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The 3 keys to mitigating electrical risks in the workplace

Electrical-related accidents aren't the most frequent workplace injury, but they do tend to be more severe--leading to larger workers' compensation claims and workplace deaths.

According to Electrical Safety Foundation International, more than 300,000 workers have been injured in electrical-related accidents in the workplace over the past decade. Accidents include electrocution, shock, and arch flash and blast. Arc flash occurs when an electrical current passes through air between ungrounded conductors, or ungrounded and grounded conductors. Arc flash can reach temperatures of 35,000 degrees and are powerful enough to kill or cause severe burns to individuals as far as 10 feet away. Workers' comp costs for arc flash accidents can reach millions of dollars.

Often protecting workers from electrical-related accidents can be as simple as turning off electrical installations and equipment before beginning work, and using personal protective equipment when power cannot be shut off.

These simple tips are part of the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) 70 E Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace, which forms the core of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) regulations for electrical safety in the workplace. Yet, some employers do not comply with these tips, leading to workplace accidents and hefty fines.

In March 2011, OSHA fined a Massachusetts-based company $49,000 for workplace conditions that "expose[d] employees to the hazards of fire, electrocution, and electric shock." A U.S. Postal Service plant in Boston was fined $357,000 for electrical hazards.

Aside from causing danger to employees and resulting in costly fines, electrical accidents can also result in higher operational costs from business interruption from plants being shut down for extended periods of time while OSHA conducts an inspection or until power can be restored.

ESIS, the claims and risk management division of ACE Group, recently released some tips to help employers mitigate workers' exposure to electrical hazards on the job. Click "next" to read what employers can do to prevent electrical-related accidents in the workplace.

Build awareness.

Despite the number of electrical-related workplace accidents and their severity, they are still uncommon enough that many employers have not witnessed one, making electrical safety something that is easily overlooked.

Employers should make an effort to educate all employees about electrical safety. Increased awareness and communication about the importance of electrical safety should be emphasized throughout a workplace. Employees should understand what steps to take to ensure they are safe from electrical hazards, and why it is important for everyone to be cautious.

Conduct hazard assessments.

Employers should conduct assessments to determine if their are gaps and weaknesses in their existing safety programs. According to ESIS, electrical hazard assessments focus on four areas:

  • Electrical systems studies like arc flash and shock hazard analysis
  • Examining facilities and company policies for working conditions, equipment maintenance and repairs, tools, and testing
  • Evaluating the day-to-day work practices of employees
  • Assessing company procedures and guidelines for aspects like de-energizing and re-energizing, testing and troubleshooting, safety concern reporting, performing energized work, record-keeping, and lockout and tagout

Document electrical safety programs.

A written electrial safety program will show that an organization takes electrical safety very seriously. Written programs typically start with an introduction stating why safety is important to the worksite, and are followed by sections that explain the purpose of the program.

The program should include responsibilities for everyone within an organization, including supervisors and managers, employees, and risk management staff. Safety procedures for all electrical jobs should be properly researched and clearly stated in the program.

Programs should also outline requirements for personal protective equipment, recertification, tools and materials, alerting techniques, contractors' responsibilities, and employee training.

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