Electrical Safety Awareness for Non-Electrical Contractors
Electrical safety awareness isn’t just for electricians. Believe it or not, non-electrical workers actually run the largest exposure to electrical hazards. Without the electrical training that licensed electrical professionals receive, one careless mistake can turn into a big accident — or worse.
While we recently covered what electricians should always keep top of mind to work safely here, it might be even more important for non-electrical contractors to be able to identify potentially dangerous situations. By paying attention to the small details, you can avoid the biggest accidents, like shocks, arc flashes, and arc blasts.
From obeying lockout/tagout kits to replacing damaged extension cords, we’re covering eight of the most common electrical hazards on the job site today, and what you can do to keep yourself and your trade partners safe and accident-free.
1. Never play the LOTO.
LOTO is short for lockout/tagout. When an electrician works on a circuit, they de-energize the power source, and then they lock the device.
It’s important to never remove the tag or the lock. De-energizing equipment is one of the safest ways an electrician can work. If power were to switch on in the middle of a task, it could easily harm or even kill the electrician or other qualified worker.
If power needs to be restored, find the person named on the tag, and they can safely restore power.
2. Inspect your extension cords.
Who here hasn’t seen an extension cord missing a grounding prong? Chances are you probably have one in your home or in a work vehicle. Do us a favor and replace it immediately.
Brian Andringa is a district manager for City Electric Supply (CES) in Los Angeles. Here, he covers just a few of the dangers of using damaged cords.
“There’s the real possibility you can hurt someone,” Andringa began. “Damaged extension cords can shock employees, damage your equipment, get overheated, and cause a fire. Plus, you can get fined by OSHA if you’re using an unsafe cord.”
And checking for missing grounding prongs simply isn’t enough. Extension cords can take a beating from job site to job site, so it’s important to always inspect them before everyday use.
Here are a few things to keep in mind during your inspection and the next time you use your cord.
- Inspect for damage, exposed wiring, or insulation breaks.
- Never use a spliced-together extension cord.
- If an extension cord gets hot, it’s under too much load. Use a bigger gauge or reduce the load.
- Unplug extension cords from the socket — don’t pull them loose.
- Don’t use nails, staples, or screws to secure a cord.
- Leave some slack on the cord to prevent strain.
When in doubt, replace your extension cord. CES District Manager Brian Andringa agrees.
3. Always use a GFCI.
On any construction site, power tools and equipment should be plugged into a GFCI, especially when working in wet, damp, or exterior locations.
Ground fault-circuit interrupters monitor the balance of electricity flow and can detect minor imbalances and trip automatically, reducing the risk of electric shock.
If you can’t find a GFCI to plug into, temporary or portable GFCIs are available specifically for construction settings and can be used to power electrical tools and other devices.
4. Watch where you drill.
Sometimes it’s what you don’t see that’s the biggest danger.
Every day, non-electrical workers drill into walls, anchor into floors, bore into concrete, and nail into wood frames. What most would consider simple jobs can actually lead to serious electrical hazards.
Potential exposure includes:
- Penetrating into metal- or wood-framed drywall-covered walls and ceilings.
- Saw-cutting and core-boring concrete walls and floors.
- Seismic anchoring into walls and floors.
- Suspended ceiling areas with exposed electrical hazards, including exposed electrical boxes, missing covers, and abandoned circuits that are still energized.
Take extra caution when working anywhere near hidden wires or exposed devices. Not only can you harm yourself and your tools, but you might also endanger the life of someone else in the future should an electrical failure occur from a penetrated wire.
5. Know what’s above and below you.
Overhead and buried power lines are extremely hazardous because they carry very high voltages. Any time you’re working near an overhead power line, it’s important to maintain a distance of at least 10 feet and to always use fiberglass ladders.
If you do not see any power lines in the area, don’t forget that they could be buried. Always call the electric utility company before you dig to prevent an electrical hazard.
As an added precaution, you can also de-energize and ground power lines simply by calling the local utility company for help. If they can’t disconnect power, they can at least add insulation to make your job site safer while you work.
However, knowing what’s above you is also about more than just checking for power lines. CES District Manager Brian Andringa has some reminders.
“Falling objects are a part of the ‘fatal four’ injuries most common on construction job sites,” he said. “Always wear electrical-rated head protection near potential electrical hazards like power lines and falling objects.”
“Never forget,” he continued, “you can protect yourself simply by checking your surroundings and remaining vigilant.”
6. Always pay attention to warning or caution signs.
Two of the most obvious safety precautions on construction job sites are barriers and warning signs.
From high-voltage warnings to arc flash labels, these electrical warning signs are there for one reason: to keep you safe. While many warnings on job sites are ignored, it’s never a good idea to ignore electrical warnings.
“Paying attention to warning signs is one of the most important things everyone on a job site can do to work safely,” Andringa said. “Just like non-electrical contractors should always obey LOTO procedure, they should always take caution near safety signs. Careless mistakes happen every day on construction sites, and this is one of them.”
You can save your own life simply by paying attention and obeying the signs at your workplace.
7. See something? Say something.
Nobody goes to work thinking they won’t go home safe at the end of the day. But lives can be saved if we all look out for each other. Just because you might not have the training to fix an electrical hazard doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to identify an electrical hazard. If you see a potentially dangerous area, alert your management of the need for barriers or other signage to create a safer work environment.
After all, electrical safety awareness requires being aware of it in the first place. While you might be hesitant to alert a supervisor, open communication and accident prevention are two of the best ways to practice electrical safety awareness. Listening to employee concerns is also the most practical choice and leading general contractors will thank you.
By taking the appropriate protective measures to prevent accidents, companies not only protect workers, but they can also protect themselves from injury claims, liability, and lost time. They can also save lives.
8. Everyone needs electrical PPE.
If you want a quick guide about PPE gear for the electrical trades, check this out! If you think that non-electrical workers don’t need electrical-specific PPE gear, you’d be wrong.
Non-electrical contractors encounter electrical hazards every day on the job site. Even though you might not be working on electrical systems, you might still be working near an electrician who is. If they’re wearing appropriate PPE gear, it’s important that you should be, too.
How We Can Help You with Electrical Safety Awareness
If you need anything related to electrical safety, let us help! We have everything you need from non-conductive fiberglass ladders and insulated tools to PPE gear and LOTO kits. Simply shop online today or visit your local CES branch here!