Simple Precautions to Avoid Serious Electrical Accidents

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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.

The Fab Five Safety Training Basics

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Every facility has unique hazards that employees must be trained on to protect their health and well-being on the job. However, the following five components should be included in most every employee safety training program.

1. Use Tools and Machines Safely: Most machines have built-in safety features, such as machine guards. Guards are positioned to prevent the operator from coming into contact with dangerous moving parts of a machine. Company policy requires that guards be kept in place. Machine maintenance and servicing call for the use of lockout/tagout procedures, which require special training and authorization. Do not attempt to lock or tag a machine unless you have been authorized to do so.

2. Be Cautious with Chemicals: This means knowing the hazards associated with the chemicals you use on the job. You should be able to read and interpret chemical labels and safety data sheets. You should know what personal protective equipment (PPE) is required for your job and when and how to use it. You should also know how to store chemicals properly.

3. Watch for Electrical Hazards: Every work environment involves electricity. It is used to power tools and equipment, as well as to provide light and other conveniences. Because we all depend on electricity, we sometimes fail to realize how hazardous it can be. Electrical mishaps can result in shock, burns, fire or worse.

4. Be Careful When Handling Materials: Moving things from point A to point B is a necessary part of many jobs. Warehouse workers do it constantly. In the process, unfortunately, many are injured because they take safety shortcuts. One of the most dangerous shortcuts employees take is failing to follow safe lifting procedures. Safe lifting requires bending at the knees, keeping your back straight and letting your legs do the lifting. It also means using mechanical aids, such as carts and dollies, whenever possible, and practicing team lifts to lessen the risk of injury.

5. Be a Good Housekeeper: Good housekeeping is not just about keeping things neat and organized, it’s also about keeping the work environment safe and healthful. Everyone is responsible for knowing and following housekeeping procedures as they are laid out by management.