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Electrical Safety

Learning Objectives

  • Identify the hazards associated with electricity: shock and fire
  • Explain how electricity works regarding hazards on the job
  • Describe basic safety controls and practices at work
  • Identify and explain how to respond to electrical emergencies

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17 minutes

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Electrical accidents can cause burns, shocks and electrocution, and without the proper electrical safety can lead to fatal accidents in a worst case scenario.

Approximately 230 electrical related fatalities occur each year. In one study, National Institute for Occupation Safety & Health (NIOSH) found that, “61% of electrocutions occur in two occupation divisions: 46% among craftsmen and 15% among laborers. These two groups also had the highest rates of electrocution death: 1.4 per 100,000 workers each.”

Electricity is everywhere, so reliable and useful these days that it is often taken for granted, and it is somewhat shocking how little is actually understood about its properties by the general public, another reason why electrical safety training is important.

According the NIOSH, “Electricity is the flow of an atom’s electrons through a conductor. Electrons, the outer particles of an atom, contain a negative charge. If electrons collect on an object, that object is negatively charged. If the electrons flow from an object through a conductor, the flow is called electric current. Voltage is the fundamental force or pressure that causes electricity to flow through a conductor and is measured in volts.”

How fatal electrical accidents typically occur in the high-risk workforce, is when an aerial lift or boom, or scaffolding set up, results in the unexpected connection with a power line, creating a circuit.

There are three primary electrical hazards that can cause you pain and injury, and three types of safety controls for mitigating the risk involved in working with or near electricity.

The first is electric shock. This is contact with electricity that causes a current to run through the skin, muscles or hair, and occurs when you become part of an electrical circuit. Its effect can range from nearly imperceptible to, well, devastating, with electrocution or death as the severest form of electric shock.  

The second primary hazard of electricity is its potential as a source of ignition and cause of a fire or explosion. Static electricity, or static discharge, can also cause shocks. Generally, static events are not a likely danger in household and office situations, though they may be painful. However, in industrial situations their impact can be quite damaging.  

The final major hazard is an electrical burn. These burns are largely internal, caused by the electricity that flows through tissue or bone, which generates heat that causes tissue damage. This can occur as a result of an electric shock, or from a lightning strike. These burns occur from the inside, out.

There are three types of safety controls. Engineering controls eliminate or reduce exposure to hazards through the use of engineered machinery or equipment. This is where the equipment you use or the environment you work in has built-in measures designed for your protection against specific hazards.

Administrative controls are the rules and regulations regarding safe work practices that are put in place by the government or your employer to protect your health and safety.  They can include things like requiring breaks when doing repetitive work that puts strain on the body, limiting the time a worker is exposed to certain work conditions, or requiring the use of personal protective equipment, etc.

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is a third type of safety control. Personal Protective Equipment is equipment worn to minimize exposure to a variety of hazards. It can include safety glasses, hardhats, steel-toed boots and gloves.

Electrical safety tips for avoiding electrical accidents:

  • Before plugging in a device, examine both the device and its cord for damage. Look for corroded, loose or bent plugs.
  • Examine the cord for cracks or frayed insulation at the plug end.  
  • Look at the tool or appliance end, too. If a tool or cord becomes hot to the touch or sparks or shocks, repair or replace it, but don’t attempt to repair broken cords or components by yourself. That is a job for a qualified electrician.
  • Never hold a tool or appliance by the cord—that invites damage—and remember to keep cords away from heat and water.
  • Also, don’t run cords under rugs—abrasion can damage them.
  • When removing plugs from outlets, pull on the plug, not the cord.
  • Don’t tamper with plugs. Never break off the third (ground) prong to fit a plug into a two-plug outlet; instead, replace the outlet. If the third prong is removed, the equipment is no longer grounded. Any cord with a prong missing should be put out of service.  
  • Don’t overload circuits.  Use a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI).
  • Remember that extension cords are for temporary use only. Using them as a permanent wiring solution is a fire code violation.
  • When working outside don’t forget to identify electrical sources over your head and below your feet. When using an extension ladder for instance, make sure to stay at least 10 feet away from overhead power lines.
Course Outline
  • What's So Dangerous?
  • How Did I Get Shocked?
  • How Do I Protect Myself?
  • How Do I Help?
  • OSHA 29 CFR 1910.330-335: Electrical Safety-Related Work Practices Standards
  • National Fire Protection Association Standards NFPA 70E, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace, 2012
  • OSHA 29 CFR 1910.332: Training