Electricity forms part of our day-to-day lives, so it can be easy to forget or not be aware of the dangers it poses. All electrical equipment, whether it’s a computer or large machinery, can pose a hazard such as electric shock, burns, fire, and even explosion – and the risk of injury is strongly linked to where and how it is used.
Electricity in the workplace
According to the HSA, there have been 40 electrocutions or deaths from the effects of electricity between 2001 to the end of 2020. Of those, 25 deaths were associated with a work activity.
As an employer, it is your responsibility to ensure that your employees are provided with the skills and knowledge to understand the risks associated with electricity and how to work with electrical equipment during their duties.
You must ensure that extension cables, fixed leads (which are especially prone to damage), plugs, sockets and their connections are visually inspected and maintained, and if necessary replaced. An assessment should be carried out of any electrical hazards, including who could be harmed, what the level of risk is and how it has been established, and the precautions taken to control this. Your risk assessment should not only take into account the type of electrical equipment and how it is used, but also the environment in which it is used.
While electricity can be extremely dangerous, there are simple precautions that you can take to significantly reduce the risk of injury to you, your employees and others around you.
1. Prevention is protection
The best way to ensure that you stay safe is to stay away from electrical hazards. An unqualified person should not interact with electrical currents that are greater than 50V under any circumstances (places of work generally have power supplied at 230 volt [HSA]). If you are working in the same area as an electrical hazard, you should maintain a safe distance, ensuring that any panels are shut and there are no exposed wires in your workspace.
2. De-energise equipment or use lockouts or tagouts
Exposed, live electrical parts should be de-energised in advance of any work on or near them. You can prevent accidents by isolating electrical energy and locking and tagging out the system, or parts of it. The purpose of lockouts and tagouts are to protect employees from electrical hazards and should be used when appropriate.
3. Ensure safe use of electrical equipment
Always be aware that the equipment you are working with carries an electrical current. Things as simple as plugs or cords should be respected – do not overstretch them, use them to hang other things from, or damage them with things like staples. You should also always unplug cords by pulling on the plug head, rather than the cord itself.
4. Physical barriers
Sometimes the simpler works just fine! Don’t overlook things like cabinet doors on electrical panels – these should always be closed. If an electrical hazard cannot be fully closed in, a shield, barrier or insulating materials should be used instead. Clear signage should also be used to warn employees of hazards.
5. Beware of conductive materials
Remember that some tools, products or materials are conductive and require particular caution. For example, solvent and water-based cleaning materials, steel wool and metalized cloth are electrically conductive.
In wet surroundings, unsuitable equipment can become live – and even make its surroundings live too. Things like cables, sockets and fitting should be robust enough and adequately protected for the environment in which they are placed. Machinery should have an accessible isolator switch to cut power in emergency situations.
6. Look above for electrical wires
Live electrical equipment or parts can be above floor level and in many different cases, only accessible with a ladder or an elevated platform. Always ensure that the ladder you are using has non-conductive rails and ensure you stay at least 10 feet away from any exposed electrical lines.
7. Be aware of flammable materials
Be aware of the conditions you are working in – if there are flammable vapours, gases or dust then electrical equipment that can cause ignition must not be used.
In certain situations, qualified personnel may undertake measures to lockout and isolate electrical energy sources before potentially flammable materials may be used, or if the equipment is designed for use under these conditions.
8. Qualified personnel
If you come across a live electrical wire, stay away, and if it is not being attended, you should immediately notify electrical safety personnel who should promptly put physical barriers in place.
9. Electrical safety work practices
Your business should have its own electrical safety work practices that can be issued to employees.
10. And always remember…
Electricity is not visible and live parts will not look any different from de-energised parts. You should always proceed with the assumption that any electrical part is live. Take precautions to keep electrical power on its own path, and protect yourself.
At Ayrton, we offer training that will provide participants with an appreciation of the hazards that are involved when working with or in the vicinity of low-voltage electricity (<1000 Volts AC). Our course in electrical safety is intended for non-specialist attendees and covers topics such as the basic principles of electricity, electric shock, electrical system protection, live work and electrical equipment walkdown among others. Find out more about this programme here.
If you need to review your electrical safety risk assessment, or your employees are in need of Electrical Safety Training, then speak to a member of our team today about how Ayrton can assist you. Contact us today to find out more.