Electrical Safety: Don't Get Shocked

| Jim Lanz
At our Safety First events that we host across New York and New England, we have been fortunate to have OSHA representatives speak on the most common industrial safety issues. One central theme has run through our presentations, electrical safety.

Grounding and Bonding are Important

During their presentations, they stressed electrical grounding and bonding and how extremely important it is when working with electrical equipment, cables, and conductors. Grounding helps to prevent electricity from coming into contact with you and making you part of an electrical circuit. Remember that humans are made up of about 73% water. We are an excellent conductor! Unfortunately, the path of electrical current through humans does damage, causing injury or even death. The extent of damage that occurs is dependent on three factors: The voltage/amperage of current passing through the body, the route the current takes, and the length of exposure to the current.

Shocks Cause Serious Injuries

Even current as low as 50 volts can cause serious injury if the duration of the exposure is long enough. Injuries begin with minor nerve damage and advance to severe pain, difficulty breathing, burns (first, second, and third-degree,) loss of muscle control, internal bleeding, muscle and tissue damage, and cardiac arrest. Secondary injuries, such as broken bones, can occur if the victim falls. There is also the chance for a bystander to be injured if they attempt to rescue the energized victim. The damage from electrical shock may not appear immediately. It can take hours, days, or even months after the event has occurred. The physical damage may appear minor, but the internal damage can be much more severe. Continuous monitoring of the injury should be done by medical professionals.

Prevention and Protection are Key

In Horizon Solution’s Safety First training presentations we stress prevention and protection from electrical hazards. First, assess the environment. We all know that electrical hazards increase in wet conditions, dimly lit areas, when using aged or deteriorated electrical equipment and when the grounding system within the structure is insufficient. We need to know the supply voltage, but most importantly, we need to know what protective gear is required. This can only be accomplished through a proper and complete arc hazard analysis.

Arc Flash

Upon completion, this information is posted at each electrical service panel. It will provide you with the Cal Rating, Arc Hazard Category, and Safe Boundary for the technician who has to access the panel, wiring or electrical equipment. FR clothing is now mandatory for any electrical exposure and the NFPA70E standard continues to require Cal Rated clothing, face and head protection, eyewear, voltage gloves and the use of voltage rated tools as the Hazard Risk Categories increase.


A comprehensive annually audited Lockout/Tagout program can reduce electrical hazard exposures. When properly done, this program can save lives, reduce injuries, reduce workman’s compensation costs and liability insurance. The big advantages of electrical safety programs can include increased productivity and a safer workplace for all.

[Click image to enlarge Infographic]

electrical safety infographic

Basic Safety Precautions Prevent BIG Problems

Taking basic steps toward electrical safety can prevent serious injuries and even death. Basic safety measures include:
  • Staying dry, both yourself and your work area
  • Test the grounding line with a meter. Is it truly grounded?
  • Use insulated tools, as required by NFPA70E
  • Cleaning tools are a must as oil, grease, and grime can become conductive or flammable
  • Do not wear metal of any kind. Zippers, eyewear, jewelry, and belt buckles can all become an accidental conductor
  • When doing any service work, have an emergency response plan in place and communicate to all affected employees
  • Do not use electrical/mechanical service areas for the storage of flammable or explosive products
  • Check the voltage rating of extension cords. Do not use damaged or altered cords
  • Be certain ladders are non-conductive when doing electrical work at height

And don't forget, we're a resource. Contact a Safety Specialist with any of your safety questions.