Electrical Safety

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Electrical Safety

Electrical Safety

Safety should always be the first priority in any workplace, and electrical safety is no different.  Electricity has been one of mankind’s greatest assets, but it is also known as the unseen killer.
You can see the end product of electrical energy when it is converted into Mechanical, Heat, or other forms of energy; e.g. a red-hot toaster element, spinning drill bit, or light globe.  However, voltage and current are invisible to the human eye, which makes it extremely dangerous.

Electrical Shock (Electrocution)

A small electrical shock can cause mild tingling in the muscles, while a severe shock causes sudden contraction of the heart muscle which can stun the victim and have one or more of the following effects: –

  • Stop breathing
  • Heart stops or quivers rapidly without pumping blood (Ventricular Fibrillation)
  • Burns
  • Muscular paralysis (i.e. may be unable to release the live equipment)
FACT: Currents as low as four thousandths of an ampere (0.004A) can cause pain.

Currents over twenty thousandths of an ampere (0.02A) cause muscles to contract; i.e. you can’t let go of the appliance you are holding.

A standard electrical circuit in Australia is 10amps!!

Factors that can affect the seriousness of an electric shock are: –

  • The amount of electricity that passes through the body
  • The path the electric current takes through the body
  • The amount of voltage
  • The duration of contact with live parts
  • The resistance the body provides at the time of contact
  • The area that makes contact with the live current
  • The phase of the cardiac cycle during which the shock occurs
  • The victim’s physical condition (e.g. sweating, soft skin, etc.)

There are 3 ways in which electrical shock can be directly fatal: –

  • Respiratory Arrest
  • Asphyxia
  • Ventricular Fibrillation

Electrical Hazards

Electrical shock can arise from a range of circumstances, including: –

  • Exposed contacts
  • Live electrical equipment
  • Damaged insulation
  • Wet conditions

The main hazards are: –

  • Contact with live parts
  • Electrical faults causing fires
  • Fires or explosions where electricity is the source of ignition
  • Overloading Electrical Circuits

Fire from electrical equipment can arise from equipment overheating, loose connections, short circuits, and the use of incorrect electrical equipment in hazardous environments.

Some Stats

According to the National Coroners Information System (NCIS) database between 1 July 2000 and 31 October 2011, there were 321 electrocution deaths reported to Australian coroners.

Almost two-thirds (62 per cent) of those deaths were unintentional.  The findings show that an average of 20 people die each year in Australia due to unintentional electrocution

Major findings in relation to unintentional electrocution deaths included: –

  • The highest proportion occurred in the 30-39 age group (22.1 per cent)
  • Ninety-six per cent involved males
  • The most common objects involved included overhead power lines (22.1 per cent), electrical appliances (16.6 per cent) and direct contact with electrical wires (11.6 per cent)

A Study conducted by Flinders University for Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found: –

  • Approximately 1,493 people were hospitalised as a result of an electrical injury during the two year period 2002–03 to 2003–04.
  • The first and second most frequently identified locations were the home and workplace.
  • Electrical injury rates in males were much higher than in females, while for both males and females, rates of hospitalised electrical injury were highest in the young adult and adult years.
  • Very few deaths were recorded in children 0–12 years with the majority of deaths occurring in the 25–64 year age group.
  • A large proportion of electrical injuries were found to occur during work activities.
  • While the incidence of injury and death associated with electricity and lightning is relatively small, reductions are still possible given the preventable nature of many of the injuries identified.

Risk Assessments

A cornerstone of electrical safety is performing regular Risk Assessments to check for hazards and monitor the condition of electrical equipment.  The extent of risk assessments is dependent on a number of factors, and can range in complexity from checking your work area for hazards prior to commencing tasks and performing regular visual inspections of electrical equipment, all the way to conducting formal risk assessments as per “AS/NZS ISO 31000:2009 Risk Management – Principles and Guidelines”.

Once a risk assessment has been completed it is important to take the next step, and mitigate and/or control any risks that have been identified.  The “Hierarchy of Controls” method should be used to work out how to best deal with identified hazards.  The control options that are in the hierarchy are listed, in priority order, below: –

EliminationAs the name suggests this involves eliminating the hazard completely. This can involve designing out elements of a process, such as the need to use a hazardous piece of equipment or undertake a hazardous activity.
SubstitutionReplace the hazardous equipment or activity with less hazardous alternatives, such as using low voltage (battery operated) equipment instead of mains voltage (plug in) equipment. Remember, when substituting always assess what new risks may be introduced.
EngineeringThis involves introducing design changes to the work area or equipment, such as isolating equipment or people*, adding safety guards, providing extra ventilation, partially or fully automating processes, or reconfiguring a workstation.
AdministrativeThese include implementing procedural or policy change to reduce risks, such as developing a safe work practice for a hazardous task, job scheduling and rotation to reduce exposure, signage, developing preventative maintenance and housekeeping procedures, or providing training on safe work practices and hazards. Administrative controls are often most effective when implemented along with the other controls mentioned above.
PPEWearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) should be considered a last option and should only be used when all other control methods are impractical, or when being used in conjunction with or as part of other control methods. Examples of PPE include gloves, high visibility clothing, safety glasses, hard hats, hearing protection, safety footwear, respirators, and face shields.

*Isolation is a primary engineering control and often appears in Hierarchy of Controls lists as a separate item above Engineering controls.

And theeen…

Once the risk assessment is completed and the identified risks actioned, a program of regular review and maintenance should be implemented to ensure the workplace remains safe.

There is a range of processes and controls that can be utilised, such as using checklists to do regular inspections of equipment and work areas, developing preventative maintenance schedules, and having all electrical equipment regularly tested as per AS/NZS 3760:2010 requirements.

Electrical equipment has become very familiar to us, and for that reason poses an increased hazard. This is because human nature tends to make us become complacent around things we are familiar with, and when we become complacent we don’t keep an eye out for hazards.

Safety is everyone’s responsibility, and we should all be looking out for hazards in the workplace and at home. Electrical power is an invisible hazard and easy to overlook, which is all the more reason for vigilance when working around and using electrical equipment.

Always remember that electricity, which is essential to our modern way of life, presents an invisible hazard that is extremely dangerous.  Safety is everyone’s responsibility, and accidents are avoidable.

To finish off here are a couple of simple tips to help keep you safe: –

  • Always plug and unplug power cords holding the plug not the cord
  • Always turn off the power before plugging in or unplugging equipment
  • Powerboards have a limited load carrying capacity. Only use them for low powered equipment, and don’t piggyback.
  • Always do a quick check of cables, casings and controls before using electrical equipment.
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