Most electrical accidents result from one of the following three factors:
Some ways to prevent these accidents are through the use of insulation, guarding, grounding, electrical protective devices, and safe work practices.
Insulators such as glass, mica, rubber, or plastic used to coat metals and other conductors help stop or reduce the flow of electrical current. This helps prevent shock, fires, and short circuits. To be effective, the insulation must be suitable for the voltage used and conditions such as temperature and other environmental factors like moisture, oil, gasoline, corrosive fumes, or other substances that could cause the insulator to fail.
Insulation on conductors is often color coded. Insulated equipment on grounding conductors usually are either solid green or green with yellow stripes. Insulation covering grounded conductors is generally white or gray. Ungrounded conductors, or "hot wires," often are black or red. However, they may be any color other than green, white, or gray.
Before connecting electrical equipment to a power source, it is a good idea to check the insulation for any exposed wires or possible defects. Insulation covering flexible cords, such as extension cords, is particularly vulnerable to damage.
The insulation that covers conductors in non-construction applications is regulated by 29 CFR 1910.302 through 1910.308, Wiring Design and Protection. Subpart S generally requires insulation on circuit conductors. It also specifies that the insulation used should be suitable for the voltage and conditions. Conductors used in construction applications are regulated by 29 CFR 1926.402 through 1926.408.
Guarding involves locating or enclosing electric equipment to make sure people do not accidentally contact its live parts. Effective guarding requires equipment with exposed parts operating at 50 volts or more to be placed where it is accessible only to authorized people qualified to work with it. Recommended locations are:
Sturdy, permanent screens also can serve as effective guards.
Conspicuous signs must be posted at the entrances to electrical rooms and similarly guarded locations to alert people to the electrical hazard and to forbid entry to unauthorized people. Signs may contain the word "Danger," "Warning," or "Caution," and beneath that, appropriate concise wording that alerts people to the hazard or gives an instruction, such as "Danger/High Voltage/Keep Out."
When you "ground" a tool or electrical system, you intentionally create a low-resistance path that connects to the earth. This prevents the buildup of voltages that could cause an electrical accident.
Grounding is normally a secondary protective measure to protect against electric shock. It does not guarantee that you will be shocked, injured, or killed by an electrical current. It will, however, substantially reduce the risk, especially when used in combination with other safety measures discussed in this course.
1910.304, Wiring Design and Protection, requires at times a service or system ground and an equipment ground in non-construction applications. A service or system ground is designed primarily to protect machines, tools, and insulation against damage. One wire, called the "neutral" or "grounded" conductor, is grounded. In an ordinary low-voltage circuit, the white or gray wire is grounded at the generator or transformer and at the building's service entrance.
An equipment ground helps protect the equipment operator. It furnishes a second path for the current to pass through from the tool or machine to the ground. This additional ground safeguards the operator if a malfunction causes the tool's metal frame to become energized. The resulting flow of current may activate the circuit protection devices.
Circuit protection devices limit or stop the flow of current automatically in the event of a ground fault, overload, or short circuit in the wiring system. Well-known examples of these devices are fuses, circuit breakers, ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCI), and arc-fault circuit interrupters.
Fuses and circuit breakers open or break the circuit automatically when too much current flows through them. When that happens, fuses melt and circuit breakers trip the circuit open. Fuses and circuit breakers are designed to protect conductors and equipment. They prevent wires and other components from overheating and open the circuit when there is a risk of a ground fault.
Ground-fault circuit interrupters, or GFCIs, are used in wet locations, construction sites, and other high-risk areas. These devices interrupt the flow of electricity within as little as 1/40 of a second to prevent electrocution. GFCIs compare the amount of current going into electric equipment with the amount of current returning from it along the circuit conductors. If the difference exceeds 5 milliamperes, the device automatically shuts off the electric power.
Arc-fault devices provide protection from the effects of arc-faults by recognizing characteristics unique to arcing and by functioning to deenergize the circuit when an arc-fault is detected.
