Workplace electrical accidents cause more than 4,000 injuries each year, and each injury results in an average of 13 days away from work, according to the Electrical Safety Foundation International. Keeping your workplace safe from electrical hazards isn't only the right thing to do, it makes good business sense.
Recognizing electrical injuries
Shocks and burns are common injuries resulting from exposure to electricity, and they impact the body in different ways. Electrical shocks occur through contact with a powered device that sends current through your body. Effects range from a slight tingling sensation to immediate cardiac arrest.
Burns result when current flows through tissue or bones, generating heat that causes damage. Electrical burns can be very serious, causing severe injury or death. If an electrical injury occurs, seek medical assistance immediately.
Safe workplace practices
Reducing the risk of electrical accidents starts with a safe workplace. Follow these measures when working with or around powered equipment:
- Unplug energized equipment before performing any maintenance or repairs.
- Before connecting electrical equipment, check for frayed wiring or other defects. Repair or replace the equipment if you suspect a problem.
- Use proper lockout/tagout procedures when working on powered machinery or equipment.
- Maintain a safe distance from power lines and ground any equipment that may become energized.
- Use appropriate personal protective equipment when working with powered devices.
- Inspect electrical tools regularly and maintain them according to manufacturers' recommendations.
For more information, see Working Safely with Electricity from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Controlling electrical hazards
Is your facility safe from electrical hazards? A quick inspection could reveal potential problems. The following are some things to watch for:
- Water, electrical equipment and power cords don't mix. Protect outlets in restrooms, kitchens or any environment that's wet or damp with ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs).
- Make sure powered equipment is certified for safety by a nationally recognized testing organization, such as UL, previously known as Underwriters Laboratories.
- Avoid using extension cords on a permanent basis, and don't locate them under rugs or furniture. They can present a potential electrical and fire hazard.
Signs of electrical issues include dimming lights, discolored outlets or switch plates and frequent circuit breaker trips. Contact a qualified electrician if you suspect a problem.