Course 615 Electrical Safety - Hazards and Controls

The Basics

Electricity is Dangerous

Scope of 1910.1200
Electrician working with high voltage.

Whenever you work with power tools or on electrical circuits, there is a risk of electrical hazards, especially electrical shock. Anyone can be exposed to these hazards at home or at work. Workers are exposed to more hazards because job sites can be cluttered with tools and materials, fast-paced, and open to the weather. Risk is also higher at work because many jobs involve electric power tools.

Electrical workers must pay special attention to electrical hazards because they work on electrical circuits, and contact can cause electrical current to flow through the body, resulting in shock and burns. Serious injury or even death may occur.

As a source of energy, electricity is used without much thought about the hazards it can cause. Because electricity is a familiar part of our lives, it often is not treated with enough caution. As a result, an average of one worker is electrocuted on the job every day of every year!

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1. Which of the following causes electrical burns and other injuries?

a. Electrical resistance
b. Electrical voltage
c. Electrical current
d. Electrical inductance

The First Step - Recognition

Scope of 1910.1200
Electricity can be a deadly hazard.

Electricity has long been recognized as a serious workplace hazard, exposing employees to electric shock, electrocution, burns, fires, and explosions. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2016, 134 workers died from electrocutions, which represents a decrease from 174 in 2011. What makes these statistics tragic is that most of these fatalities could have been easily avoided.

The first step toward protecting yourself is recognizing the many hazards you face on the job. To do this, you must know which situations can place you in danger. Knowing where to look helps you to recognize hazards.

  • Inadequate wiring is dangerous.
  • Exposed electrical parts are dangerous.
  • Overhead powerlines are dangerous.
  • Wires with bad insulation can shock you.
  • Electrical systems and tools that are not grounded or double-insulated are dangerous.
  • Overloaded circuits are dangerous.
  • Damaged power tools and equipment are electrical hazards.
  • Using the wrong PPE is dangerous.
  • Using the wrong tool is dangerous.
  • Some on-site chemicals are harmful.
  • Defective ladders and scaffolding are dangerous
  • Ladders that conduct electricity are dangerous.
  • Electrical hazards can be made worse if the worker, location, or equipment is wet.

2. What is the first step in protecting yourself against electrical burns, shock, and other injuries?

a. Recognizing hazards
b. Complying with OSHA
c. Knowing how to respond
d. Reporting accidents

Terms You Need to Know

Scope of 1910.1200
Examples of series and parallel circuits.

What is a "volt?" A Volt is a measure of the electrical force that seems to push the current along. Think of voltage as a lot of water stored in a high water tank. Because the water tank is high, the water will have more force behind it as it flows down the water pipe to your home. If the same tank was placed at ground level, your water pressure would not be as great. The symbols commonly used for voltage are "E" or "V".

What is an "ampere?" An ampere is the unit used to measure the amount of electrical current. Amperage is often referred to as "current" by electrical workers and engineers. Let's go back to our water tank. If the diameter of your pipe coming from the water tank is large, a lot of water (amperage) will flow through the pipe. If the pipe's diameter is small, a smaller amount of water will flow through the pipe. If you need a lot of current (many amps) to operate your equipment, you'll need large wires to run the current or they'll burn up! The symbol for amperage is "I".

What is an "ohm?" Think of an ohm as "resistance". An ohm is the unit used to measure the opposition (a.k.a. resistance) to the flow of electrical current. Using our water analogy: A small water pipe is going to oppose a lot of water from flowing. Relatively little water will be able to flow through the pipe. So, the pipe offers a high resistance to the flow of water. You can see that a large pipe would offer little resistance to the flow of water. Big pipe: a lot of water! It's that simple. In an electrical circuit, components are usually sources of resistance. Any component that heats up due to electrical current is a source of resistance. The symbol for resistance is "R".

What is a "series" circuit? The current in a series circuit takes only one path. For example, water from high in the mountains may flow down one stream (series) into a river that flows to the ocean.

What is a "parallel" circuit? The current in a parallel circuit takes many paths. For example, the water flowing from a water tank up on a hill will flow through many different water pipes (parallel) before it reaches the ocean.

3. Which of the following is the unit used to measure the resistance to the flow of electrical current?

a. Volt
b. Ampere
c. Ohm
d. Newton

Severity of Electrical Shock

The severity of injury from electrical shock depends on the amount of electrical amperage (current) and the length of time the current passes through the body. For example, 1/10 of an ampere (amp) of electricity going through the body for just 2 seconds is enough to cause death.

The amount of internal current a person can withstand and still be able to control the muscles of the arm and hand can be less than 10 milliamperes (milliamps or mA).

