Electrical Safety

Missed Our Electrical Safety Month Podcast? Read the Transcript!

May was Electrical Safety Month, and to mark the occasion the EHS on Tap podcast sat down with Ralph Parrett, AVO Training Institute’s Senior Instructional Designer and Senior Training Instructor, to discuss common electrical hazards and how to mitigate the risk. If you missed the episode or simply prefer to read rather than listen, read a transcript of our conversation here!

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This episode (sponsored by AVO Training Institute) was originally released on May 15, 2019, and you can listen to the full audio here.

Justin Scace: Hello everyone, and welcome to EHS on Tap! I’m your host, Justin Scace, Senior Editor of the EHS Daily Advisor and Safety Decisions magazine. May is Electrical Safety Month, and the danger of electrical hazards remains a constant concern in workplaces nationwide. In fact, electrocution remains one of the four leading causes of workplace deaths in the construction industry, commonly called the “Fatal Four” by OSHA, with approximately 9% of deaths in the workplace being caused by electrocution. In this episode, sponsored by AVO Training Institute, we’re marking Electrical Safety Month with an expert who can give us some insight into the issues surrounding electrical safety, from common hazards to personal protective equipment to strategies for keeping employees safe around electricity.

Joining us today on EHS on Tap is Ralph Parrett, AVO’s Senior Instructional Designer and Senior Training Instructor. Ralph is a U.S. Navy veteran with over 11 years of professional experience relating to electrical safety and maintenance training. He started working as a Senior Training Instructor for AVO Training Institute in 2017 and is now also a Senior Instructional Designer as well. Ralph has extensive knowledge of the maintenance, repair, and troubleshooting for control and instrumentation, relay logic systems, ABB control systems, central controlled station programs, and other various types of equipment. He has also developed and taught curriculum covering theory, operation, maintenance, and safety of engineering systems. So Ralph, thank you so much for joining us today on EHS on Tap.

Ralph Parrett: Thank you, Justin. Thanks for having me.

Justin Scace: You’re very welcome, we’re glad to have you. So, let’s start off with some of the basics here. What are the hazards associated with electricity?

Ralph Parrett: The hazards in regard to electricity are going to be shock, arc flash, and arc blast.

Justin Scace: So, what are the differences between those kinds of hazards?

Ralph Parrett: So, with an electrical shock, this is going to occur whenever a human body is put in the circuit with an energized source, and that’s where we’re going to feel the energy passing through our body. When it comes to arc flash, this is actually the physical release of the that energy in the form of an arc, and that’s going to be very comparable to lightning. You can also compare the same thing to the method in which a spark plug works. And with an arc blast, this is actually a by-product of the arc itself. It’s going to be the pressure that’s created by that sudden release of energy from the electric circuit.

Justin Scace: Okay, so these are varying levels of severity too? Shock is the mildest and an arc blast is the strongest?

Ralph Parrett: No, actually it all is going to depend on the placement of the individual. An electrical shock can actually create an arc incident, which then leads to your flash and your blast. Linemen experience “flashover,” is the terminology that they use. This is not due to an electrical shock. It’s just the energy being released through the air that they call it a flashover. It’s an arc flash event to where they’re exposed to high levels of heat and could possibly have that blast effect as well, all depending on the energy, the source’s energy that they’re dealing with.

Justin Scace: Okay, so I imagine that with these hazards being so dangerous, there’s a lot of training involved. So are electrical technicians the only ones that really need to attend electrical safety training, or is it something that really should be rolled out to multiple employees?

Ralph Parrett: So the short answer for are technicians the only ones that need to be trained, that’s an absolute hard no.

Justin Scace: Right, okay.

Ralph Parrett: The explanation for that is your entities like OSHA and the NFPA, they mandate that employers provide a safe work environment for all of the employees who could be exposed to the hazards of electricity. So truly in order to do that, in order to provide that safe environment, the employer also has to be knowledgeable and aware of the hazards so that they can identify those. And then moving forward from that, putting in methods to eliminate or limit either the hazard itself or they look at the severity of the injuries that could be caused so we can implement personal protective equipment to try and decrease the severity of damages caused to a person who would be exposed to an electrical shock, arc flash, or blast.

Justin Scace: Does every employee, should they at least be aware of the hazards, or do they need some more in-depth training as well?

