Electrical Safety, Special Topics in Safety Management

What Everyone Should Know About Electrical Hazards

Some employees work directly with electricity and face the greatest risk of shocks, burns, and electrocution. Others may be exposed only indirectly, but they, too, can be injured or killed. That’s why all employees should be trained to understand electrical hazards and take proper precautions.

OSHA ranks electrical hazards as among the most dangerous and devotes an entire subpart (Subpart S, 29 CFR 1910.301-335) in the general industry standards to electrical safety.

Safety professionals like you also take electrical hazards seriously, and work hard to prevent accidents and injuries.

In today’s Advisor we share some tips from OSHA that underscore five key electrical safety areas.

Electrical Equipment

Normal use of electrical equipment causes wear and tear that can result in insulation breaks, short circuits, and exposed wires. If there is no ground-fault protection, a ground fault can send current surging through a worker’s body.

To prevent accidents:

  • Use ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) on all 120-volt, single-phase, 15- and 20-ampere receptacles, or have an assured equipment grounding conductor program (AEGCP).
  • Use double-insulated tools and equipment, distinctively marked.
  • Visually inspect all electrical equipment before use. Remove from service any equipment with frayed cords, missing ground prongs, or cracked tool casings.


Normal wear on cords can loosen or expose wires. Using cords that are not the 3-wire type, not designed for hard-usage, or that have been modified increases the risk of contacting electrical current.

To prevent accidents:

  • Use only equipment that is approved to meet OSHA standards.
  • Do not modify cords or use them incorrectly.
  • Use factory-assembled cord sets and only extension cords that are 3-wire type.
  • Use only cords, connection devices, and fittings that are equipped with strain relief.
  • Remove cords from receptacles by pulling on the plugs, not the cords.

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    One of the commonly used pieces of equipment following a power outage is the portable generator. Most generators are gasoline powered and use internal combustion engines to produce electricity.

    Carbon monoxide is a colorless and odorless gas produced during the operation of gasoline-powered generators. When inhaled, the gas reduces the body’s ability to use oxygen and can quickly kill an unsuspecting worker.

    To prevent accidents:

    • DO NOT bring generators indoors. Be sure generators are located in well-ventilated outdoor areas where exhaust gases can’t enter a building.
    • Be sure that the main circuit breaker is OFF and locked out prior to starting any generator. This will prevent inadvertent energizing of power lines from back feed electrical energy from generators and help protect utility line workers from possible electrocution.
    • Turn off generators and let them cool prior to refueling.

    Power Lines

    Overhead and buried power lines are especially hazardous because they carry extremely high voltage. Fatal electrocution is the main risk, but burns and falls are also hazards.

    To prevent accidents:

    • Look for overhead power lines and buried power line indicators.
    • Stay at least 10 feet away from overhead power lines and assume they are energized.
    • De-energize and ground lines when working near them.
    • Use nonconductive wood or fiberglass ladders when working near power lines.

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    If the power supply to the electrical equipment is not grounded or the path has been broken, current may travel through a worker’s body, causing electrical burns or death. Even when the power system is properly grounded, electrical equipment can instantly change from safe to hazardous because of extreme conditions and rough treatment.

    To prevent accidents:

    • Visually inspect electrical equipment before use. Take any defective equipment out of service.
    • Ground all power supply systems, electrical circuits, and electrical equipment.
    • Frequently inspect electrical systems to ensure that the path to ground is continuous.
    • Do not remove ground prongs from cord- and plug-connected equipment or extension cords.
    • Use double-insulated tools and ground all exposed metal parts of equipment.
    • Avoid standing in wet areas when using electrical equipment.

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