Special Topics in Safety Management

Electrical Safety: Shocking Myths Workers May Believe

Electricity is so familiar a force, your employees may think they know all its mysteries. Not so—and what they don’t know can kill them.

Not long ago, much of the state of Florida went dark. Lights went out. Traffic signals quit, causing huge backups. People were trapped in elevators. The search for someone to blame began.

It turned out that a worker doing equipment checks at a substation had, against company policy, disabled two protective devices on the system. Much was said about how the system was vulnerable. But the worker, who was suspended, was likely vulnerable, too.

Need to train on electrical safety? Get both CBT interactive and PowerPoint® programs in BLR’s Total Training Resource: Electrical Safety. Try it at no cost. Click for details.

That’s because electricity, when freed from its bounds by equipment defect—or more often, lapses in safety procedure—is the fifth largest workplace killer, causing over 400 fatalities a year in a recent 12-year span. Many more workers suffered burns and damage to internal organs, often in a fraction of a second. Why does it happen? Are there ways to stop it?

“The reason it happens is lack of understanding about electricity,” say the authors of the BLR program, Total Training Resource: Electrical Safety. “That can lead to a careless attitude around this potentially deadly force.”

Among the leading misconceptions workers have:

  • Normal household/workplace current can cause only a mild shock. Not so! Even 110–120 volts can be deadly. It depends largely on what resistance the person’s body has to the current, the body part in contact, the duration of the exposure, and other conditions such as the presence of moisture. Resistance is measured in ohms. A person’s body may naturally have a resistance of 100,000 ohms. But on a damp day, that resistance can drop to just 1,000 ohms, says Total Training Resource: Electrical Safety.

  • All individuals are similarly affected by contact with current. Again, not so! Total Training Resource: Electrical Safety makes the point that different people may react differently to the same exposure. Especially at risk are those with heart problems. Even a mild shock can cause a heart attack, often fatal.

  • “If I don’t touch it, I can’t be hurt by it.” Another dangerous misconception! Electricity can jump across an air space, in what’s called an arc flash, with a temperature three times that at the surface of the sun. Scientists and safety experts are studying the arc flash phenomenon and what makes it happen in some cases and not others. Much is unknown.

  • Try Total Training Resource: Electrical Safety at no cost or risk. Click for info.

  • “A disconnected circuit is safe to work on.” Not the case if the circuit includes batteries or capacitors that store electricity and can release it suddenly even if the “plug” is no longer in the wall. This is the reason TV sets and similar devices carry “Do not open” warnings on their cases. Even junked sets can be dangerous.

  • Qualified Workers

    For all these reasons, OSHA demands that your workforce be divided into qualified and nonqualified classifications when it comes to working with energized parts or equipment.

    Qualified persons are the only ones allowed to work on or even come near exposed electrified circuits and require specific training to do so. But even nonqualified workers face risk of some degree every time they plug in, turn on, or even come near an electrical device.

    We’ll present some key safety steps all workers should follow regarding electricity, both at work and home, in tomorrow’s Advisor.


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