How to Prevent Worker Electrical Shock

Most of us have done it before.  Maybe it happened when we were plugging in a lamp or changing a light bulb.  Perhaps it happened when we grabbed a frayed extension cord.  No matter how it happened, though, the result was the same.  We got a nasty little electric shock.

When it happens around the house, it’s usually not that big of a deal. We get a little shock. It scares us. But life goes on. Unfortunately, when it happens outside of the house– say, on a jobsite where a crane or concrete pumper is being used– the results can be far more serious, even deadly.

According to OSHA, most electrical accidents occur from one of the following three factors:

  • unsafe equipment or installation,
  • unsafe environment, or
  • unsafe work practices.

There’s obviously a theme there– things or practices that are unsafe. So how do we reduce the risk of worker electrical shock and make our practices, environments, and equipment safer? Simple. Through things like insulation, guarding, grounding, electrical protective devices and safer work practices.

Insulators such as glass, mica, rubber, or plastic used to coat metals and other conductors help stop or reduce the flow of electrical current. The practice of guarding involves locating or enclosing electric equipment to make sure people don’t accidentally come into contact with its live parts. Obviously, the further away from live power we can stay, the better. OSHA also gives us four safe work categories to help reduce the risk of an electrical mishap:

  • deenergizing electric equipment before inspection or repair,
  • keeping electric tools properly maintained,
  • exercising caution when working near energized lines, and
  • using appropriate protective equipment.

Unfortunately, a lot of the techniques regarding the elimination of electrical hazards involve good old common sense. But as we all know, common sense is sometimes all but common. As a rule, employees unqualified to work with electricity as well as mechanical equipment, should remain at least 10 feet (3.05 meters) away from overhead power lines. And remember, if the voltage is more than 50,000 volts, the clearance increases by 4 inches (10 centimeters) for each additional 10,000 volts.

At the end of the day, the idea for all of us is to make sure we go home in the same condition we came to work in. we need to spend the time to mark off danger zones, invest in insulators, think about grounding techniques, and pay attention to what’s above our heads. We may have walked away from the shock we got when plugging in our table saw into the garage outlet back home, but jobsite electrical shocks pose a much more imminent threat to our safety. Take a few minutes to assess the situation and figure out what safety options are available. It’s well worth the time.