Ralph Parrett: The biggest thing that, and I typically don’t like to answer safety questions by directly quoting from a publication, but this is one of those areas that I do pull directly from, and that’s NFPA 70E Section 105.3 A and B. And this is really discussing the responsibilities of the employer and the employees. It says that the employer shall have the following responsibilities and that is establish, document, and implement safety related work practices and procedures required by this document, the NFPA 70E. And those safety-related work practices are going to cover the personal protective equipment that are going to be issued or provided to the employees exposed to those hazards, and then they’re also to provide employees with training in the employer safety-related work practices and procedures.

So it’s not just training for those exposed, but it should also be provided to anybody, any person that is in that industry or in that workplace so that they can identify when a method of safety is being used properly and improperly because then the second part of that, this covers the employee. They shall comply with those work practices and procedures provided by the employer.

Justin Scace: Okay, so let’s say that I’m a mechanic working at a manufacturing plant. So I’m not an electrical technician, I’m just an employee at a manufacturing plant, and I was told that I had to stay away from an electrical work area. So that’s something that I need to comply with. How far away must I stay?

Ralph Parrett: When you get into the publication, 70E is going to have a set of tables used to determine approach boundaries. There’s two boundaries that we talk about when it comes to really, for electrical shock, are going to be your approach boundaries. You have your limited approach boundary, which is going to be applicable to your non-electrical trades or non-electrical personnel, so “unqualified personnel” is the way the 70E is going to write that. And then you have a restricted approach boundary, that’s for your qualified electricians. And at first, your limited approach boundary is going to be the one that an unqualified or mechanic, in this case, would follow.

Now the last boundary, though, your arc flash boundary, this happens to deal with the distance you have to be from that energy source to where if there was an arc flash event, that the temperature rise felt at that point would be below a specific value, which that distance can absolutely be farther out than the limited approach boundary, so now the boundary’s been pushed out even farther.

Really, arc flash safety has picked up over the last, I’d say 15 years. So now you see a lot of companies where they’re issuing what they call daily wear, and that is a set cal rating, and your most popular numbers are going to be 8- or 9-cal rating. And that’s just the level of heat or arc flash energy that those pieces of material can handle to help prevent the user from being burnt.

Justin Scace: Okay, so are we talking about gloves that have this material in it?

Ralph Parrett: Well, your daily wear is actually going to consist of anything you’d normally put on to go out in public.

Justin Scace: Okay.

Ralph Parrett: So pants, shirts, and including your shoes as well. Typically there aren’t parts in the NFPA 70E that discuss boots, but we really focus on the pants and shirts. This is typically where all the violations occur. One common violation when it comes to the wearing of daily wear is shirts are unbuttoned, they’re not tucked in, and what that does is that opens the individual up for a higher risk of injury if an arc flash/arc blast event does occur.

Justin Scace: Okay, so those boundaries that you were just talking about, is it required that they be clearly marked within a workplace where these various boundaries are?

Ralph Parrett: Absolutely. Whenever electricians are going to be setting up a work environment where they’re going to be dealing with these hazards directly, they have to set up, at a bare minimum, that outermost boundary. And that’s that limited approach boundary to where persons don’t enter freely.

Now, NFPA 70E gives different methods of creating a barrier, and that could be with a flashing light, that could be with a tape, similar to a scene tape that police use. It could also be a person that is standing there telling people to stay out.

Now the biggest thing with the barriers, though, is that this goes into the training also. If whatever method is being used, then all personnel should be knowledgeable or trained on what that barrier is so then they can identify, “Okay, I’m not supposed to go in there.”

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Justin Scace: Yeah, absolutely. So, moving onto working directly with electricity. You’re dealing with hazards all the time. Electrical gloves, we hear a lot about gloves as a form of PPE with electricity, so what sort of gloves are we talking about here and how are they tested?

Ralph Parrett: Electrical gloves are made at specific requirements so that what we’re trying to do here is we’re trying to increase the ohmic value of the person that could be exposed to an energized source. So really your gloves is your first line of defense to prevent electrical shock.

Now, you did ask earlier if gloves are a part of your daily wear. But that was really in regards to the arc flash rating, these do have to be rated for an arc flash. So the gloves, they do have to be tested, and when they have been issued, they would have already been electrically tested and then at the point of issue, every six-months they have to be electrically tested again. And this is to make sure that the dielectric that’s used, that rubber compound, isn’t breaking down over time, which would allow for that electricity to pass through the glove and into the person that we’re trying to protect.

Justin Scace: Okay, so the rubber gloves then, they need to be inspected from time to time, correct?

Ralph Parrett: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Justin Scace: So some folks might be like, “Well, I have leather protectors on the gloves. Why do I need to bother inspecting the rubber?” Right? So what do you have to say about that?

