The sirens were deafening, even to my 13-year-old ears. My good friend, Heath, and I were playing an intense game of summer basketball in my driveway. The fact that I was losing and, as always, determined to win, should have been reason enough for my focus to be on the game. But it was impossible not to hear the sirens of the emergency vehicles rushing down our road and to begin wondering – “What’s going on? What happened? Where are they going?”
Throwing down the basketball in my yard, I took off sprinting in the direction of Heath’s house. The paramedics had already begun to tend to Heath’s brother, Josh, who was lying motionless in the driveway. Their mother was outside, crying hysterically. Josh worked as a painter for a local contractor. Work was slow that summer so Josh had offered to repaint the exterior of his parents’ house. Scanning the area to try and make sense of it all, I noticed a couple of paint cans and an aluminum extension ladder on the driveway near Josh. Transitioning my eyes upward, it all began making sense. At this point, life experience was not my specialty but even my teenage brain could put the pieces together: Josh plus conductive aluminum ladder plus overhead power lines is equal to why Josh is lying in the driveway. Josh had received an electrical shock.
That day provided a life-lesson that I have carried with me every day of my nearly 30 years in the electrical industry, and I always will – electricity does not discriminate.
As we continue to raise awareness of electrical safety during National Electrical Safety Month, it’s important to note that electrical safety training is not just for electricians. Proper and adequate training is essential to the prevention of electrical related injuries to all personnel who are at risk. Is the plumber that is plugging his extension cord into a defective GFCI at risk? What about the carpenter using a saw with a broken male cord end? How about the painter using an aluminum ladder near overhead electrical lines? Non-electrical workers are exposed to many potential electrical hazards. OSHA Standard Number 1910.332(a) requires electrical training for employees who face risk of electrical shock. 1910.332(a) Note states that training is required for all occupations listed in Table S-4, and the second sentence goes on to state that employees not listed in Table S-4, but are reasonably expected to face the same risk due to electric shock or other electrical hazards, must also be trained. On a job site or within a facility, a case could certainly be made that many workers not listed within Table S-4 are just as susceptible to the same risks that electrical workers could potentially face.
According to data provided by Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFi), between 2003 and 2018, 54 percent of fatal electrical injuries occurred in the construction industry. That means that 46 percent of all electrical fatalities were outside of the construction industry or trades. This statistic alone speaks to the need for mitigating risk of exposure to electrical hazards through further training. NFPA 70E, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace is a great resource for defining enforceable responsibilities for both employers and employees to protect against electrical hazards that employees might be exposed to. Developing and implementing an Electrical Safety Program (ESP) aligned with the responsibilities and training defined within 70E is a vital component in reducing the risk associated with electrical hazards. Employers and employees following the ESP, and holding one another accountable for doing so, is the other crucial piece in the electrical safety equation.
Josh was a white male, brown hair, blue eyes, football fan, avid golfer, practical joker, painter, brother, son, father-to-be…so much more, and still - electricity didn’t care. The previous sentence was written in the past tense because Josh passed away from his injuries. All that he was, and all that he would be, died with him that day. A life cut way too short that brought his family so much heartache and pain. I know that Josh’s family isn’t the only family that has suffered. It’s extremely unfortunate that there are tens of thousands of others out there who know the story of Josh all too well and have been impacted by loss of their own. They may have been male or female, white or black, young or old, electrical workers or non-electrical workers. The differences among the victims are endless but one similarity rests with all of them – electricity didn’t discriminate. Loss of life is immeasurable, which in turn makes prevention priceless. Only through proper and adequate electrical training can we prevent the victims list from growing and, in some small way, honor those that have been lost.
For additional information about electrical safety for a non-electrical audience, read the "NEC/In Compliance" column by Derek Vigstol in the September/October 2019 issue of NFPA Journal.
For more about NFPA 70E, visit NFPA’s electrical solutions webpage.
As all of us continue to navigate the evolving situation with COVID-19, NFPA remains committed to supporting you with the resources you need to minimize risk and help prevent loss, injuries, and death from fire, electrical, and other hazards. For information on NFPA’s response to the coronavirus, please visit our webpage