Electrical Safety, Special Topics in Safety Management

Electrical Safety: Let No Question Go Unanswered!

You should never be in any doubt about a safety issue. The result could easily be an accident and injury. Just make sure you get your information from a source you can trust.

Many of our Safety.BLR.com subscribers turn to the website when they have safety questions for which they can’t find answers elsewhere. They know they’ll always get the most up-to-date and reliable information. And, of course, our safety experts are always happy to supply answers and assist our customers with providing a safer workplace.

Here’s a small sample of questions about electrical safety we’ve received and answered.

Q. Is a written electrical safety program/policy an OSHA requirement?

A. A written electrical safety program is not required for general industry but written lockout/tagout procedures are required.

Q. Is it permissible to have movable carts (wheeled carts) stored in front of an electric disconnect panel for a machine?

A. Without knowing the specifics of your operation, it sounds like the situation you described is out of compliance with the regs cited below:

1910.303(g)(1): Working space about electric equipment. Sufficient access and working space shall be provided and maintained about all electric equipment to permit ready and safe operation and maintenance of such equipment.

1910.303(g)(1)(ii): Clear spaces. Working space required by this subpart may not be used for storage. When normally enclosed live parts are exposed for inspection or servicing, the working space, if in a passageway or general open space, shall be suitably guarded.

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Q. One of our air conditioning units doesn’t have an on/off switch. The staff will throw a service disconnect. I believe this is incorrect. What do I cite as a reference?

A. Following is the rule concerning service disconnection (29 CFR 1910.304, wiring design and protection): "Means shall be provided to disconnect all conductors in a building or other structure from the service-entrance conductors. The service disconnecting means shall plainly indicate whether it is in the open or closed position and shall be installed at a readily accessible location nearest the point of entrance of the service-entrance conductors. Each service disconnecting means shall simultaneously disconnect all ungrounded conductors. Each service disconnecting means shall be suitable for the prevailing conditions."

According to OSHA rule (29 CFR 1910.399), service disconnects are "a device, or group of devices, or other means by which the conductors of a circuit can be disconnected from their source of supply." According to 29 CFR 1910.303, each disconnecting means for motors and appliances must be legibly marked to indicate its purpose. The purpose of disconnects is generally to turn off and isolate power for servicing and maintenance operations. OSHA rule 29 CFR 1910.303 states that service and maintenance operations must be performed by "qualified" persons (one who has received training in and has demonstrated skills and knowledge in the construction and operation of electric equipment and installations and the hazards involved).

Employees "throwing" a service disconnect may be exposed to live circuits and possible injury from electric arc. According to 29 CFR 1910.303, "electrical equipment must be free from recognized hazards that are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees." A qualified person (see definition above) should be brought in to make a determination regarding employee exposure to hazards from throwing the service disconnect.

Contact the unit manufacturer for more specific electrical safety information about the unit. If a safety inspector visits you and looks at this issue, he/she will want to see what electrical safety information has been provided by the manufacturer and how you have implemented the manufacturer’s instructions.

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Q. I’ve always thought that ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) vs. assured grounding was an either/or proposition.

A. There are different requirements for different situations. For general industry employers, this is covered in Section 1910.304.

From an OSHA Letter of Interpretation:

"Grounding requirements involving permanent wiring are addressed in Subpart S of 29 CFR 1910 from the standpoint of systems that require to be grounded as well as those equipments that need not be grounded. No general requirement is made for receptacles to be of the grounding type. Examples of this approach can be seen in Subpart S in Sections 1910.304(f)(1)(iv) and (v), and 1910.304(f)(5)(iv) and (v), and 1910.304(f)(6)(i) and (ii). The method is analogous to that in use by the National Electrical Code. As a consequence, since some equipment is not required to be grounded, there is no need for the standard to stipulate that all receptacles be of the grounding type."  (See 1926.404(b)(1)(i) for the construction industry.)

We’ll review more questions and answers about electrical safety tomorrow—and we’ll look at a training product that can help ensure that your employees have answers to their questions about electrical safety, too.

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