Ralph Parrett: Well, yes, they are electrically tested every six months. However, through use, you’re going to put stress on those gloves. And in accordance with a lot of entities, you’re going to see that your electrical gloves are required to be inspected before each day’s use. And also it says that if there’s ever been a moment where those gloves were exposed to a hazardous environment that you should perform the test again.

Now, that inspection is going to include an air test, which basically you’re going to trap air inside the glove and make sure that it doesn’t escape. If you have air escaping the glove then you have a hole. If you have a hole, you do not have adequate protection.

Justin Scace: Right.

Ralph Parrett: When it comes to the leather protectors, I think you brought that up too, even though we have the leather protectors to protect those rubber gloves, that stress can still occur. Typically, say you had the perfect situation where the glove doesn’t experience any unforeseen issues like chemical exposure or left out in the sun for six months straight or things like that. Typically your high stress points is going to be found between the fingers.

Justin Scace: Oh, like in the webbing?

Ralph Parrett: Yes. So that stress point is going to create a weak point where that ozone cracking or an ease of puncturing can occur. And say, if you take a sharp enough object that is energized, it can pierce through the leather glove, and through the leather glove, and now you’re exposed no different than if you’re not wearing a rubber glove. So that’s why these inspections that you do before each day’s use, which I try to tell folks you should do as much as possible because we tend to abuse the gloves. It keeps you safer.

Justin Scace: Absolutely. Are you required to wear leather gloves over electrical gloves for some extra protection?

Ralph Parrett: Well, as far as a requirement goes, this is one of those places where OSHA and 70E will do things like, “You shall never do this, but—”

Justin Scace: “But,” yeah.

Ralph Parrett: But, and it’s always kind of funny because whenever we’re in a training atmosphere we always tell people if you see “shall” then that means you cannot deviate from this. And then the next sentence says “but,” and then here you go. So technically, you are not required to wear leather protectors over gloves. However, and this is your hard “but” here, you can remove the leather protectors if and only if for two things. And that is if you know that there is no danger of cutting the electrical glove and you have to de-rate the glove’s rating. So like for a 00 glove, you would actually cut that in half. So it would typically be rated at 500 volts AC, you would now rate that glove at 250 volts AC. Then for all other classes of glove, so 0, 1, 2, 3, and 4, you actually have to drop those a class.

For example, a class 1 glove rated at 7500 volts AC, if used without a leather protector would have to be de-rated to a class 0 glove, which is now rated at 1000 volts AC. So it’s quite a dramatic change going from the 00 even to a class 1.

Justin Scace: So when you de-rate a glove (you’ll have to forgive me, I’m not familiar with a lot of electrical safety issues), when you de-rate a glove, that means that the risk of the hazard becomes higher for the employee, correct?

Ralph Parrett: So what they’re doing here is as your class of glove goes up, so you start at your 00, that’s your lowest voltage-rated glove class, and you go up 00, 0, 1, 2, 3, and 4. So as you increase that class, then the thickness of the glove is also going to increase, and the gauntlet or the cuff where the glove comes from the hands up to just beyond your wrist for a class 00, when a class 4 would actually come up about to the elbow.

Justin Scace: Oh wow, okay.

Ralph Parrett: So as we’re de-rating the gloves, the whole reason typically why people don’t want to have the leather protectors on is to gain dexterity so they can get more movement out of their fingers. And sometimes the leather protectors, you sacrifice dexterity to maintain protection. So one of the issues is, say I want to use, I’m in a class 3 glove, but I don’t want to use the leather protectors. Well, I have to wear a class 4. For anybody who’s worn a class 4, I don’t personally feel that you’re gaining too much dexterity out of that just purely because of the thickness of the rubber gloves.

Justin Scace: Okay, so with everything that you’ve seen working with electrical hazards, what’s the best way to keep personnel safe during any task that requires coming into contact with electricity?

Ralph Parrett: So the best place to start is going to be to identify the hazards that the employees are going to be exposed to. Then the likelihood of those hazards becoming an issue, and the severity if that were to occur, are the starting points for every single evolution. Once you’ve found those three items, you can then analyze how to eliminate or reduce the hazard, or the likelihood, or the severity of injury. All of this can be done so by eliminating the hazard you can engineer it out. So by design how we can remote operate equipment to put it into a de-energized state. That would eliminate the need for arc flash as far as safety for personnel. And also what that would do for us too is we would be able to, that would create distance between the operator, whoever’s operating that breaker, and the point where an arc flash event could occur, so now we’ve eliminated the likelihood of them being exposed to the hazard.

