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Protecting field teams from electrical hazards: 5 things you need to know

May 24, 2021

Every year, thousands of workers are injured or killed by electrical hazards, a situation made more tragic because many of these incidents are preventable.

Some sobering statistics illustrate the extent and seriousness of the problem: According to U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics analyzed by the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI), a non-profit organization that promotes electrical safety at home and in the workplace, there were 166 electrical fatalities in 2019 — a 3.75% increase over 2018 and the highest number of electrical fatalities since 2011. Nonfatal electrical injuries are increasing at an even quicker pace, jumping 22% from 2018 to 2019.

Given the potential danger, protecting field teams from electrical hazards should be top of mind for any safety manager, especially in the construction, utilities, transportation, mining and manufacturing sectors, where workers are regularly exposed to these hazards.

Here are some electrical-safety protocols that don’t just make for a safer workplace, but also ensure compliance and promote a more productive workplace with fewer work stoppages.

Watch out for power lines

The ESFI found that 38% of electrically related workplace fatalities between 2011 and 2018 resulted from overhead power lines. These fatalities often occurred in occupations with minimal electrical safety training. Ensure your teams recognize the importance of identifying downed or malfunctioning power lines.

If they spot downed lines, stay 35 feet away, and call 911 from vehicles. In case of power lines igniting a vehicle, instruct members to avoid touching both ground and vehicle. If inside, instruct them to exit by jumping, landing with feet together, and shuffling away without lifting their feet.

Adult electrician builder engineer testing and screwing equipment in fuse box and repairing of modern electricity power station, collecting electrical safety data in tablet.

Follow lockout/tagout procedures

Every day, millions of workers are on sites where machines or equipment directly expose them to serious injury if hazardous energy is not properly controlled. Unfortunately, failure to follow their company’s lockout/tagout procedures puts many of these workers at risk. Year after year, one of the top OSHA violations is failing to comply with lockout/tagout standards to control hazardous energy.

In the event of the need to de-energize, notify all on-site workers of the lockout/tagout. Before shutting down equipment, use their normal stopping process. Isolate equipment from all energy sources and release stored energy. Lock out controls with assigned locks and tags. Ensure no personnel are exposed before testing if energy still supplies the equipment. If not, return it to an “off” state. Only then can service or maintenance be safely performed.

Once complete, remove lockout devices and notify all employees. Following lockout/tagout procedures protects workers from sudden energization or hazardous energy release during service or maintenance. Compliance with OSHA’s lockout/tagout procedure prevents an estimated 120 fatalities and 50,000 injuries annually, ultimately saving lives.

Always wear PPE

Field teams frequently operate in locations where electrical hazards lurk unnoticed, leaving workers vulnerable to sudden incidents. Standard work attire fails to provide adequate protection, as it easily ignites and sustains burns even after ignition sources are removed. Consequently, wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) becomes imperative to shield workers from these dangers. PPE serves as a crucial line of defense, distinguishing between minor injuries and fatalities.

An array of PPE options exists—safety gloves, goggles, shoes, flame-resistant clothing, face shields—but selecting the appropriate gear is essential. The chosen PPE should align with the specific work environment and its electrical hazards. Moreover, it should be worn as the outermost layer, securely fastened, and regularly maintained.

Test before you touch

Most harmful electrical-related incidents are easily preventable, no more so when workers are injured or killed by circuits they thought were safely turned off. The lesson here cannot be more clear: simply turning off the power is not enough. Hazardous energy conditions can still exist even if the power is shut off, so workers always need to remember the tried-and-true maxim: test before you touch.

Before testing commences, ensure that all participants are qualified, wearing proper PPE, and using appropriate tools. Proceed with testing only after de-energizing the circuit and completing lockout/tagout procedures in full. Always remember to regularly inspect the testing device to ensure it functions properly.

Leverage mobile technology

Safety managers are now utilizing mobile technology to foster a culture of electrical safety across teams and organizations. This approach ensures that everyone is aware of and follows safety procedures effectively. With Fulcrum, safety managers can establish comprehensive electrical safety protocols using location-aware mobile apps. These protocols have the potential to significantly enhance safety measures, potentially saving lives in the process.

With Fulcrum, you can rapidly build and deploy digital checklists that can be accessed instantly by your team directly on their mobile device, including SOPs and safety sheets, checklists for lockout/tagout procedures, and proper PPE requirements. And with real-time updates, workers will always have access to the latest procedures so they can avoid hazards, electrical and otherwise.

Workers can report hazards via mobile devices in real time, instantly triggering notifications and remediation processes. This ensures immediate action, with data shared among the team, including decision-makers. Such transparency enables on-the-spot hazard remediation, enhancing safety and efficiency.

Fulcrum automatically geotags all records, pinpointing potential electrical hazards’ locations precisely. This feature alerts team members to dangers, improving response times. With safety and inspection data centralized, a comprehensive overview becomes accessible. This allows for data-driven enhancements to job sites, SOPs, and workflows, ultimately increasing safety.

With location-aware mobile apps, it’s easy to make safety everyone’s job, even if “safety” isn’t in their title.

To learn more about protecting your field teams with mobile technology, check out the webinar, Digitizing the Process: Driving Safety Culture Through Modern Technology, produced in conjunction with OH&S Magazine.