Minimizing Electrical Risk

Nov. 2, 2006
Every electrical-safety program should include procedures for both analyzing risks and in preventing them

Every electrical-safety program should include a procedure for analyzing the risks and hazards associated with each job. Employees should always consider the following:

The environment. Is it wet or dry? Is it indoors or outdoors? Is it open or cramped? Is it well lit or dim? Are there metal ladders in areas where overhead wires or exposed conductors are present? Are there electrical cords over a heat source? Are there overloaded electrical outlets?

The condition of equipment. What’s the age of the equipment? What’s the integrity of the grounding system? What about internal safety mechanisms? What’s the operating voltage? Are electrical wiring and loads incurred? Is fault current available to produce arc flash?

Electrical safety practices. Are operating procedures up to date and appropriate for conditions? Have circuit-information drawings been evaluated? Have the degree and extent of hazards been determined? Have flash-protection boundary requirements from the approach boundaries table (NFPA 70E) been determined? Has appropriate personal protective equipment based on the potential hazards present been chosen? Have personnel qualifications been evaluated? Are ladders with nonconductive side rails being used? Are lock-out/tag-out procedures being followed? Are power tools that are double-insulated or that have ground-fault circuit interrupters protecting the circuit being used? Are all extension cords being inspected for wear and tear, and are they listed by a third-party testing laboratory?

Additionally, make sure that electrical cords are never draped over heat sources, flammable liquids are never stored near electrical equipment, special training requirements are known, and motors are always locked out before work is begun. Only qualified personnel should perform maintenance, inspection, and repairs on any electrical equipment; do not use tin-stranded wire with solder (which promotes corrosion and limits contact area); make ground connection first and remove it last when measuring voltage with respect to ground; wire plugs and connectors with additional slack; check grounding continuity on new tools and equipment before putting into service; remove paint from mating surfaces or use a locknut or set screw to penetrate the paint and make a metal-to-metal contact; and don’t over bend cables when pulling them through a bend in a raceway.

Beyond awareness, an important way to reduce electrical-shock accidents is to institute and follow established procedures for preventive maintenance:

  • Never ignore electrical problems.
  • Inspect work areas for electrical hazards daily, such as flickering lights, warm switches or receptacles, burning odors, loose connections, and frayed, cracked, or broken wires.
  • Choose proper cords and connectors for the job.
  • Make sure a portable cord used to power any type of light- and/or heavy-duty industrial equipment is suitable for the equipment.
  • Properly calibrate all testing equipment.
  • Make sure the extension-cord thickness is at least as big as the electrical cord for the tool.
  • Leave equipment repairs and adjustments to authorized personnel.
  • Replace any sticking switches on electrical saws at once.
  • Follow required lock-out/tag-out procedures.
  • Turn off equipment when a job is finished.

The tips outlined in this column were taken from the Rosslyn, VA-based Electrical Safety Foundation Intl.’s “FAQs: Workplace Safety” (

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