Then the last would be a severity. Say we can’t remote operate the breakers, we have to do it locally. Well, to decrease the severity of injuries, now we start issuing PPE like arc flash gear. This type of gear is going to bring us to a whole new level of rating than our daily wear. This is where we’ll start seeing arc flash suits, where it’s pants, possibly even overalls, a coat or jacket, and a hood with a visor. So that way, what we’re doing is is because we couldn’t eliminate the hazard or prevent the likelihood, now we’re going to protect the employee as best as we can.

Now before all of this even happens. Before that employee is ever put in front of that, or in that position, a pre-job briefing has to be conducted. That is required. This is in order to inform the employee or employees who are going to be exposed to those hazards so they’ll be able to know the hazards they’re getting exposed to and not only that but the methods that are going to be put in place to eliminate or reduce the risks associated with the task.

So really, I would say in my professional opinion, communication and transparency is going to take companies a long way in helping to keep their employees safe.

Justin Scace: Absolutely.

Ralph Parrett: Educating your employees as to why the safe practices are being implemented, but then also demonstrating those safe practices from the top down. Nothing is going to kill a safety program quicker than a technician who sees, say, a lead mechanic, a lead electrician, a supervisor, a department head, an office individual, who is clearly violating safety protocol.

Justin Scace: Absolutely. So, before we sign off, you’ve been a trainer for a long time. Could we get some of your thoughts on the importance of Electrical Safety Month? What would you communicate to our listeners that’s just some really important things to remember regarding these hazards?

Ralph Parrett: I would say the biggest thing when it comes to electrical training and the importance of this Electrical Safety Month is this is really one of those areas, one of these forms of energy that our general populace is not very aware of the hazards that are dealt with in this industry. And unfortunately, and you mentioned the 9% of all fatalities happening like that, one of the most common places of injury is in the home. We see a lot of individuals at their home, and this is not just saying people who are not electricians, this is electricians also are put in this too because we get too complacent when it comes to working around this energy. And it can lead to fatalities like that.

What AVO Training Institute specializes in is we’re going to target your big violators or big users of electrical safety, your industrial plants, utilities, and construction companies all come to us, and we’re able to educate them. And I’ve had folks come through a class of mine who’ve been doing this work for 30 years, and they had heard of arc flash or arc blast, but they’d never really understood what that meant. And unfortunately, a lot of companies, they don’t seek out training until a fatality happens.

Now I’m not going to name names, but we actually have a class set up for a specific company where we go to their facility, and we give them training for their site because about 10 or 15 years ago, they had an on-site fatality where they lost an employee. So, whenever you have an incident like that happening, whether it’s a fatality or it’s a near-miss, if it’s reported to OSHA (which it should), then OSHA can come in, and they have been known to do this, they’ll do an investigation, they’ll find the discrepancies, and they will fine the company. So, they’ll come in and point out the shortfallings, and then they’ll ask for a check.

Justin Scace: Right, absolutely. So, definitely something to remain aware of, whether you’re in the home or at the workplace.

Ralph Parrett: Absolutely, and so, one of the biggest things with electrical safety is have respect for it and those who are working with it. Earlier we were talking about barriers, one of my biggest things for folks is we need to respect the barrier no matter which side we’re on because if you’re on the outside, that barrier is there not just for my safety, it’s there for the safety of the individuals inside of that barrier.

Justin Scace: Definitely. Well, excellent. This information will help everyone out there in our audience have an even safer Electrical Safety Month at their workplaces this May. So thank you again, Ralph, for taking the time to talk with us today on EHS on Tap.

Ralph Parrett: Absolutely, I’m glad you had me and glad we had the opportunity to do this.

Justin Scace: Absolutely, we were glad to have you. So we’d also like to thank AVO Training Institute for sponsoring today’s episode. To our listeners, be sure to keep an eye out for new episodes of EHS on Tap and keep reading the EHS Daily Advisor to stay on top of your safety and environmental compliance obligations, get the latest in best practices, and keep your finger on the pulse of all things related to the EHS industry. Until next time, this is Justin Scace for EHS on Tap.

Author's nameRalph Parrett is is a U.S. Navy Veteran with over 11 years of professional experience relating to electrical safety and maintenance training. He started working as a Senior Training Instructor for AVO Training Institute in 2017 and is now also a Senior Instructional Designer as well. Ralph has extensive knowledge of the maintenance, repair, and troubleshooting for control and instrumentation, relay logic systems, ABB control systems, Central Control station programs, and other various types of equipment. He has also developed and taught curriculum covering theory, operation, maintenance, and safety of engineering systems.