Electricity continues to be one of the top causes of death among construction workers every single year, and claims lives in a number of other industries as well. The human body, being water-based, is an extremely good conductor of electricity, and even relatively low amounts of electricity can still cause serious injury to us. Short of death, workers may experience bone fractures, organ and tissue damage, and scarring, just to name a few complications. In this blog post, we’re going to look at five different ways in which you can help keep your workers electricity safe.
OSHA – Prevent Electrocutions: Work Safely with Cranes near Power Lines
How Shocks Work
According to Occupational Health & Safety:
A current flows any time the body comes into contact with an electrically energized part while simultaneously making contact with another conductive surface, such as metal. Once the current enters the body at one contact point, it will pass through the body and exit at the other contact point, usually the ground.
OH&S - Electricity Remains a Serious Workplace Hazard
Employers and their workers need to understand that an “electrically energized part” does not have to be the original source of the electrical current; other conductive objects in contact with electricity can pass the current on to a person touching it, even if this “daisy chain” effect is continued for several stages/objects before reaching a worker. In the video example, a narrator actually takes the audience through exactly how this type of accident can happen. In fact, it’s a real scenario in which improper safety planning resulted in the tragic death of a worker.
1. Training to Perfection
One of the biggest problems that workers run into with regards to electricity is that they may not have proper training on how to keep themselves safe around electrically energized materials. Workers need to know that electrical currents can jump, and the distance of these arcs is dependent on a number of things, including the voltage of the current itself. Especially when operating any machinery, such as the crane in the video, workers need to be fully trained and qualified to look out for electrical dangers from their given role/vantage point. For vehicle drivers and operators, this means also having a trained crew on the outside helping to spot dangers the driver/operator might not be able to see from the cab.
Workers should also feel knowledgeable about any electrical components they’ll be working with, and should be familiar with each of the following four sections.
Personal protection equipment, or PPE, is essential to keeping workers safe. When working in or around electrical dangers, certain gear, such as rubber gloves and suits, can help to reduce the risk of electric shock. That said, PPE (which you can find here) can only go so far in preventing electrical injuries, and is certainly not as effective as it can be for other areas of safety. When it comes to electrocution, you’re much better off preventing/never even getting close enough to a hazard for PPE to be an issue.
3. Ditch Conductive Materials & Tools
While most tools and materials construction and industrial employees work with are made up of metal, using this efficient conductor of a material should be avoided whenever possible. Rubber handles on tools can help, but being able to accomplish a similar job with composite or plastic materials and tools can help reduce the risk of accidental conduction. In the video, a metal cable guideline brings the current from an overhead wire right to the worker’s body without resistance. Another, non-conductive, material being used as the guideline might have been enough to save the halt the current and save the worker’s life. Consider these types of alternatives especially when working in dangerous environments, like those with many residential power cables overhead.
4. Positioning & Planning Extensively
In the second half of the video, a new scenario is posed in which workers plan effectively before the project and ensure that their crane boom won’t be anywhere near the cables that caused problems in the real life situation it’s based off of. The foreman establishes a safe distance for the crane from any nearby power lines, the crew is all fully qualified for their roles, and the guideline used is, as previously mentioned, swapped out for a non conductive material.
In any of your own projects, extensive pre-project planning is going to mean all of the difference in how safe your workers are. In many cases, this can come down to the difference between your workers having catastrophic accidents or going home safe and sound, all in one piece. This type of planning should be done for each and every project individually; while you’ll always need to have overarching safety policies, each project should be given special attention.
5. Adaptability & Upkeep
As with plans for individual projects, your written rules and procedures for electrical safety overall may change as time goes by, as your business focus changes, as projects evolve, or as new industry standards are established. Work hard to ensure that you stay on top of such changes; no worker wants to have to operate under a stubborn boss that’s placing familiarity and a cut in costs over his or her safety. Training manuals may need to be re-written, new equipment purchased, etc.
Additionally, you might find that equipment is wearing too quickly or isn’t completely effective. In the case of electrical PPE, you might find it prudent to purchase outerwear that workers can use to protect their rubber or electricity-resistant PPE from physical damage, which in turn keeps them in top shape to protect from electrical injuries. As with any aspect of business or safety, be flexible, keep your workers’ best interests and your own responsibilities at heart, and you’ll be set.