We all understand that working with electricity can be dangerous, and only persons that have been trained in this field should attempt tasks that deal with it.  Engineers, electricians, and other professionals work with electricity directly, including overhead lines, cable harnesses, and circuit assemblies.  Others, such as office workers and sales people, work indirectly with electricity and may also be exposed to electrical hazards.  Therefore, it is surprising that there were so many violations and citations leveled against companies that ignored electrical standards, risking injury or even death to their employees. 

Because electricity has long been recognized as a serious workplace hazard, OSHA’s electrical standards are designed to protect those employees exposed to dangers such as electric shock, electrocution, fires, and explosions.  Two of the Top Ten Most Frequently Cited OSHA Standards violations for 2010 were #7 – Electric, Wiring Methods (CFR 1910.305), and #9 – Electric, General (CFR 1910.303).  On the Top Ten Highest Penalties assessed by OSHA for 2010, was another standard, Electric, General Requirements (CFR 1926.403), which was listed as #2 on that list. 

Electrical wiring in general refers to insulated conductors used to carry electricity, and associated devices.  This is in reference to providing power in buildings and structures.  Wiring safety codes are intended to protect people and buildings from electrical shock and fire hazards.  Regulations may be established by city, county, provincial/state or national legislation, sometimes by adopting in amended form a model code produced by a technical standards-setting organization (OSHA), or by a national standard electrical code. 

Companies should do their utmost to be in compliance with federal safety regulations.  There should be a safety program with defined responsibilities and training for workers.  Equipment should be marked with electrical safety labels.  Workers should realize what happens when there is an arc flash.  This is a short circuit through the air that can happen when conductors can’t support the voltage.  An arc flash can be as hot as 5,000 degrees Farenheit, and creates a brilliant flash of light and loud noise.  As radiant energy explodes out of the electrical equipment, hot gases and melted metal can endanger human life.  This is why there are four separate industry standards or electrical safety requirements in place to protect workers against arc flashes and electrical accidents. 

When working around electricity, the biggest hazard is always electric shock.  Although disconnecting the equipment from power sources and using non-conductive tools is important, there is still one last defense against shock: protective clothing.  Listed below are types of personal protective equipment (PPE),that should be worn:

  • Long, flame-resistant pants;
  • Safety goggles with side shields, or wraparound goggles;
  • Long sleeve, flame resistant shirt (synthetic materials can be flammable or melt into skin), or;
  • Hardhat with flame-resistant liner;
  • Hair fasteners (for those with long hair);
  • Leather work boots;
  • Leather work gloves. 

Everyone should treat electricity with respect, at home or work.  It’s important to follow manufacturers’ instructions (read them thoroughly),  read labels, and never overload circuits.  For those in the workplace, check and double-check safety regulations.