at risk of becoming a fatality regardless of our safety training. We may have done so with no adverse consequence. In that case no one is the wiser. No harm, no foul? We may have taken a risk and ended up with a temporary injury or some time away from work. Were we rewarded for being a hero who took an undue risk or were we tagged as an employee who violated the rules? Worse yet, some have risked their life and lost. Was the consequence of becoming a fatality and its impact on their family considered when they justified ignoring their safety training? No one alive can know the answer to that question.
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Next time: What is causing electrical contact fatalities?
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