“It’s the most wonderful time, of the yearrrr…” Yes, it’s technically not Christmas, and I certainly can’t carry a tune like Andy Williams, but gifts are in abundance this time of year if you know where to look for them. Birds singing, flowers blooming, gardens growing - these are just some of things that most people come to enjoy during the springtime months.
But for those of us who work with and around electricity, May brings us a different kind of gift in the form of National Electrical Safety Month. The Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI), a non-profit organization dedicated exclusively to promoting electrical safety at home and in the workplace, promotes this campaign every year that focuses on educating key audiences on the steps that can be taken to reduce the number of electrically-related fires, fatalities, injuries, and property loss.
I know what you’re thinking, “How can Electrical Safety Month be considered a gift?” For those who don’t quite see that yet, let me explain further. This gift isn’t typical. It does not come with a gift receipt and you can't return it. You either accept it, or you don’t. It is, however, a “one size fits all” kind of present. When accepted, this gift continues to keep on giving, mostly in the form of arriving home daily after work, kissing your spouse, and receiving those amazing “Mommy’s home!” or “Daddy’s home!” hugs from your children. You know - the things that matter most to you.
Being able to work daily in and around electricity in a safe manner allows us and our coworkers to return home unharmed to our loved ones at the end of every shift. It is my personal belief that safety can only happen with three key components all working together in unison: knowledge, application, and responsibility (KAR).
Knowledge is provided through adequate training. Application comes through applying the training that was received and following a well-designed Electrical Safety Program (ESP). So, who is responsible for driving the KAR down Electric Avenue (go ahead and sing it, I know you want to) everyday? Both employers and employees have a shared responsibility to one another for ensuring workplace safety:
- KNOWLEDGE - Employers must provide, at minimum, the training required for the employee to do their job safely. Employees must accept, and fully understand, the training provided. Employers and employees should work together to create an ESP that meets the needs of the job and is fully understood by all parties.
- APPLICATION – Employees must apply the knowledge that they have received and the ESP to their everyday tasks without taking shortcuts or skipping processes. If job tasks or conditions change where employees recognize they don’t have proper training to do the job safely, or is not defined within the ESP, they must speak up to their employer and get proper training before doing the task.
- RESPONSIBILITY – Employers and employees have a shared accountability to one another. Employers must provide the training necessary, develop an ESP for employees to follow, continually listen to employee concerns and, when necessary, be willing to sacrifice profits for safety. Employees must apply their knowledge and training every day, without taking shortcuts, as well as speak up when they do not have proper training or understanding. If either party fails to provide or follow these guidelines, the safety of all will be lost.
The KAR acronym and associated thoughts behind it are mine and mine alone. They are by no means implied to be anything other than a mechanism that I have found to help me personally understand over the past 25+ years what’s necessary for electrical safety to work.
Employers should seek out training and workplace guidelines from Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requirements and recognized industry standards such as NFPA 70E, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace. The purpose of NFPA 70E is to provide a practical safe working area for employees relative to the hazards arising from the use of electricity. It is an internationally accepted American National Standard that provides safety policies, procedures, and process controls for installation as well as maintenance. Article 110 of NFPA 70E also offers insight into the critical components of a well-designed, effective ESP. While not typically adopted legislatively, NFPA 70E is utilized by employers to help fulfill OSHA obligations and as a means to ensure the safety of the businesses most valued asset, their employees.
Although what drives it may change, few people ever lose the wonder and excitement that go along with Christmas morning. As children, we live for waking up way earlier than we typically would to run down the stairs and see what Santa has placed under the tree. As parents, our pleasure comes from seeing the joy on the faces of our children. If safety is the gift, then NFPA 70E is the beautiful wrapping and bow that make it a gift. Without it, it's just a box. NFPA 70E makes electrical workplace safety what it is. And why does accepting the gift of safety matter? Because of the things that matter the most to you.
Learn more about NFPA 70E on NFPA's 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.