When considering workplace incidents, electrical shock typically ranks high in the frequency order. Often associated with the same significance as falls, electrical shock commandeers various outlets when waging action on the unexpected. But with the variety, a common factor typically prevails in causation, and it usually comes in the form of inexperience.
The industry has long spent countless sums of money on electrical awareness programs, and companies have spent equal amounts of money in reactive action. Taking a more proactive approach, companies can utilize specific methods to protect employees from the hazards of electricity.
Lockout / Tagout
Lockout/Tagout serves the workplace as a safety procedure of energy isolation, ensuring energy cannot be transmitted if shut down or incapacitated. A robust energy isolation program provides an efficient means of preventing electrical shock. Identifying the electrical source, an individual can install a lock on the device to avoid engaging energy. Installing a lock on a switch or circuit breaker prevents the object being serviced from gaining power. Without the generation of power, individuals are free from shock and other electrical hazards.
Lockout/Tagout provides an excellent source of employee protection, but only if the employee is appropriately trained on the program’s specifics. A company can possess an energy isolation program, and most do to meet the requirements of their customers. Still, if the workforce has not been trained on its points or exposed to it regularly, its purpose becomes futile. If an employer expects an employee to perform in a particular manner, direction and training must be provided, no matter how commonplace the information is thought to be.
We love to promote proactiveness in the industry, and the inspection process reigns as a great example. By conducting inspections, points of potential shock can be identified before the hazard occurs. For example, OSHA mandates quarterly inspections of electrical cords and the ability to identify completion through a color code system. With this being the case, red might determine the first quarter inspection period. If an employee selects an extension cord for use in April and still has a red band or marking, they should be compelled to stop and inspect the cord. If the insulator is compromised or bare wires are showing, the inspection prevented the employee from plugging the cord into an outlet and receiving a shock.
Let’s not forget about those little temperamental devices we call GFCIs. Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs) are outlets that contain electricity as it travels an unintended path to the ground. Faulty wiring and damaged cords typically identify as the culprits. Their failure to perform correctly can result in electrical shock.
GFCI’s fall within the OSHA regulations of electrical inspections. These devices must be tested quarterly like cords and fall susceptible to the exact color-coding requirements. Frequent inspections can result in preventing electrical shock.
All inspections have a factor in common. For an assessment to be practical, it must be conducted accurately and as required. Pencil-whipping and checking off a form and finishing it with a signature will not prevent electrical shock. Assigning inspection duties to an individual who is not adequately trained will only lead to an accident. While the administrative end might get completed, its primary purpose of protection to serve only faulters.
Inspections should be conducted by those who are competent and trained in the area they are inspecting. That strong working knowledge assists the inspector in identifying potential issues and then following through and rectifying those issues. While it is admirable to locate mistakes and damage, we must follow through and correct the problem to prevent hazards and injury.
With each proactive measure, a common denominator has been presented. Training is crucial to the success of an electrical safety program and the general success of the company across the board. If companies seek a specific direction of their employees, it has to properly train them according to work practices pertaining to their job assignments.
If employees are to utilize an energy isolation program correctly, they must be trained on how to do so. A simple 15-minute video is not nearly sufficient. Training must be extensive and be interactive. Scenarios and example situations provide a simulation of real-world experiences.
The same remains true for inspections. Companies cannot expect their employees to perform an inspection accurately and adequately without being trained. Even if the inspector has been doing the same type of work for the past 20 years, they must be conditioned upon the company’s guidelines. While the standard is to meet a minimum on the frequency of inspections, a company might require assessments conducted twice a day. While it might be excessive, it can still occur. The inspector must be made aware of these requirements, and training sessions serve as the perfect outlet.
Companies must also find value in repeated exposure and training. Refresher training instituted annually meets a minimum standard but would be more effective and proactive if regularly touched on. Monthly safety meetings can deliver that exposure.
Companies can easily facilitate the importance of electrical safety and provide for it in the workplace. They have the right and ability to increase exposure to electrical safety awareness programs and conduct training as they feel needed. The challenge resides in following through by implementing their company programs and adhering to industry standards. Management must recognize the value and remember they control implementation.
Nick Vaccaro is a freelance writer and photographer. In addition to providing technical writing services, he is an HSE consultant in the oil and gas industry with eight years of experience. Vaccaro also contributes to SHALE Oil and Gas Business Magazine, Louisiana Sportsman Magazine, and follows and photographs American Kennel Club field and herding trials. He has a BA in photojournalism from Loyola University and resides in the New Orleans area. Vaccaro can be reached at 985-966-0957 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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