The main goal of electrical safety is to prevent electrical injuries in the workplace. Electrical shock remains one of the four most common causes of workplace deaths in the US. In 2017, there were 71 electrocution deaths in the construction industry alone.
Electricity and the human body
Electricity is extremely dangerous to the human body. Our bodies regulate themselves on electrical impulses and conduct electricity through resistance. For example, the outer layer of our skin provides resistance to electricity; however, this varies from person to person. Also, dry skin has a higher resistance to electric current than wet skin, which is a conductor of electricity. Furthermore, internal electrical impulses control the human heart, making it easily disturbed by outside electrical interference. This interference can cause your heart to go into fibrillation, and the electrical impulse confuses the heart and tells it to stop pumping blood. Electrical current five mA (milliamps) is enough electrical current to put the heart in ventricular fibrillation.
What happens when you receive an electrical shock?
Electrical impulses also control human muscles. Electrical shock can result in the loss of muscular control and lack of ability to release an electrical conductor. Currents above ten milliamps can cause paralysis or “frozen” muscles. If you’re exposed to this, you’ll be unable to release a tool, wire, or other energized object. You’ll most likely hold the electrified object even more tightly. Because of this long exposure time, you’ll likely end up with a more severe injury. For this reason, you should treat any hand-held tool that could shock you as highly dangerous.
The severity of the shock depends on the amount of electrical current flowing through the body; the path of the electrical current through the body; and the length of time the body is in the electrical circuit. Electrical shocks can cause considerably more damage to the body than is visible. The most common type of shock is a visible burn which could be from electrical contact, an electrical arc or thermal contact. Remember that electrical burns are the result of current flowing through the tissues or bones of the human body.
What must an employer do to protect employees from receiving an electrical shock?
Employers have a responsibility to ensure employees recognize and avoid unsafe working conditions, understand applicable regulations and know how to control or eliminate hazards related to electricity. In the US, Federal OSHA regulations provide the standards employers follow. Electrical Safety in the workplace is regulated in both General Industry 29 CFR Part 1910.302 through 1910.308 — Design Safety Standards for Electrical Systems and 1910.331 through 1910.335 — Electrical Safety-Related Work Practices Standards. OSHA also has electrical standards for the construction and maritime industries but recommends that employers in these industries follow the general industry electrical standards whenever possible for hazards that are not addressed by their industry-specific standards. Additionally, there are 28 OSHA-approved State Plans that operate state-wide occupational safety and health programs. State Plans may have different or more stringent requirements.
Also, OSHA relies on national consensus standards, which provide more specific guidelines that must be followed. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) National Electrical Code 70 and the NFPA 70E, electrical safety requirements for employees in the workplace, are examples of these standards. NFPA 70E sets minimum recommendations on electrical safety-related work practices, safety-related maintenance requirements and other administrative controls for employee workplaces that are necessary for the practical safeguarding of employees relative to the hazards associated with electrical energy during activities such as the installation, inspection, operation, maintenance, and demolition of electric equipment.
The NFPA standard includes guidance for performing hazard identification and risk assessments, selecting appropriate PPE, establishing an electrically safe work condition, and worker training. Workers may be qualified or unqualified. OSHA defines a qualified worker as one who has received training in, and is familiar with, the construction and operation of equipment and hazards involved. NFPA defines a qualified person as one who has demonstrated skills and knowledge related to the construction and operation of the equipment and installations and has received safety training to identify and avoid hazards.
Unqualified persons must be trained in and be familiar with any other electrical safety-related practices necessary for their safety. For example, if employees are affected by electrical work performed in the workplace, then they should understand the hazards and be familiar with electrical safety requirements.
With courses such as Electrical Safety 2.0, Electrical Safety: Qualified Worker – Part 1, Electrical Safety: Qualified Worker – Part 2, NFPA 70E Electrical Safety in the Workplace 2018 Edition, and Electrical Safety – Cal/OSHA, Skillsoft’s Environmental, Health & Safety (EHS) Compliance Training offers the training your organization needs to ensure your employees recognize electrical hazards and work safely.
Take a look at a brief clip on the basics of electrical circuits from our Electrical Safety 2.0 course, to get a taste of our training.
Skillsoft is attending the American Society of Safety Professionals Conference and Expo, June 9-12 in New Orleans. If you are attending, please stop by for a chat and learn more about our extensive compliance solution.
Donna McEntee is the Workplace Safety and Health Solution Manager at Skillsoft.