Electrical Safety, Special Topics in Safety Management

Electrical Safety FAQs: Part 2

Yesterday, we presented answers to a number of important questions about electrical safety. Today, we review some more electrical safety FAQs.

What is the best way for employees to protect against electrical hazards?

Most electrical accidents result from one of three factors:

  • Unsafe equipment or installation
  • Unsafe environment
  • Unsafe work practices

Accidents and injuries can be prevented through the use of insulation, guarding, grounding, electrical protective devices, and safe work practices.

What protection does insulation provide?

Insulators such as glass, mica, rubber, or plastic used to coat metals and other conductors help stop or reduce the flow of electrical current. This helps prevent shock, fires, and short circuits. To be effective, the insulation must be suitable for the voltage used and conditions such as temperature and other environmental factors like moisture, oil, gasoline, corrosive fumes, or other substances that could cause the insulator to fail.

What is grounding and what protection does it offer?

“Grounding” a tool or electrical system means intentionally creating a low-resistance path that connects to the earth. This prevents the buildup of voltages that could cause an electrical accident.

Grounding is normally a secondary protective measure to protect against electric shock. It does not guarantee that you won’t get a shock or be injured or killed by an electrical current. It will, however, substantially reduce the risk, especially when used in combination with other safety measures discussed in this booklet. 29 CFR, Part 1910.304, Subpart S, Wiring Design and Protection, requires at times a service or system ground and an equipment ground in non-construction applications.

Last year OSHA issued thousands of citations for electrical safety violations. BLR’s upcoming live webinar will show you how to avoid common electrical safety mistakes and explain best practices for avoiding OSHA violations and citations. And you don’t even have to leave your office Get the details.

A service or system ground is designed primarily to protect machines, tools, and insulation against damage. One wire, called the “neutral” or “grounded” conductor, is grounded. In an ordinary low-voltage circuit, the white or gray wire is grounded at the generator or transformer and at the building’s service entrance.

An equipment ground helps protect the equipment operator. It furnishes a second path for the current to pass through from the tool or machine to the ground. This additional ground safeguards the operator if a malfunction causes the tool’s metal frame to become energized. The resulting flow of current may activate the circuit protection devices.

What are circuit protection devices and how do they work?

Circuit protection devices limit or stop the flow of current automatically in the event of a ground fault, overload, or short circuit in the wiring system. Well-known examples of these devices are fuses, circuit breakers, ground-fault circuit interrupters, and arc-fault circuit interrupters.

  • Fuses and circuit breakers open or break the circuit automatically when too much current flows through them. When that happens, fuses melt and circuit breakers trip the circuit open. Fuses and circuit breakers are designed to protect conductors and equipment. They prevent wires and other components from overheating and open the circuit when there is a risk of a ground fault.
  • Ground-fault circuit interrupters, or GFCIs, are used in wet locations, construction sites, and other high-risk areas. These devices interrupt the flow of electricity within as little as 1/40 of a second to prevent electrocution. GFCIs compare the amount of current going into electric equipment with the amount of current returning from it along the circuit conductors. If the difference exceeds 5 milliamperes, the device automatically shuts off the electric power.
  • Arc-fault devices provide protection from the effects of arc-faults by recognizing characteristics unique to arcing and by functioning to deenergize the circuit when an arc-fault is detected.

Join us for an in-depth webinar on January 15 when our presenter, a seasoned safety expert who has helped many companies develop compliant electrical safety programs, will suggest ways to improve overall electrical safety compliance. Find out more.

What should employees do if a co-worker “freezes” to a live electrical contact?

If a co-worker is “frozen” to a live electrical contact, employees should shut off the current immediately. If this is not possible, they can use boards, poles, or sticks made of wood or any other nonconducting materials and safely push or pull the person away from the contact. It’s important to act quickly, but employees should remember to protect themselves as well from electrocution or shock.

How is static electricity hazardous?

Static electricity also can cause a shock, though in a different way and generally not as potentially severe as the type of shock described previously. Static electricity can build up on the surface of an object and, under the right conditions, can discharge to a person, causing a shock. The most familiar example of this is when a person reaches for a door knob or other metal object on a cold, relatively dry day and receives a shock.

However, static electricity also can cause shocks or can just discharge to an object with much more serious consequences, as when friction causes a high level of static electricity to build up at a specific spot on an object. This can happen simply through handling plastic pipes and materials or during normal operation of rubberized drive or machine belts found in many worksites.

In these cases, for example, static electricity can potentially discharge when sufficient amounts of flammable or combustible substances are located nearby and cause an explosion. Grounding or other measures may be necessary to prevent this static electricity buildup and the results.

Avoid Electrical Safety Mistakes and Violations

In October 2013, the preliminary figures for OSHA’s top 10 violations for FY 2013 revealed thousands of violations related to electrical safety. Coming in at number five was “electrical, wiring methods” with 3,452 violations. Common issues involved:

  • Problems with flexible cords and cables, boxes, and temporary wiring
  • Poor use of extension cords
  • Using temporary wiring as permanent wiring

At number eight was “lockout/tagout,” with 3,254 violations ranging from poor or no energy control procedures to inadequate worker training, and incomplete inspections. “Electrical, general” took the number nine spot (2,745 violations) for exposure to electric shock and electrocution.

One of the best ways to improve the overall compliance of your safety program is to take a close look at the electrical safety violations for which OSHA is citing companies, including yours. By taking advantage of these “hard lessons learned” you can use the information to identify gaps in your current program and share what you’ve learned with senior management, facility staff, and your audit team.

Join us for an in-depth webinar on January 15 when our presenter, a seasoned safety expert who has helped many companies develop compliant electrical safety programs, will provide participants with an assessment of the FY 2013 electrical violation categories and suggest ways to use the information to improve overall electrical safety compliance.

You and your colleagues will learn:

  • Electrical violations on the FY 2013 list and how the electrical safety violation categories relate to OSHA’s 2014 enforcement strategy and initiatives such as the Severe Violators Enforcement Program and the National Emphasis Program
  • Approaches you can take for using the electrical safety violations to evaluate your existing compliance status
  • How to incorporate this information into your audit and inspection process
  • What you can do to stay ahead of OSHA enforcement actions in the area of electrical safety
  • The potential impact of new and pending electrical safety regulations and consensus standards such as NFPA70E as they relate to future enforcement trends
  • Ways your company can use various data bases such as the electrical violations on the Top 10 to develop your company’s own “Electrical Safety Focus” list
  • Why misunderstanding “Arc Flash” can cost money and lives
  • The key elements of an electrical safety program
  • How can you improve your lockout/tagout program
  • Ways to identify and evaluate resources to help you best use this information in a meaningful way

About Your Presenter

Michael Lawrence is principal of Summit Safety Technologies based in Long Beach, California. Mr. Lawrence is an accomplished safety manager and technical trainer, and has been training adult workers and safety professionals for many years. He is a frequent speaker and is recognized for his expert knowledge of safety regulations, safety management systems, business continuation planning, emergency preparedness, and quality management systems.

Mr. Lawrence has more than 30 years experience in safety management, technical training, instructional design, and quality management, with skills that were honed during his 16 years in the semiconductor manufacturing industry and 14 years in Naval Aviation. This experience includes many years in electronics/electrical technology and maintenance. With more than three decades of experience as a frontline worker, supervisor, manager, and business owner, he brings a refreshing down-to-earth approach in the effective sharing of knowledge and experience.

Mr. Lawrence is certified in Safety & Health Systems for Small Business, Instructional Design, and as a Performance Based Equipment Trainer (PBET).

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