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Safe practices to remember when working with electric current

Keith Brown

Keith Brown

Safety Team Leader and Supervisor

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, fatal work-related injuries in Florida for calendar year 2009 totaled 245, of which 26 were the result of contact with electric current. This makes contact with electric current the third leading cause of death in Florida’s workplaces, behind highway incidents and homicides. The statistic also represents a 37% increase from the previous year; 19 electrical work-related fatalities in 2008.

This increase in electric current fatalities indicates a need for increased awareness of potential electrical hazards in the workplace, and it requires the attention and involvement of personnel at all levels of the organization.

To begin, let's look at the source of most electrical incidents, which results from one or more of the following factors:

• Unsafe equipment or installation,

• Unsafe environment, or

• Unsafe work practices.

Some ways to prevent electric current incidents include the use of insulation, guarding and grounding, electrical protective devices, and safe work practices.

Prior to using any electrical device or equipment, an examination must be conducted to ensure it is in good condition. This includes examining power cords and plugs, as well as the integrity of the outer casing designed to protect the user from exposure to live electrical parts. Permanent and specialized electrical equipment must be installed by qualified personnel. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) General Industry Electrical Standard (Subpart S of 29 CFR 1910), a qualified person is, “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.”

Tools, equipment, and electrical utilization systems must be appropriate for the environment in which they are to be used. For example, electrical receptacles and switches used in wet locations must be provided with weatherproof enclosures and covers, and equipment and tools used in hazardous areas where flammable atmospheres may be present must be intrinsically safe. Likewise, electrical devices designed, manufactured and approved for home or office use do not belong in an industrial environment.

Conducting a Job Hazard Analysis before performing a task can lead to the identification of potential hazards and help eliminate unsafe work practices that might expose workers to live electrical parts such as overhead power lines and buried or hidden electrical cables. Safe electrical work practices also include using equipment in the manner for which it was designed and approved by the manufacturer.

For additional tips on protecting workers from electrical hazards in the workplace, and to download the OSHA booklet, “Controlling Electrical Hazards” (OSHA 3075), go to: http://www.osha.gov/pls/publications/publication.athruz?pType=Industry&pID=73

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