Currents above 10 mA can paralyze or "freeze" muscles. When this "freezing" happens, a person is no longer able to release a tool, wire, or other object. In fact, the electrified object may be held even more tightly, resulting in longer exposure to the shocking current. For this reason, hand-held tools that give a shock can be very dangerous.

If you can't let go of the tool, current continues through your body for a longer time, which can lead to respiratory paralysis (the muscles that control breathing cannot move) and you may stop breathing.

People have stopped breathing when shocked with currents from voltages as low as 49 volts. Usually, it takes about 30 mA of current to cause respiratory paralysis.

Currents greater than 75 mA may cause ventricular fibrillation (very rapid, ineffective heartbeat). This condition will cause death within a few minutes unless a special device called a defibrillator is used to save the victim. Heart paralysis occurs at 4 amps, which means the heart does not pump at all. Tissue is burned with currents greater than 5 amps.

The muscle structure of the person also makes a difference. People with less muscle tissue are typically affected at lower current levels. Even low voltages can be extremely dangerous because the degree of injury depends not only on the amount of current but also on the length of time the body is in contact with the circuit.

4. Which of the following determines the severity of an electrical shock?

a. The amount and duration of current flow
b. The type of electrical current
c. The degree and speed of electrical decay
d. The frequency of current flow

Low Voltage Does Not Mean Low Hazard

This table shows what usually happens for a range of currents (lasting one second) at typical household voltages. Longer exposure times increase the danger to the shock victim. For example, a current of 100 mA applied for 3 seconds is as dangerous as a current of 900 mA applied for a fraction of a second (0.03 seconds).

Effects of Electrical Current* on the Body

Current Reaction
1 milliamp Just a faint tingle.
5 milliamps Slight shock felt. Disturbing, but not painful. Most people can "let go." However, strong involuntary movements can cause injuries.
6-25 milliamps (women)†
9-30 milliamps (men)
Painful shock. Muscular control is lost. This is the range where "freezing currents" start. It may not be possible to "let go."
50-150 milliamps Extremely painful shock, respiratory arrest (breathing stops), severe muscle contractions. Flexor muscles may cause holding on; extensor muscles may cause intense pushing away. Heart fibrillation possible. Death is possible.
1,000-4,300 milliamps (1-4.3 amps) Rhythmic pumping action of the heart ceases. Muscular contraction and nerve damage occur; death likely.
10,000 milliamps (10 amps) Cardiac arrest and severe burns occur. Death is probable.
15,000 milliamps (15 amps) Lowest overcurrent at which a typical fuse or circuit breaker opens a circuit!
*Effects are for voltages less than about 600 volts. Higher voltages also cause severe burns.
& Differences in muscle and fat content affect the severity of shock.

5. Which of the following is the lowest level of electrical current that can cause heart fibrillation and death?

a. 5-10 milliamps
b. 50-150 milliamps
c. 10 amps
d. 15 amps

Electrical Burns

Protect agains electrical hazards
Third degree electrical burn.

The most common shock-related, nonfatal injury is a burn. Burns caused by electricity may be of three types:

  1. electrical burns,
  2. arc burns, and
  3. thermal contact burns.

Electrical burns can result when a person touches electrical wiring or equipment that is used or maintained improperly. They are one of the most serious injuries you can receive and usually require immediate attention.

Arc burns Arcing is the luminous electrical discharge that occurs when high voltage exists across a gap between conductors and current travels through the air. Temperatures as high as 35,000ºF have been reached in arc-blasts. Arc-blasts occur when powerful, high-amperage currents (1) arc in a distribution box or a motor control center (Confined Flash), or (2) arc in an open space with the energy escaping 360° in all directions (Open Flash).

Thermal burns occur when electricity starts a fire or explosion. Clothing may catch fire and thermal burns may result from the heat of the fire. Extremely high-energy arcs can also damage equipment, causing fragmented metal to fly in all directions.

6. What are the most common injuries due to electrical hazards?

a. Falls
b. Impact
c. Shocks
d. Burns
The dangers of arc blast and flash.

Arc Blast Hazards

There are three primary hazards associated with an arc-blast.

