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Environmental Health and Safety Blog | EHSWire

Electrical Safety: Basic Information 101

Posted by Shivi Kakar

Aug 6, 2015 10:45:23 AM

electrical_safetyWhy is it important to work safely with or near electricity?

Death by electrocution is possible through the common electrical current that exists in most homes and businesses. Simple tasks such as changing a light bulb in a lamp has potential to cause harm if not unplugged through contact with the energized, hot or dwell portion of the socket.

What do I need to know about electricity?

Electricity can be in 2 different forms, “static” and “dynamic”, which both have the potential to cause harm. The uniform movement of electrons through one main conductor, also knows as electrical current, is dynamic electricity. Any material that allows the movement of electricity through it is known as a conductor. Mostly all metals are conductors, as well as the human body. This blog focuses mainly on dynamic electricity.

Note: Static electricity is the buildup of elections on a surface through the use of fiction or contact. This also causes a deficiency of elections on another surface.

In order for electric current to exist, the loop to and from the conductor must remain unbroken. Electricity will form a "route" or "loop". This is known as creating or completing an electrical circuit.

What types of harms result from electric currents?

Electricity related injuries are common when people become part of a flowing electrical current. As humans are more conductive then the earth, electricity will flow through our bodies if there is no easier path for the electricity to flow through.

Electrocution (deadly), electric shock, burns, and falls are the four main types of injuries that can result from electricity. All of these injuries can happen in many different ways: 

  • Electricity has the ability to “arc” or “jump” from an open energized conductor or circuit part (e.g., overhead power lines) through a gas (such as air) to a man who's grounded (his supplies the electrical current with an alternative route to the earth).
  • Thermal burns include burns from heat created by an electric arc, and flame burns from substances that catch on fire from heating or ignition by electrical currents or an electric arc flash. Its common that contact burns, a result of being shocked, can burn ones Internal tissues while making only very little injuries on the outside the skin
  • Ultraviolet (UV) and infrared (IR) light emitted from the arc flash may also result in damage to the eyes.
  • When being released from an arc flash, an arc blast can include a potential pressure wave that has the potential to harm humans.  The wave can cause your lungs to collapse, damage your hearing, or cause other physical injuries.
  • Contact with electricity can also cause someone to startle or have muscle contractions which may lead to a fall from a ladder or elevated surface upon which they are working.

What to do in close proximity to overhead power lines?

It is always in your best interest to avoid working close to power lines. The recommended distance upon which you could place yourself from power lines when working varies by jurisdiction and/or utility businesses. Check with both, your jurisdiction and electrical utility company when working, driving, parking, or storing stuff closer than 15 m (49 feet) to overhead power lines.

  • If you are required to work close to power lines should call your electric utility company in the event that you should be close to power lines and they'll help you.
  • In case your vehicle comes into contact with a power line:

• DO NOT exit your vehicle.

• Call your local utility service and 911.

• Remain in your car until the electrical utility comes and directs you that it is safe to leave your vehicle.

• If you are not trained to do so, never attempt to rescue another person.

• If you have to leave the vehicle (e.g., your vehicle catches on fire), it is important that you leap from the vehicle as far as possible. Make sure to never touch the vehicle or any equipment around it while also touching the ground. Keep your arms, legs and all extremities close to your body while leaping from the car.

• Make sure to keep your feet together, and move by shuffling. If you separate your feet you may be shocked or electrocuted.

• Be sure to shuffle for at least 10 meters away from your car before you take a normal step.

  • Do not enter any electrical power substations or any marked hazardous areas.

General security tips for working with or near electricity.

  • Be sure to inspect the electrical connection ports of all equipment prior to use and replace any equipment or cords that appear to be damaged

  • When securing extension cords to walls or floors, it is always safest to use tape as nails and stapled can cause fire and shock hazards.

  • Use of proper extension cords or equipment that is rated for levels of wattage or amperage that you are using.

  • Always make sure to use the correct size fuses, replacing fuses with larger ones may potentially start fires and causes excessive currents in the wiring.

  • If an outlet becomes excessively warm or hot, this is a good indicator that there may be problematic wiring conditions. It is always recommended to unplug any equipment and extension cords from these outlets and refrain from using them again until an electrician has checked the wiring.

  • Always use ladders made out of non-conductive side rails (e.g., fibreglass) when working with or near electricity or power lines.

  • Halogen lamps can be a fire hazard as they become very hot. It is smart to place halogen lights away from combustible materials such as curtains or fabrics.

  • Water increases the risk of shock, always use caution when working in an area that is wet or damp.

  • Utilize a portable in-line Earth Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) if you are not sure that the receptacle you are stopping up your extension cord into is GFCI protected.

  • Always know the location of the electrical panel and circuit breakers on a job site in case of an emergency.

  • Each switch should be positively identified as to which appliance or wall socket it's for..

  • Make sure all safety guards are working and in proper location when using portable cord-and-plug power tools.

  • Make sure there are no objects obstructing access to panels and circuit breakers or fuse boxes.

  • It is important to unplug the power source before helping someone who has received an electrical injury. Electricity may still be flowing and touching the person may be harmful to you.

 What are a few strategies for working with power tools?

  • Switch all tools OFF before joining them to a power supply.

  • Disconnect and lockout the power supply before completing any maintenance work jobs or making adjustments.

  • Make sure all tools are powered off before unplugging them. Unplugging running tools is dangerous and can cause electrical shock.

  • Don't use electrical equipment in conditions that are wet or damp locations unless the gear is connected to a GFCI.

  • Do not clean tools with toxic or flammable solvents.

  • Only clean tools when they are unplugs and powered off.

  • Do not use tools in an area including gases or explosive vapors, unless they're intrinsically safe and only in the event you follow the guidelines of the manufacturer's.

 What are some strategies for working with power cords?

  • If possible hand extension cords above working level to avoid the risks of stumbling or tripping.

  • Replace open front plugs with dead front plugs. Dead front plugs are sealed and present less danger of shock or short circuit.

  • Always use the proper heavy duty extension cords on job sites.

  • When lifting tools or equipment, do not grasp and hang by the extension cord.

  • Don't tie cords in tight knots. Knots can cause shocks and short circuits. Loop the cords or use a twist lock plug.

Just what is a sample checklist for basic electric security?

  • Examine Cords and Plugs

 Always Check plugs and extension cords. Don't use damaged, frayed or worn cords or equipment as it may result in injury.

  • Eliminate Octopus Connections

 Don't plug several items into one wall socket.

 Don't disconnect power supply by pulling or jerking the cord from the outlet. Pulling the cord can cause a shock and causes wear.

  • Never Break OFF the 3Rd Prong on a Plug

• Replace broken 3-prong plugs and make sure the third prong is correctly grounded.

  • Never Use Extension Cords as Permanent Wiring

 Use extension cords only to briefly supply power to a location that does not have a power outlet.

 Keep extension cords away from water, heat and oil. They could damage the insulation and cause shock.

 Do not allow vehicles to pass over extension cords that are unprotected. Extension cords should be put in protective wire way, conduit, pipe or shielded by putting boards alongside them.


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