• 23 June 2014

Recognising electrical hazards

Electrocution is one of the leading causes of employee death in manufacturing. It’s quick and it’s powerful, which is why employers should be extra vigilant about training employees and taking steps to prevent accidents. Employers and employees must have a basic understanding of electricity and the risks associated with exposure.

Below is some basic information that everyone working near electrical hazards should know — including the risks, what you should be looking for and steps you should be taking.

What are the risks of electricity?

Electrical accidents can injure or kill a person in two ways: directly (including electrocution, electrical shock and burns), or indirectly (falls resulting from contact with electricity). Here is a breakdown:

  • Electrocution: This refers to a lethal amount of energy killing a person. Voltage as low as 50mA at 120V can kill a person.
  • Electrical shock: This means prolonged exposure to an electrical current. The difference is that electrical shock might not kill a person right away, although a person can sustain serious injuries (damaged muscles and nerves, internal bleeding, burns) and perhaps die as a result of them.
  • Burns: Electricity can severely burn a victim. The burns can be localised to the point of contact with an electrical wire, or a person’s clothing can catch fire from the intense heat of electricity.
  • Falls: As noted above, electrical shocks can cause muscles to contort and contract, causing the victim to fall. If they are high up, the result can be fatal.

What should I look for?

Below are some hazards employees can easily watch for with the right training.

  • Power cords: Power cords should never be overlooked. If the insulation is broken, they can pose a serious risk to employees. Cords should be routinely inspected each time they are used and removed immediately if they are damaged. To prevent damage, make sure cords are only exposed as needed, and be cautions of pinches and kinks that can damage them. The same is true for cords attached to tools.
  • Exposed wires: One of the most serious risks to your employees and your facility is exposed wires. Your employees should know to watch for them, and should also know to report them and step away. All exposed wires should be treated as if they are live.
  • Electrical panels: One of the biggest risks to an electrical panel is it becoming too cluttered to access in the event of an emergency elsewhere. It is important that the rooms housing electrical panels not be used for storage.
  • Power strips: Even power strips have limits. Make sure you or your employees do not overload them by plugging one into another (also known as “daisy chaining”). Further, power strips can make it easy for plugs to be jostled and fall out. Make sure power strips and the cords plugged into them are very secure and out of the way of traffic.
  • Physical hazards: Electricity isn’t your only problem. The cords themselves can be a hazard because employees can trip on them. Cords should be unobtrusive and routed along a wall, if possible. Ideally, have your facility wired in a way that does not require excessive use of power cords. If forced to run a power cord through a room, make sure it is visible and that it is properly covered.

What other precautions should I take?

You can never be too safe when it comes to electricity. Below are a few extra steps you should take to make your facility as safe as possible.

  • Grounding: Ground your tools and equipment so that electricity has a low-resistance path to the ground, diffusing dangerous currents.
  • Circuit breakers: Circuit breakers and fuses are fairly standard now and can protect equipment from being damaged in the event of wires overheating or an unexpected surge.
  • Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters: GFCI will detect differences in currents coming from different circuit wires, potentially preventing dangerous flow of electricity before a person can be injured.
  • Insulate: Cords typically are already insulated for safe use, but when in doubt, use more. Consider insulated electrical tape for an added level of safety.
  • Limit access: One of the most important things you as a Facilities Manager can do is block access to electrical equipment. For panels and parts, use a box, cover or screen. For areas that house panels, use partitions, fences or locked doors.
  • Personal protection: Your employees should be well protected from electrical shock or electrocution by way of protective equipment. Employees should have access to footwear designed for electrical work, protective headgear and hard hats, insulated gloves (as well as leather gloves to be worn over them), and eye and face protection.

If you take all necessary precautions and ensure that your employees are well informed about the risks, you can prevent workplace injury and foster a more confident and productive work environment.