How to Make Electrical Safety Job #1
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How to Make Electrical Safety Job #1

08/31/17

When it comes to electrical safety there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that according to the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI), annual fatal electrical injuries have declined by more than 50% since 1992. The bad news is that construction trade workers experienced the most electrical fatalities, closely followed by installation, maintenance and repair occupations.

Federal regulation of NFPA 70E and OSHA has helped reduce the number of electrical fatalities. But is your organization doing enough to protect your workers?

When we talk to customers about electrical safety, they usually fall into one of these categories:

  • We’re up to code—we have arc flash labels.
  • I know there’s a problem, but code is complicated/incomplete and I don’t know where to start.
  • Employee safety is very important to my organization. We regularly review our safe work practices policy, we check our personal protective equipment and electrical gear and our employees are continually trained in electrical safety practices.

When we refer to an electrical safety plan, we’re looking to reduce the most common electrical injuries: electrocution, electric shock, burns and falls as a result of electrical energy.

Here's what you need to know about achieving complete electrical safety. HINT: It's not just about complying with code, but making safety part of your culture.

Any comprehensive electrical safety plan should include arc flash safety. Just because you haven’t personally experienced an arc flash, doesn’t mean they don’t happen.

What is an arc flash event?

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According to Arcadvisor.com, an arc flash happens when electric current flows through an air gap between conductors. Accidents caused by touching a test probe to the wrong surface or a slipped tool are the most common cause of an arcing fault.

The most common cause of arc flash is human error according to Safety + Health magazine.

The employee is often distracted while performing energized work or fails to use an insulated tool. Other factors include dropping conductive items in the enclosure like panel screws, the accumulation of conductive dust inside or equipment failure.

An arc flash event can be devastating to the worker, other personnel in the area and the company. An arc flash can reach temperatures of 35,000 degrees Fahrenheit or four times that of the sun. This often results in skin burns, eyesight damage, hearing loss, shrapnel wounds, shock hazard and death. On top of that an arc flash event can cost an organization up to $8-$10 million per accident.

Do you Speak Code?

Even with the latest revision of NFPA 70E for 2015, the code is still rather ambiguous when it comes to electrical safety and arc flash prevention. NFPA 70E stresses the importance of de-energizing a circuit before starting your work. There are several checklists online to see if your organization’s safety plan is addressing the right concerns. Here are a few examples from the ESFI:

  • Do you have a formal written safety program or policy?
  • Is the policy available to all employees?
  • Is there a procedure for employees to report electrical safety violations?
  • Does your program emphasize de-energization (lockout/tagout)?
  • Do you have a formal safety committee?
  • Do you have someone knowledgeable enough to interpret regulations and standards?
  • Do you share your electrical safety program with contractors and vice versa?
  • Is your policy reviewed every three years?

This certainly isn’t an exhaustive checklist, but it’s a good start. If organizations really want to put safety first, they need to think about building a proactive safety strategy.

Creating a Proactive Safety Strategy

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While a reactive approach occurs after the injury has taken place, a proactive approach aims to plan before an accident and to reduce the likelihood or extent of injury. A proactive approach requires additional time and planning, but overall the approach should be less expensive, should have buy-in from all levels of the organization and should result in fewer accidents and injuries.

Crafting a proactive safety strategy is similar to developing a strong business strategy. Before you can achieve success you need to define it and create a roadmap. Consider answering these key questions

  • What incidents have happened in the past?
  • What are our current safety needs?
  • What does safety success look like?
  • How will we achieve safety success?

How do we measure activities so we know we’ve achieved success?

A proactive safety plan goes way beyond arc flash labels and clothing. It’s about hazard reduction. And when regulations change you need to re-evaluate your policies and procedures to make sure you’re still in compliance.

One advantage to being proactive is that you should always be in compliance, which should reduce the potential costs of non-compliance.

Proactive electrical safety requires more front-end development, planning and assessment, but the long-term benefits outweigh the short-term costs:

  • Correct any potential hazardous situations
  • Prevent/reduce future electrical injuries
  • Create awareness of electrical safety
  • Reduce medical and litigation costs
  • Avoid higher worker compensation premiums
  • Reduce down time from worker injuries and accident investigations
  • Reduce OSHA violations and citations

It’s a lot of work, but if you have a well-defined plan and safety strategy—there will be fewer surprises. Organizations with a safety strategy in place usually have these key attributes:

  • New members to the organization quickly learn the electrical safety policy
    • Effective training and safety policies
    • Comprehensive and clearly-written notices
    • Easily accessible safety information
  • Any issues that arise are more likely to fall under existing procedures
    • Proper documentation and robust implementation of policies ensure appropriate procedures for potential issues
  • Electrical Safety training is implemented regularly, and in small bites
    • Smaller bites make training more digestible and the frequency aids to keep electrical safety top of mind
  • Policy statements and procedures are reviewed regularly

Similar to training, a regular reminder helps keep electrical training top of mind

When you’re redefining your safety strategy this year, remember to involve all levels of the organization. Remember that safety procedures are not only about protecting your workers, but defending your company’s bottom-line. With arc flash events costing upwards of $8-$10 million per accident there isn’t a c-suite in America that can ignore the importance of electrical safety.

Bonus: Not all arc flash studies are created equal. Read the ebook Doing Arc Flash Assessments Right to help you ensure your latest arc flash study protects workers and meets your safety program goals.

Sources:
http://www.safetyandhealthmagazine.com/articles/human-error-often-causes-arc-flash-accidents-2
http://arcadvisor.com/faq/what-is-arc-flash
http://files.esfi.org/file/Workplace-Electrical-Injury-and-Fatality-Statistics-2003-2010.pdf