Electricity: Fact vs. fiction

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In 2011, exposure to electricity resulted in 174 worker fatalities and more than 2,000 cases involving days away from work, according to the 2014 edition of the National Safety Council’s “Injury Facts.” Understanding electrical safety on the job is critical. But can you separate electrical safety myths from facts?

Misunderstandings about electricity can lead to injuries and deaths, and supervisors must ensure their employees know how to work safely with and around electricity. Below, NSC addresses six common misconceptions about electricity.

MYTH: Electricity will always take the path of least resistance.
TRUTH: An electrical current will take any conductive path, regardless of its resistance level.

MYTH: If an electrical tool falls into water, it will short out and trip the circuit breaker.
TRUTH: This is not necessarily true. If the body of water the tool fell into is non-conductive, then it is not part of a loop to the ground. However, a worker should never reach into water to retrieve an item. Because water acts as a conducting path for the electricity in the tool, a worker may receive a serious or even fatal shock if he or she puts one hand in the water while another part of the body is touching a grounded object.

MYTH: Electricity generally goes to ground.
TRUTH: When electricity goes to ground, it does not simply disappear. Instead, ground acts as an “electrical loop” that an electrical current uses to return to the grounded power source.

MYTH: Alternating current reverse polarity is not dangerous.
TRUTH: Electrical tools, attachment plugs and receptacles must be properly wired so that the designated polarity cannot be reversed, according to the National Electrical Code. Often, tools have switches in one of the two conductors for the tool. NEC states that the switch should be on the “hot” conductor supplying the energy.

MYTH: The voltage level has to be high to cause a fatality.
TRUTH: Although voltage plays a role in determining how strong of a current flows, current is what kills. An AC voltage of only 60 volts can kill a worker.

MYTH: Double-insulated tools will always protect against electricity.
TRUTH: Always read the manufacturer’s instructions, and never place your whole trust in any electrical safety device.

To help reduce incidents of electric shock among employees, ensure your workplace has an effective electrical safety policy in place and that workers are properly trained on electrical hazards.