Patrick Liebe is the NFPA 70E instructor, first aid/CPR instructor and electrical safety specialist with Werner Electric Supply in Appleton, Wisconsin. He’s been a part of the Werner Electric Supply team for more than 2 years and hosts numerous training sessions for industry leaders throughout the year.
Workplace safety is vital to a company’s success. It affects everything from customer satisfaction to employee morale to the dollars and cents of productivity, legal fees and compliance. In today’s competitive business environment, it’s especially important to reduce employee injuries and incident rates to avoid the costs of downtime. One major factor in achieving these goals is electricity. Companies need to know what hazards are lurking on their jobsites.
Implementing comprehensive electrical safety programs designed to prevent electrical equipment failures can not only reduce incidents, but also improve a company’s overall safety culture, leading to greater awareness, trust and cost savings. This involves tackling the “root cause” of workplace injuries—failure to pinpoint hazards in the first place. A critical element in any effective safety program is to proactively identify and assess present culprits on an ongoing basis. In other words, contractors need to know the risks, then do what it takes to mitigate them.
To identify and assess hazards, employees and team leaders need to:
- Collect and review information about the hazards present, or likely to be present, in the workplace
- Conduct periodic workplace inspections to detect new or recurring hazards
- Conduct regular training to keep employees updated on current changes
Furthermore, an effective electrical safety program includes these elements:
- Strong electrical safety policies
- Robust lockout/tagout programs, including machine specifics and annual recertification
- Arc flash analysis
- Proper labeling for all electrical equipment
- Personal protection equipment (PPE) availability and corresponding training
- Proper use of test equipment
- Knowledge of necessary documentation for job safety plans and briefs, energized electrical work permits, and comprehensive electrical safety training programs
Electrical Safety Training Saves Lives
There are many instances when being properly trained may save an employee’s life. For example, a worker may experience a change in environmental conditions in a very short amount of time on the job. Test equipment may be operating perfectly, but a change in location from extreme cold to extreme heat can cause condensation to build up, resulting in test equipment hazards.
Another highly dangerous situation, which actually occurred at a facility where roof repairs were being completed, resulted in a severe arc flash incident. Continuous rain over the course of 2 days created a leak that ran down an interior wall and into the back of one of the main electrical panels within the facility. The hidden leak caused an explosive arc flash, which destroyed the room. Thankfully, all employees who would have been working in the area were off duty and no injuries resulted.
Both of these examples illustrate potential workplace hazards. Electrical dangers are numerous, and it is imperative companies have educated employees armed with the most updated information available. Training should be based on the level of risk to employee. The electrical employee who accesses and is exposed to energized equipment will require the highest amount of training. Training will allow employees to understand and retain the skills and knowledge necessary to be a qualified electrical worker. It will also allow them to demonstrate those skills to an employer and show they have the knowledge to complete a task or job, according to the company electrical safety policy.
Why is it important to update electrical safety policies?
Employers need to understand company policies cannot be written in stone. As a company, safety policies must be revisited and updated on a regular basis to assure the highest level of safety for all. Training must be updated for both new workers and those who need a refresher course. Employee safety training education can provide a deeper understanding of an employee’s surroundings, the location of dangerous areas, and why it’s important to not only stay away from these areas, but also to avoid distracting the electrical workers doing their jobs. These are just some examples of how sound safety training promotes heightened awareness.
What should you look for in electrical safety training?
Electrical safety training instructors must relay many critical points to their audience. Whether an instructor is teaching industrial employees, industrial electrical employees or contracted electrical workers, its important to present them with the skills and knowledge necessary to practice electrical safety. If at the end of safety training, employees have learned key points that will benefit them and their co-workers—such as being able to identify and avoid hazards, using precautionary techniques for working around hazards, and understanding how to select and properly use PPE, including arc flash, insulating and shielding materials—then the trainer has succeeded.
Effective electrical safety training should include a wide swath of electricity-related inspection checkpoints:
- Is training provided for all employees, both affected and authorized?
- Does initial training include a thorough review of hazards and incidents associated with the job?
- Is adequate instruction in the use of PPE provided?
- Is training for the use of emergency equipment provided?
- Are the safety data sheets accessible to all employees?
- Have all trucks, forklifts and other equipment been inspected and maintained?
- Are lockout or tagout procedures in place and followed?
- Is ventilation equipment working effectively?
- Is there a clear fire response plan posted for each work area?
- Do all workers know the plan?
- Are drills held regularly?
- Are fire extinguishers chosen for the type of fire most likely in that area?
- Are there enough extinguishers present to do the job?
- Are extinguisher locations conspicuously marked?
- Are extinguishers properly mounted and easily accessible?
- Are all extinguishers fully charged and operable?
- Do employees have easy access to exits?
- Will exit doors open in an emergency to allow egress?
- Are exits clearly marked?
- Are exits and exit routes equipped with emergency lighting?
- Are exits and exit routes accessible (e.g., no items stored in the pathway or doorway)?
- Are light fixtures in good condition?
- Are all hazardous products stored appropriately?
- Is the arc flash analysis complete?
- Do you have a list of qualified electrical workers on-site?
- Have proper test equipment and tools been issued and used?
- Are junction boxes, panels, and cabinets closed and sealed?
- Are electrical receptables (GFCI) used with all extension cords?
- Are extension cords out of walkways and not crossing exits?
- Are defective tools tagged and removed from service as part of a regular maintenance program?
- Are tools and machinery used so as to avoid electrical hazards?
- Is proper training given in the safe use of tools and machinery?
- Are entry and exit procedures in place?
- Are emergency and rescue procedures in place (e.g. trained safety spotters)?
- Are employees trained in first aid/CPR/AED scheduled on each shift?
- Is there a list posted with up-to-date certified employees?
- Are first aid kits provided and employees aware of locations?
- Is the PPE policy updated and in place?
- Is proper PPE provided, maintained, and used?
- Are employees trained on the proper use of PPE?
- Is charging of electric batteries performed only in designated areas?
This is nowhere near an exhaustive list, yet it addresses a wide variety of points. Can your company mark each question as satisfactory? Or do you need to improve your safety culture? Don’t delay.
Electrical safety programs save time, money and lives. Start establishing yours today by double checking all safety policies and procedures to make sure your employees have a safe working environment.