Electrical accidents are largely preventable through safe work practices. Examples of these practices include the following:
Electrical safety-related work practice requirements for general industry are detailed in Subpart S of 29 CFR Part 1910, in Sections 1910.331–.335. For construction applications, electrical safety-related work practice requirements are detailed in Subpart K of 29 CFR Part 1926.416 to 1926.417.
A break in an electric tool's or machine's insulation can cause its metal parts to become "hot" or energized, meaning that they conduct electricity. Touching these energized parts can result in an electrical shock, burn, or electrocution.
The best way to protect yourself when using electrical tools or machines is to establish a low-resistance path from the device's metallic case to the ground. This requires an equipment grounding conductor, a low-resistance wire that directs unwanted current directly to the ground.
A properly installed grounding conductor has a low resistance to ground and greatly reduces the amount of current that passes through your body. Cord and plug equipment with a three-prong plug is a common example of equipment incorporating this ground conductor. Never use a three-prong plug if the center ground prong is missing.
Another form of protection is to use listed or labeled portable tools and appliances protected by an approved system of double insulation or its equivalent. Where such a system is employed, it must be marked distinctively to indicate that the tool or appliance uses an approved double insulation system.
Proper lockout/tagout procedures protect you from the dangers of the accidental or unexpected startup of electrical equipment and are required for general industry by OSHA Standard 1910.333, Selection and Use of Work Practices. Requirements for construction applications are in 29 CFR 1926.417, Lockout and Tagging of Circuits. These procedures ensure that electrical equipment is deenergized before it is repaired or inspected and protects you against electrocution or shock.
The first step before beginning any inspection or repair job is to turn the current off at the switch box and padlock the switch in the OFF position. This applies even on so-called low-voltage circuits. Securely tagging the switch or controls of the machine or equipment being locked out of service clarifies to everyone in the area which equipment or circuits are being inspected or repaired.
Only qualified electricians who have been trained in safe lockout procedures should maintain electrical equipment. Two of the locks that are used should match, and each key should fit just one lock. In addition, one individual lock and key should be issued to each maintenance worker authorized to lock out and tag the equipment. All employees who repair a given piece of equipment should lock out its switch with an individual lock. Only authorized workers should be permitted to remove it.
Before working under or near overhead power lines, ensure that you maintain a safe distance to the lines and, for very high-voltage lines, ground any equipment such as cranes that can become energized. If working on power lines, ensure that the lines have been deenergized and grounded by the owner or operator of the lines. Other protective measures like guarding or insulating the lines help prevent accidental contact.
Employees unqualified to work with electricity, as well as mechanical equipment, should remain at least 10 feet away from overhead power lines. If the voltage is more than 50,000 volts, the clearance increases by 4 inches for each additional 10,000 volts.
When mechanical equipment is operated near overhead lines, employees standing on the ground should avoid contact with the equipment unless it is located outside the danger zone. When factoring the safe standoff distance, be sure to consider the equipment's maximum reach.
Remember these important safe practices when working around downed power lines:
Employees who work directly with electricity should use the personal protective equipment required for the jobs they perform. This equipment may include rubber insulating gloves, hoods, sleeves, matting, blankets, line hose, and industrial protective helmets that are designed to reduce electric shock hazard. All of these help to reduce the risk of electrical accidents. General safe practices include:
Appropriate and properly maintained tools help protect workers against electric hazards. It's important to maintain tools regularly because it prevents them from deteriorating and becoming dangerous. Check each tool before using it. If you find a defect, immediately remove it from service and tag it so no one will use it until it has been repaired or replaced.
When using a tool to handle energized conductors, check to make sure it is designed and constructed to withstand the voltages and stresses to which it has been exposed.
All employees should be trained to be thoroughly familiar with the safety procedures for their particular jobs. Moreover, good judgment and common sense are integral to preventing electrical accidents. When working on electrical equipment, for example, some basic procedures to follow are to:
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