  1. Arcing during an arc blast gives off thermal radiation (heat) and intense light, which can cause burns. Several factors affect the degree of injury, including skin color, area of skin exposed, and type of clothing worn. Proper clothing, work distances, and overcurrent protection can reduce the risk of such a burn.
  2. A high-voltage arc can produce a considerable pressure wave blast. A person 2 feet away from a 25,000-amp arc feels a force of about 480 pounds on the front of the body. In addition, such an explosion can cause serious ear damage and memory loss due to concussion. Sometimes the pressure wave throws the victim away from the arc-blast. While this may reduce further exposure to the thermal energy, serious physical injury may result. The pressure wave can propel large objects over great distances. In some cases, the pressure wave has enough force to snap off the heads of steel bolts and knock over walls.
  3. Metal burns: A high-temperature (5,000-35,000 deg F.) high-voltage arc can also cause many of the copper and aluminum components in electrical equipment to melt. These droplets of molten metal can be blasted great distances by the pressure wave. Although these droplets harden rapidly, they can still be hot enough to cause serious burns or cause ordinary clothing to catch fire, even if you are 10 feet or more away.

7. Skin color, area of exposed skin, and type of clothing worn can affect _____ arc blast hazards.

a. metal burn
b. acceleration
c. pressure wave blast
d. radiation

The Electrical Safety Model

Report hazards to your supervisor or trainer
Recognize hazards, evaluate risk, and control hazards.

To make sure all employees are safe before, during and after electrical work is performed, electrical workers should follow the three-step process of the Electrical Safety Model:

  1. recognize hazards
  2. evaluate risk
  3. control hazards

To be safe, you must think about your job and plan for hazards. To avoid injury or death, you must understand and recognize hazards. You need to evaluate the situation you are in and assess your risks. You need to control hazards by creating a safe work environment, by using safe work practices, and by reporting hazards to a supervisor or trainer.

If you do not recognize, evaluate, and control hazards, you may be injured or killed by the electricity itself, electrical fires, or falls. If you use the safety model to recognize, evaluate, and control hazards, you will be much safer at work.

Use the safety model to:

  • Recognize, evaluate, and control hazards.
  • Identify electrical hazards.
  • Don't listen to reckless, dangerous people.
  • Evaluate your risk.
  • Take steps to control hazards.

8. What are the three components of the Electrical Safety Model?

a. Eliminate, engineer, or administrate hazards
b. Locate, redesign, or remove hazards
c. Recognize, evaluate, and control hazards
d. Analyze, evaluate, and prosecute hazards

1. Recognize Hazards

Reporting Hazards
When you see a hazard, report it.

The first step of the Electrical Safety Model is recognizing the electrical hazards around you. Only then can you avoid or control the hazards. It is best to discuss and plan hazard recognition tasks with your co-workers.

The most frequent causes of electrical injury/death are:

  • Contact with power lines
  • Lack of ground-fault protection
  • Path to ground missing or discontinuous
  • Equipment not used in manner prescribed
  • Improper use of extension and flexible cords

2. Evaluate Risks

Evaluation is a judgment call, and it's based on the perceived level of risk of injury. Risk is determined by analyzing the probability of an injury occurring and the severity of the injury if it occurs. The greater the probability and higher the severity, the greater the risk.

When evaluating risk, it is best to identify all possible hazards first, then evaluate the risk of injury from each hazard. Do not assume the risk is low until you evaluate the hazard. It is dangerous to overlook hazards.

9. What must you do first, before you can avoid or control electrical hazards?

a. Recognize them
b. Use personal protective equipment
c. Eliminate them
d. Ask OSHA to inspect

3. Control Hazards

Once electrical hazards have been recognized and evaluated, they must be controlled. You control electrical hazards in two main ways:

  1. create a safe work environment and
  2. use safe work practices.

One way to implement this safety model is to conduct a job hazard analysis (JHA). Below is a simple JHA using three columns:

  • Column 1. Break down the job into its separate steps.
  • Column 2. Evaluate the hazard(s) inherent in each step.
  • Column 3. Develop a hazard control to eliminate or mitigate hazards.
Task Hazards Precautions
Removing the cover Electric shock from exposed live wires De-energize by opening circuit breaker or removing fuse
Removing the GFCI Possible other live wires in opening Test wires with appropriate voltmeter to ensure all wires are de-energized
Installing the GFCI Possible connecting wires incorrectly Check wiring diagrams to ensure proper connections
Replace cover and re-energize Possible defective GFCI Test GFCI

Once the JHA is completed, use it to train employees who are not familiar with the job, for retraining if employees demonstrate a lack of knowledge, skills, or ability (SKAs). Make sure the JHA is reviewed each time an employee must perform a hazardous procedure.

10. According to the Electrical Safety Model, what action is required after evaluating hazards?

a. Reporting hazards
b. Controlling hazards
c. Recognizing hazards
d. Categorizing hazards

Check your Work

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In this WorkSafeBC video, a house painter contacts a power line with a ladder. A work plan should always be created by a supervisor and communicated to all workers on site to reduce the risk of electrical contact.

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