Don’t underestimate electricity’s dangers

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Exposure to electricity resulted in 141 workplace fatalities and 2,090 cases with days away from work in 2013, according to the 2016 edition of “Injury Facts,” a chartbook from the National Safety Council. How can workers stay safe?

To start, it’s important that workers recognize how dangerous electricity can be. “We tend to overlook the hazards electricity poses and fail to treat it with the respect it deserves,” OSHA notes.

How workers get hurt

Electrical injury incidents begin when a worker becomes part of an electrical circuit. “Humans are more conductive than the earth (the ground we stand on), which means if there is no other easy path, electricity will try to flow through our bodies,” states the Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety. The four main types of electrical-related injuries are electrocution, electric shock, burns and falls.

Electrical injuries can occur in a number of ways. Examples from CCOHS include:

  • Coming in direct contact with an exposed energized conductor or circuit part, potentially leading to heart problems, muscle spasms and the inability to breathe properly
  • Coming in contact with electricity that jumps from an exposed energized conductor or circuit part through a gas, such as air, to a person who is grounded (which can result in serious injuries or death)
  • Experiencing thermal burns from heat created by an electric arc or flame burns from material that catches on fire

Workers also may be injured or killed by falling from a ladder, scaffold or aerial work bucket as a result of muscle contractions experienced during an electrical shock, CCOHS states.

Avoiding danger

To help prevent electrical incidents from occurring on the job, CCOHS offers a number of tips. Among them:

  • Always inspect portable cord-and-plug connected equipment, extension cords, electrical fittings and power bars before use. If damage is detected, repair or replace the equipment immediately.
  • Never use nails or staples on extension cords, as they can damage cords and lead to fire and electrical shock risks. Only use tape to affix extension cords to walls or floors.
  • Ensure equipment or extension cords are properly rated for the level of amperage or wattage being used.
  • Stay alert for an outlet that feels warm or hot to the touch, as this may be a sign of unsafe wiring. Unplug all cords from warm or hot outlets, and don’t use the outlet again until a qualified electrician has performed an inspection.
  • Use ladders that have non-conductive side rails when working with electricity or near power lines.
  • Be aware that halogen lights can become very hot. Keep them away from combustible materials.
  • Ensure employees know where electrical panels and circuit breakers are located in the event of an emergency, and keep these areas clear.

Go to www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/safety_haz/electrical.html for more information on electrical safety.

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