In order to control hazards, you must first create a safe work environment, then work in a safe manner. Generally, it is best to remove the hazards altogether and create an environment that is truly safe. When OSHA regulations and the NEC are followed, safe work environments are created.
But, you never know when materials or equipment might fail. Prepare yourself for the unexpected by using safe work practices. Use as many safeguards as possible. If one fails, another may protect you from injury or death.
A safe work environment is created by controlling contact with electrical voltages and the currents they can cause. Electrical currents need to be controlled so they do not pass through the body. In addition to preventing shocks, a safe work environment reduces the chance of fires, burns, and falls.
You need to guard against contact with electrical voltages and control electrical currents in order to create a safe work environment. Make your environment safer by doing the following:
Lockout/tagout is an essential safety procedure that protects workers from injury from the unexpected startup or shutdown of equipment or machinery during servicing and maintenance. Lockout involves applying a physical lock to the power source(s) of circuits and equipment after they have been shut off and de-energized. The source is locked out with a lock and easy-to-read tag that alerts other workers in the area that a lock has been applied.
In addition to protecting workers from electrical hazards, lockout/tagout prevents contact with operating equipment parts: blades, gears, shafts, presses, etc. Read more about Lockout/Tagout by taking OSHAcademy course 710 Energy Control Program (Lockout/Tagout).
Electrical hazards result from using the wrong size or type of wire. You must control such hazards to create a safe work environment. You must choose the right size wire for the amount of current expected in a circuit. The wire must be able to handle the current safely. The wire's insulation must be appropriate for the voltage and tough enough for the environment. Connections need to be reliable and protected.
The wiring methods and size of conductors used in a system depend on several factors:
Fixed, permanent wiring is better than extension cords, which can be misused and damaged more easily. NEC requirements for fixed wiring should always be followed. A variety of materials can be used in wiring applications, including nonmetallic sheathed cable (Romex®), armored cable, and metal and plastic conduit. The choice of wiring material depends on the wiring environment and the need to support and protect wires.
Aluminum wire and connections should be handled with special care. Connections made with aluminum wire can loosen due to heat expansion and oxidize if they are not made properly. Loose or oxidized connections can create heat or arcing. Special clamps and terminals are necessary to make proper connections using aluminum wire. Antioxidant paste can be applied to connections to prevent oxidation.
Electrical cords supplement fixed wiring by providing the flexibility required for maintenance, portability, isolation from vibration, and emergency and temporary power needs.
Flexible wiring can be used for extension cords or power supply cords. Power supply cords can be removable or permanently attached to the appliance.
DO NOT use flexible wiring in situations where frequent inspection would be difficult, where damage would be likely, or where long-term electrical supply is needed. Flexible cords cannot be used as a substitute for the fixed wiring of a structure. Flexible cords must not be . . .
The size of wire in an extension cord must be compatible with the amount of current the cord will be expected to carry. The amount of current depends on the equipment plugged into the extension cord. Current ratings (how much current a device needs to operate) are often printed on the nameplate. If a power rating is given, it is necessary to divide the power rating in watts by the voltage to find the current rating. For example, a 1,000-watt heater plugged into a 120-volt circuit will need almost 10 amps of current. Be sure to choose a wire size that can handle the total current expected to be used by all tools and equipment.
American Wire Gauge (AWG). American wire gauge (AWG) is a standardized wire gauge system used in North America for the diameters of round, solid, nonferrous, electrically conducting wire.
The length of the extension cord also needs to be considered when selecting the wire size. Voltage drops over the length of a cord. If a cord is too long, the voltage drop can be enough to damage equipment. Many electric motors only operate safely in a narrow range of voltages and will not work properly at voltages different than the voltage listed on the nameplate. Even though light bulbs operate somewhat dimmer at lowered voltages, do not assume electric motors will work correctly at less-than-required voltages.
The grounding path for extension cords must be kept intact to keep you safe. A typical extension cord grounding system has four components:
Also, when electric motors start or operate under load, they require more current. The larger the size of the wire, the longer a cord can be without causing a voltage drop that could damage tools and equipment.
Electrical hazards exist when wires or other electrical parts are exposed. These hazards need to be controlled to create a safe work environment.
Isolation of energized electrical parts makes them inaccessible unless tools and special effort are used. Isolation can be accomplished by placing the energized parts at least 8 feet high and out of reach, or by guarding. Guarding is a type of isolation that uses various structures-like cabinets, boxes, screens, barriers, covers, and partitions-to close-off live electrical parts.
Take the following precautions to prevent injuries from contact with live parts:
Insulation is made of material that does not conduct electricity (usually plastic, rubber, or fiber). The purpose of insulation is to prevent conductors from coming in contact with each other or any other conductors which creates a short circuit. It also prevents live wires from touching people and animals, thus protecting them from electrical shock. Insulation also does the following:
In all situations, you must be careful not to damage insulation while installing it.
