Electrical Safety: Five Keys to Going Home Safe Every Day
May is National Electric Safety Month, so there’s no better time to pause and reflect on electrical safety and what you can do on the job to work smarter and safer.
While electricians are trained to work safely with potentially deadly units of electricity, electrical-related accidents are still one of the most common jobsite hazards according to OSHA.
Every 30 minutes, a worker suffers an electrical injury that requires time off. Every year, electrical hazards cause nearly 2,000 injuries.
And this doesn’t just include untrained tradespeople. About 80% of electrically related accidents and fatalities involve qualified electrical professionals. Even the most well-trained experts can get hurt on the job.
So, no matter how much you know about electricity, it’s crucial to approach every job safely and never cut corners. Forgetting just one of these five safety precautions could mean the difference between going home or going to the hospital.
Electrical Safety Tip #1: Lockout, then tagout.
Never work live if you don’t have to. De-energizing circuits is one of the safest ways to work with electricity because you’re not working with electricity. And to make sure it stays that way, follow OSHA’s lockout/tagout procedure to properly shut down and lock a device.
Also, make sure to include your information and the reason why you’ve locked the breaker on your tag. Following this vital electrical safety step should prevent other people on the job site from mistakenly switching the power on while you work.
Even though installing your tags and locking the device might take an extra 30 seconds, those 30 seconds might make the difference between saving your life and the life of someone else on the job site.
As always, talk to your local electrical suppliers. Phil McKinney is a district manager for City Electric Supply in Fort Worth, and he says that talking about safety is a part of working safely.
“We are more than just a supplier for our customers,” he said. “We ask the right questions, show them new things coming out, and help them work safely in any environment. Need Klein breathers to filter out the bad air at the concrete plant? Need LOTO kits? We know what you’re doing, and we know how to help you work in the safest way possible.”
Electrical Safety Tip #2: Test before you touch.
Even if you know a circuit isn’t energized, it’s important to double-check. Remember, never work live if you don’t have to. That includes ensuring it’s not live in the first place.
Use your multimeter to test an energized outlet, and if you haven’t completed the job, cap all electrical contacts before you leave.
After all, electrical injuries don’t just affect electricians. Other on-site professionals come into contact with electrical systems every day, so it’s important to do your part to help keep them safe as well.
In any electrical situation, CES District Manager Phil McKinney explains that working with a knowledgeable electrical supplier is the most important step to going to work — and then going home.
“We’re here to be an asset for our customers in any capacity,” McKinney said. “Electrical knowledge, product knowledge, safety — we train our teams to know what PPE ratings are needed based on the voltages you come into contact with.”
“Whether you’re an electrician or just work closely with them, you need to complete the job with very few mistakes,” he continued. “As a supplier, we can find the answers to your questions, provide knowledge, and make sure you can do the job safely and go home to your family.”
Electrical Safety Tip #3: Always use the right tool for the job.
The tools you use are just as important as the steps you take to work safely. That’s why you should always use tools made specifically for electrical work.
Insulated, non-conductive handles are one of the most popular features electricians look for. Even if you never work on a live circuit, tools made from non-conductive materials provide another layer of safety.
And that feature doesn’t just stop at your tools. Your work ladder should also be made of non-conductive material such as fiberglass.
CES District Manager Phil McKinney always tells electricians to keep a few things in mind when it comes to insulated tools.
“Know the rating and spend extra for trusted brands from reliable manufacturers,” he said. “Insulated tools carry a high price point. But manufacturers like Wiha and Klein Tools put in the extra work and money to build safe, tested tools. Saving a few bucks simply is not worth risking your life.”
As an extra precaution, always inspect your tools no matter what manufacturer you get them from. Do the insulated handles have a tear in them? Do your extension cords have a missing ground prong? Replace them as often as needed to avoid a disaster waiting to happen.
And lastly, don’t forget the most important, must-have tool every electrician needs — PPE.
Electrical Safety Tip #4: Water and electricity don’t mix.
One of the first rules of electrical safety is learning that water and electricity don’t get along, but what should you do if you have to work under damp conditions? Use Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs) while you work.
GFCIs interrupt the circuit so it doesn’t enter your body. Should a short occur, it might literally save your life.
What happens if you ever find water on electrical equipment? Never unplug it straight away. Always try to shut off the power at the circuit breaker first, and then unplug the waterlogged equipment.
Electrical Safety Tip #5: Be cautious around solar panels.
Solar is one of the fastest-growing industries in the world. Even if you don’t work with solar, chances are you’ll come into contact with a PV system in a home or commercial setting.
Here are a few solar safety tips to remember the next time you work near a PV system.
- Solar disconnects only disconnect the building from PV panels. Panels still generate power even when “disconnected.”
- Always treat the wiring coming from a solar panel with the same caution as a utility power line.
- Never disconnect PV wiring when it’s under load.
- Solar panels can still generate DC power with the AC side turned off.
- Do your best to stay 10 feet away from solar installations if you’re not a licensed installer.
- If you must work near a panel, you can cover it with an opaque sheet to “turn off” the solar array.
Although you may not work directly with PV systems, you should be aware of the hazards in case you’re ever working on a home or facility that has one installed.
- Lockout, then tagout the breaker of the circuit you’re working on.
- Always test the circuit or outlet before you work on it.
- Always use the right tool for the job and inspect your tools and equipment regularly.
- When working under damp conditions, use a GFCI to protect yourself and your tools.
- Always treat PV systems with the same caution you would a utility power line.
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