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Things you need to Know about Electrical Safety within the Workplace


It’s easy to forget that some workers risk their lives on a daily basis with their job responsibilities. Electrical related jobs are considered as some of the most dangerous occupations in the world.

Between 2003 and 2010 there were more than 1,500 fatalities caused by contact with electrical currents. Most of these accidents could have been prevented with simple precautionary measures, such as the use of electrical mats within the workplace. Yes, sometimes it is as simple as that.

Hazard Recognition

The failure to consider all hazards is the root cause of many accidents. In electrical related jobs, the most common electrical hazards are electrical shocks and arcs.

Electrical shocks due to electrical contact have different effects depending on the amount of current that passes through the body. The number of fatalities due to electrical contact has been reduced significantly since 2000. However, the total number of electrical incidents (55, 687 of fatal and non-fatal incidents) is still pretty high.

If you are interested in the effects to the human body when subjected to electrical currents, you can learn more from this post.

Arcs are very different from electrical shocks. Electric arcs are the visible form of plasma discharge between two electrodes. Nature can create electrical arcs in the form of lightning. You can also observe electrical arcs during welding work.

Arcs are more common if you are working on LV, HV (Low Voltage, High Voltage) electrical cables, switchgear and substation installations.

It was revealed by the NFPA and IEEE that between 1992 and 2002, more than 5 workers were affected by an arc flash. Aside from deep burns, the ultraviolet emissions from an electrical arc can damage your eyes.

More cases of electrical accidents are suffered by those who work near electrical currents. It is not because of the exposure but more because of failure to identify the electrical hazards.  People become too familiar with their work and they forgot about the dangers associated with electrical equipment.

Electrical Accidents and Protection

To enjoy a safe working environment, you should follow the different preventive guidelines that can be broken down into three parts:

Electrical Equipment

Knowledge is the best protection against electrical accidents so familiarise yourself with the electrical equipment being used in your workplace.

Make sure that the right equipment is used for the right job. The equipment should be expertly designed, built, installed and maintained to prevent any electrical shocks or explosions.

  • Screwdrivers, Pliers, Wire Strippers, Knives

The basic electrical tools should be checked before use. Old tools have a thin layer of rubber or plastic grip that can be a danger.

  • Hammers

Hammers are either made of metal, wood or plastic. Depending on the nature of the work, the hammer you use should be able to withstand strong electrical currents. Ensure that the handle is neither thin nor loose. If the handle is thin, electrical currents may pass through. If the handle is loose, the head of the hammer may take off and hit some delicate machinery.

  • Toolbox

You’ve checked every tool, so now it’s time to check your toolbox. An old or damaged toolbox handle can cause unnecessary accidents.

  • Large Electrical Machines

Checking large electrical machines can be challenging… it can take time. However, they must be checked to make sure that they are in good working condition. Rubber mats, like switchboard matting, should be positioned in front of these machines to keep you safe from any current flowing on the ground.

Risk Assessment

Even if it is not the first time you have worked in an environment that is exposed to electrical currents, you should always perform a risk assessment. Be aware of the hazards in your workplace so that you may identify the appropriate precautionary and safety measures.

Safety Measures

Safety measures should include two categories; your work environment and you.

  • Your Work Environment

Your work environment should always be safe to begin with.

Rubber Flooring in the Workplace

Check that there is adequate rubber matting covering the floor, as your feet will be in direct contact. Rubber safety matting will serve as protection from live electrical currents.

Remember that not all mats are produced to deal with electric current. Make sure that aside from having anti-slip properties, your rubber mats are also electrically safe.

Electrical Circuits in the Workplace

Just because you can’t see electrical wires, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t there! Some wires may look like pipes from a distance. Wires vary in colour, making them difficult to identify.

Look very carefully for any potential hazards. You can also look for any nearby electrical equipment and find where the wiring runs.

By identifying where the wires are you will be able to judge whether there’s any possibility that unwanted current is flowing on the ground or on any other surfaces. If you are in doubt, you should consult a more knowledgeable person about the working area.

  • You

No workplace safety measures will ever be enough if you are not self-cautious. Preventive steps are there to be followed for your own safety.

  • Wear proper work gear like insulating gloves.

  • Remember all the guidelines before, during and after working in an electrically exposed area.

  • Use all the equipment properly.

  • Do not be too comfortable when handling equipment.

British Electrical Safety Standards

Warning! Not all electrical safety equipment and materials are safe. There are certain standards that should be followed by manufacturing and distributing companies that you need to check.

Rubber mats or floors should comply by the IEC 61111-2009 standard (this standard replaced the British Standard BS921). Rubber mats that are manufactured to pass this standard are made with different rubber classes. Each rubber class (class 0 to 2) varies depending on the working voltage that they can handle. The thickness of a rubber mat (3mm to 5mm) will vary depending on its class.

  • BS7671 (IET Wiring Regulations)

This is considered as the main standard concerning any electrical installations. It describes how electrical equipment should be built and installed to promote safety in the workplace or at home. The latest amendment to this standard focuses on increasing protection against electrical shock.

  • BS 6423 (Maintenance of LV Switchboards & Control Panels)

As the standard code of practice for the maintenance of Low Voltage Switchboards and control gears, this code recommends that all switchboard and control panel operators should be maintaining these machines to ensure they are fully operational and in safe working condition at all times.

Dead or Live Workplace

Dead means that you are working while the electrical source is not connected. Live means the exact opposite – there is a live electrical current.

Here are some questions that you should ask yourself before starting your working day.

Assess the Workplace

  • In which areas could you possibly be working with electrical currents?

  • For today, are you working in any of those places?

  • Are you working with a live or dead current (energised or de-energised electrical working)?

  • Should you be working with a dead or live current to get the job done?

  • Are you working with a dead current but with a near live current from another machine? Is it reasonable? Can the current be cut off?

Prepare for Work

The general rule of thumb is that before working with live or dead currents you should make sure that you are authorised to work with these machines. Only authorised people should handle them.

Working with a Live Current

Wear the correct protective gear and make sure that it is up to standard. All tools should be insulated. Rubber gloves and insulating mats should be used wherever possible.

In case of an explosion or if a fire occurs, do not use a fire extinguisher unless all electrical wires are disconnected. Some fire extinguishers especially foam and water extinguishers could actively make the situation worse. Dry fire extinguishers are preferred.

Working with a Dead Current

Working with a dead current does not mean that you should not be prepared. You should still wear the proper uniforms and protective gear.

Check if the current is completely dead before touching anything that might still be connected to it. It is a basic precautionary measure to consider every machine as ‘live’ until you are sure that all circuits are dead.

No precaution is an effective precaution if it is not actioned. Take responsibility and maintain safety within your work station, especially for electrically related jobs. Remember to stay alert at all times. Electricity has the power to kill you. Be smart.

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