Special Topics in Safety Management

4 Electrical Safety Problems—and Solutions


Today we look at four problem areas of electrical safety, and at some solutions to help you and your supervisors.


Electricity can kill, and, even when it doesn’t, electrical accidents can give a nasty shock, burn skin, or even damage nerves and internal organs. Severe electrical shocks can also cause shoulder joint injuries and break bones in the neck due to muscle contractions.


The BLR monthly newsletter OSHA Required Training for Supervisor outlines the main electrical safety problem areas that most supervisors must commonly handle.


Problem Area #1–Hazard Awareness
Safety audits should always include an electrical component. Here are some items that should be on everybody’s electrical safety inspection checklist:



  • Machinery and power tools

  • Cords, plugs, outlets, and circuits

  • Wiring, switches, and circuit breakers

  • Grounding for tools and equipment, including a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) in wet areas

  • Proper PPE



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Problem Area #2–Maintenance and Repairs
OSHA says that only “qualified” workers can perform electrical maintenance and repairs. OSHA defines qualified workers as those who have been fully trained to identify exposed live electrical parts and their voltage, and who have learned exactly what procedures to follow when they work on exposed live parts or are close enough to be at risk.


Everybody else is “unqualified,” and you don’t want any of them messing around with electrical wiring or trying to repair electrical equipment.
According to statistics compiled by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), you have to be particularly concerned with new hires and young male employees. A NIOSH study identified 41 percent of workplace electrocution victims as people who’d been on the job less than a year, and 64 percent were males under the age of 35.


Problem Area #3–Lockout/Tagout
Many serious injuries occur each year because machines are not properly de-energized before maintenance and repairs are attempted. To prevent these accidents, OSHA has developed a set of special lockout/tagout procedures:



  • Notify workers in the area that equipment will be shutdown and locked out for repairs/maintenance.

  • Turn off the machine.

  • Deactivate energy isolating devices–the circuit breaker, disconnect switch, or other device that provides energy to the machine.

  • Lockout and/or tagout control switches in an “off” or “safe” position to prevent accidental start-up or energy release.

  • Release or block stored energy.

  • Test operating controls by putting them in the “on” position to make sure the machine does not start up. Then return operating controls to the “off” position.

  • Perform necessary repairs or maintenance.

  • When work is completed, remove tools and other items, reinstall machine guards, make sure other workers are at a safe distance, remove locks and tags, turn on energy and test to make sure machine is working properly, and notify workers that the machine is back on line.

Problem Area #4–Safety Procedures for Unqualified Workers
All those who have a job that might expose them to the risk of electrical shock, need some very basic electrical safety training. Here’s a reminder of some “don’ts”:


Don’t use …



  • Cords or wires with damaged or worn insulation.

  • Electrical equipment that smokes, sparks, shocks, smells, blows a fuse, or trips a circuit.

  • Any non-GFCI outlet in a wet area.

  • Cords or electrical equipment in areas with explosive or flammable materials that are not approved for this specific use.

  • A cord with a bent or missing grounding plug.

  • A metal ladder or hard hat when you are working near electricity.

  • Metal tools to work on electrical equipment.

  • Electrical cords to raise or lower equipment.

  • Extension cords unless necessary, and then, only a cord that is rated high enough for the job.



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Don’t touch …



  • Anything electric when your hands are wet, when you’re standing on a wet floor, or when you’re in contact with a wet surface.

  • A victim of an electrical fire or an electrical shock.

Don’t place …



  • Cords where they can be stepped on, run over by material handling equipment, or damaged in any other way.

  • Cords near heat or water.

  • Sharp fasteners or nails on electrical cords.

Don’t permit …



  • Overloaded outlets or circuits.

  • Loose electrical connections.

  • Dust or dirt buildup on machinery.

  • Blind reaches into any areas that may contain energized parts.

  • Combustible trash on or around electrical equipment or circuits.

  • Anyone who isn’t trained and qualified to repair electrical equipment.

  • Attempts to use or start locked or tagged out electrical equipment.

  • Unauthorized removal or a lockout device or tag.

  • Any hesitation in calling trained emergency responders for electrical fires, shock, or serious burns.

Tomorrow we’ll delve further into the issue of unqualified workers and electrical safety, and take a look at a tool that will help you easily meet OSHA’s electrical safety training requirements pertaining to those workers.


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