Insulation on individual wires is often color-coded. In general:
When an electrical system is not grounded properly, a hazard exists. This is because the parts of an electrical wiring system that a person normally touches may be energized, or live, relative to ground.
Parts like switch plates, wiring boxes, conduit, cabinets, and lights need to be at 0 volts relative to ground. If the system is grounded improperly, these parts may be energized. The metal housings of equipment plugged into an outlet need to be grounded through the plug.
Grounding is connecting an electrical system to the earth with a wire. Excess or stray current travels through this wire to a grounding rod (commonly called a "ground") buried in the earth. Rods used for grounding should be:
Sometimes an electrical system receives a higher voltage than it is designed to handle, or a defect occurs in a device that allows exposed metal parts to become energized. Grounding will help protect the person working on a circuit, and others using tools or operating equipment connected to the circuit.
Leakage current. Leakage current occurs when an electrical current escapes from its intended path. Leakages are sometimes low-current faults that can occur in all electrical equipment because of dirt, wear, damage, or moisture. A good grounding system should be able to carry off this leakage current.
Ground faults. A ground fault occurs when current passes through the housing of an electrical device to ground. Ground faults are usually caused by misuse of a tool or damage to its insulation that allows a bare conductor to touch metal parts or the tool housing.
Equipment needs to be grounded under any of these circumstances:
The use of GFCIs has lowered the number of electrocutions dramatically. A GFCI is a fast-acting switch that detects any difference in current between two circuit conductors. If either conductor comes in contact-either directly or through part of your body-with a ground (a situation known as a ground fault), the GFCI opens the circuit in a fraction of a second. If a current as small as 4 to 6 mA does not pass through both wires properly, but instead leaks to the ground, the GFCI is tripped. The current is shut off.
There is a more sensitive kind of GFCI called an isolation GFCI. If a circuit has an isolation GFCI, the ground fault current passes through an electronic sensing circuit in the GFCI. The electronic sensing circuit has enough resistance to limit current to as little as 2 mA, which is too low to cause a dangerous shock.
GFCIs are usually in the form of a duplex receptacle. They are also available in portable and plug-in designs and as circuit breakers that protect an entire branch circuit. GFCIs can operate on both two- and three-wire ground systems.
For a GFCI to work properly, the neutral conductor (white wire) must:
GFCIs help protect you from electrical shock by continuously monitoring the circuit. However, a GFCI does not protect a person from line-to-line hazards such as touching two "hot" wires (240 volts) at the same time or touching a "hot" and neutral wire at the same time. Also be aware that instantaneous currents can be high when a GFCI is tripped. A shock may still be felt. Your reaction to the shock could cause injury, perhaps from falling.
Test GFCIs regularly by pressing the "test" button. If the circuit does not turn off, the GFCI is faulty and must be replaced.
The NEC requires that GFCIs be used in these high-risk situations:
In order to assure a continuous, reliable electrical path to ground, a bonding jumper wire is used to make sure electrical parts are connected. Some physical connections, like metal conduit coming into a box, might not make a good electrical connection because of paint or possible corrosion. To make a good electrical connection, a bonding jumper needs to be installed.
A bonding jumper is a conductor used to connect parts to be bonded. Bonding assures electrical continuity between electrical components. Any fault current will be conducted along the bonded metal to ground.
Additionally, interior metal plumbing must be bonded to the ground for electrical service equipment in order to keep all grounds at the same potential (0 volts). Even metal air ducts should be bonded to electrical service equipment.
When a current exceeds the current rating of equipment or wiring, a hazard exists. The wiring in the circuit, equipment, or tool cannot handle the current without heating up or even melting. Not only will the wiring or tool be damaged, but the high temperature of the conductor can also cause a fire.
To prevent this from happening, an overcurrent protection device (circuit breaker or fuse) is used in a circuit. These devices open a circuit automatically if they detect current in excess of the current rating of equipment or wiring. This excess current can be caused by an overload, short circuit, or high-level ground fault.
A circuit breaker is one kind of overcurrent protection device. It is a type of automatic switch located in a circuit. A circuit breaker trips when too much current passes through it. A circuit breaker should not be used regularly to turn power on or off in a circuit, unless the breaker is designed for this purpose and marked "SWD" (stands for "switching device").
A fuse is another type of overcurrent protection device. A fuse contains a metal conductor that has a relatively low melting point. When too much current passes through the metal in the fuse, it heats up within a fraction of a second and melts, opening the circuit. After an overload is found and corrected, a blown fuse must be replaced with a new one of appropriate amperage.
Overcurrent protection devices are not allowed in areas where they could be exposed to physical damage or in hazardous environments. Overcurrent protection devices can heat up and occasionally arc or spark, which could cause a fire or an explosion in certain areas. Hazardous environments are places that contain: