One of the most important power sources we use every day is electricity. However, if it’s not managed properly it can cause serious industry and even death. The statistics, unfortunately, prove this all too well – between 2003 and 2015, 142 workers died as a result of contact with electricity. So if you work with it, it’s critical that you know what you’re doing. Here are 6 useful tips to prevent accidents and ensure electrical safety in the workplace.
#1 – Powerlines
- Powerlines are dangerous and touching them or even straying into the exclusion zone around them can cause a serious electric shock and even death. In terms of electrical hazards in the workplace, if you and/or your colleagues are working near them, you should follow these guidelines:
- Develop a safe working environment before you start. This includes identifying powerlines by consulting maps and/or talking to the property owner.
- Conduct a site-specific risk assessment and think about the type of equipment you’ll be using, the weather conditions, and the type of work being done.
- Put effective risk controls in place, including de-energising lines for the duration of work if there is a risk of contact.
- Make sure you are informed about electrical safety. Your employer should ensure you have adequate training in safe work and emergency procedures.
- When on the job you should carefully plan tasks around power lines rather than underneath them.
- Avoid going into exclusion zones. Ask the appropriate electrical company for permission to paint poles or install markers or flags so that everyone’s aware they are ‘no go’ zones.
#2 – Underground electrical cables
When it comes to electrical safety in the workplace, underground electrical cables are particularly hazardous, because they’re hidden from view. If you suspect you might be working near them, you must take steps to find out where they are. These include:
- Obtain information about any cables before excavation work starts. Services such as Dial Before You Dig can offer assistance.
- Alert others to the whereabouts of cables and develop safe work practices in terms of managing their type, depth and location.
- During excavation work watch out for warning signs including conduits, sand, orange tape or other markers. If you do encounter an electrical cable, don’t move it – contact your electricity distributor immediately.
#3 – Ceiling spaces
Other common electrical hazards in the workplace can be found in the ceiling. Anyone entering a ceiling space needs to take precautions to minimise risk, including:
- Turning the power off at the main switchboard. You should also take steps to label it so that others don’t inadvertently turn it back on while you’re working.
- Turning off all circuit breakers and switches at the main switchboard. Also, avoid contact with any electrical cables as even with the power off, some consumer service lines may still be live.
- Using cordless tools and torches that avoid the need for any power in the ceiling space. If power is needed, turning off all circuits except that which is supplying the socket outlet plan you’re using.
- Making sure the circuit is protected by a safety switch and testing it before you enter the ceiling.
- Taking note of PV systems that have DC supply cables that may be live during daylight hours.
- Organising the repair of damaged equipment or electrical cables by a licensed electrical contractor.
- Checking the insulation material isn’t covering any fittings or equipment, particularly on downlights.
- Addressing other issues like dangerous vermin, confined spaces, sharp objects, excessive heat and asbestos-containing materials.
#4 – Metal surfaces
Under normal circumstances, electricity entering an electrical installation to power electrical equipment will return to the local substation transformer via a neutral conductor. However, under certain fault conditions, metal water pipes for example may provide a return electrical path. Plumbers in particular who work on pipes under these conditions are at risk of a serious even fatal electric shock. To ensure electrical safety in the workplace, you should:
- Plan and use a safe working environment before installing water meters or repairing or replacing metal water surfaces.
- Switch off electrical main switches at the premises and attach a Danger Do Not Switch On tag.
- Avoid contact with metallic water pipes by wear gloves and long pants.
- Thoroughly clean each side of the metal pipe section that you’re working on.
- Attach an insulated bridging conductor that spans the length of pipe to be cut.
- Check clamps make good electrical contact with metal pipes.
- Ensure the bridging conductor remains undisturbed until the work’s done.
- Notify the homeowner and the local electricity distributor about anything abnormal, including seeing electric sparks or feeling an electric shock.
#5 – Welding equipment
If you work with welding equipment in your job, you’re probably well aware of the electrical hazards in the workplace. Welding can generate metal particles and toxic gases including nitrogen oxides, ozone and carbon monoxide. In order to prevent incidents, the following advice should be considered:
- Never attempt to change or connect welding cables before switching off the mains power first.
- Always use your welding machine as near as possible to power points.
- Always keep the welding machine terminals and cable connections and terminals clean and tight.
- Work on a well-insulated floor.
- Do not attempt to use water or gas pipes as part of the welding circuit.
- Fit hazard-reducing devices.
- Wear the appropriate clothing including gloves, protective clothing, a shield or helmet, insulated footwear and eye and face protection.
#6 – Electrical equipment
In terms of working safely with electricity at work, safety switches and specified electrical equipment need to be tested at intervals that are in accordance with the class of work. It’s worth noting that:
- Construction work regulations differ from the regulations of other places of work including in the manufacturing, services, office and rural sectors.
- Only a person appointed as competent by their employer can test and tag electrical equipment and it’s actually an offence to repair it if you don’t have the appropriate licence.
- Durable tags must be attached after both inspection and testing and marked with the test date and the next scheduled test and inspection date.
Need an experienced electrical contractor? Contact the experts at Peak Voltage today for more advice. Call (07) 3272 7325.