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Working Safely with Electricity

Key Points
  • While generally safe, electricity can be dangerous if treated casually or improperly.
  • Shocks and burns are common injuries that result from electricity exposure.
  • A combination of protective devices and sound work practices help prevent electrical hazards.

ElectricianElectricity is an essential part of modern-day life. It powers everything from office computers to large motors and equipment. If approached with proper caution and respect, electricity is a safe and effective power source. When treated casually or improperly, electricity can lead to injury or death. It's important for everyone, even experienced professionals, to understand the hazards and how they can be controlled.

Common electrical hazards

Without appropriate precautions, exposure to electricity can cause serious harm. Shocks and burns are common injuries resulting from exposure to electricity and they impact the body in different ways. Freezing or muscle contraction can increase exposure and the severity of the injury.

  • Shocks happen through contact with an energized circuit or a metal part energized by a circuit. Effects range from a slight tingling sensation to immediate cardiac arrest.
  • Electrical burns occur when electric current flows through tissue or bone, generating heat that causes tissue damage. Burns can be very dangerous and require immediate medical attention.
  • Freezing or muscle contraction can render victims of shock unable to pull free, increasing exposure time and the risk of serious harm. If this occurs, shut off the current immediately; if necessary, use non-conductive material to separate the person from the contact.

If an accident occurs and you suspect someone may have suffered an electrical injury, make sure they receive immediate medical attention.

Protective measures

A number of protective devices and procedures can reduce the risk of electrical hazards while working with powered equipment, including:

  • Insulation. Rubber, plastic or glass coatings are used to stop or reduce the flow of electric current. To be effective, the insulation must be suitable for the voltage used and the environmental conditions. Insulation is often color coded. Grounded wires are normally green, white or gray; hot wires are typically black or red. Before connecting equipment to an electrical current, check the insulation for exposed wires or other defects.
  • Electrical protective devices. Circuit protection devices limit or stop the flow of current automatically in the event of a ground fault, overload or short circuit in the wiring system. Well-known examples include circuit breakers and ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCI).
  • Guarding. Exposed live parts can be isolated or enclosed to prevent accidental contact. Commonly used techniques include an electrical room, elevated platform or permanent screen. The area should be prominently marked with warning signs.
  • Grounding. A low-resistance connection to the earth can prevent the buildup of hazardous voltage in powered equipment. Grounding is used in combination with other electrical safety equipment and practices.

Safe work practices

While protective devices are critical, they're only effective when combined with safe work practices:

  • Turn off the current to electrical equipment before making any inspections or repairs.
  • If it's necessary to work near energized power lines, maintain a safe distance and ground any equipment that may become energized.
  • Only use tools that are well-maintained and in good repair. Defective or potentially hazardous tools should be removed from service.
  • Use appropriate personal protective equipment. This may include insulated gloves, protective helmets, hoods, blankets and line hose.

The best defense against electrical hazards is good judgment and common sense. Exercise caution when working with or near energized equipment and make sure all equipment is well-maintained, properly insulated and grounded. Follow all warnings and rules regarding electrical hazards and safety.

Image source: iStock

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