Because it is so essential to nearly every type of operation, electricity can be a serious workplace hazard. Almost every employee is exposed to some level of electricity. What is the best way to protect your employees against electrical hazards? Education and training. Start with the basics.
A Look at Insulation
Insulators, such as glass, mica, rubber or plastic used to coat metals and other conductors, help stop or reduce the flow of electrical current. This helps prevent electrical shock, fires and short circuits. To be effective, the insulation must be suitable for the voltage level involved and appropriate for conditions, such as temperature and other environmental factors like moisture, oil, gasoline, corrosive fumes or other substances that could cause the insulator to fail. Before connecting electrical equipment to a power source, it’s a good idea to check the insulation for any exposed wires or defects. Insulation covering flexible cords is particularly vulnerable to damage.
Where Guarding Comes Into Play
Another form of protection is guarding. This involves locating or enclosing electrical equipment to prevent workers from accidentally coming into contact with its live parts. Recommended locations include a room, vault or similar enclosure; a balcony, gallery or elevated site. Sturdy, permanent screens can also work as effective guards. Conspicuous signs must be posted at the entrances to electrical rooms and similarly guarded locations to alert workers to the electrical hazard and to forbid entry to unauthorized people.
What about Grounding?
Grounding a tool or electrical system means intentionally creating a low-resistance path that connects to the earth, which prevents the buildup of voltages that could cause an electrical accident. Grounding is normally a secondary protective measure and does not guarantee that a worker won’t get a shock or be injured or killed by an electrical current. It will, however, substantially reduce the risk, especially when used in combination with other safety measures. A service or system ground is designed primarily to protect machines, tools and insulation against damage. An equipment ground helps protect the equipment operator.
Circuit Protection Devices
Circuit protection devices limit or stop the flow of current automatically in the event of a ground fault, overload or short circuit in the wiring system. Common examples of these devices are fuses, circuit breakers, ground fault circuit interrupters and arc-fault circuit interrupters. Fuses and circuit breakers protect conductors and equipment by breaking the circuit automatically when too much current flows through. Ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCI) are used in wet locations, construction sites and other high-risk areas. These devices interrupt the flow of electricity within as little as 1/40 of a second to prevent electrocution. Arc-fault devices de-energize the circuit when an arc-fault is detected.
Remember Safe Work Practices
Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind is that electrical accidents are largely preventable through everyday compliance and training. Remember and pass on the following: always de-energize electric equipment before inspection or repair; keep electric tools properly maintained; exercise caution when working near energized lines; and use the appropriate protective equipment.