Even where workers survive an electrocution incident, they lose approximately 24 days of work to recuperation and recovery. Some of them never fully recover.
Electrical injuries are a major potential source of liability to employers as well. According to reporting by Occupational Health & Safety, a serious injury sustained in an electrical accident will ultimately cost the employer and its insurance companies between $8 million and $10 million in direct and indirect costs, including medical care, OSHA penalties, lawyers' fees, damages to workers, lost productivity, increase workers compensation premiums, business interruption and damage to equipment.
In some cases, a severe workplace electrical injury not only harms the worker and his or her family, but can bankrupt the business. It's vital for managers at all levels to remain vigilant and proactive about workplace safety - especially where electricity is involved.
Workplace safety tips
- Make worker safety a senior management priority - starting at the very top.
- Be vigilant for the safety of subcontractors as well as for your own employees. Some 20 percent of workplace electrocution fatalities occurred to self-employed contractors.
- Pair new workers with more experienced ones. Ensure newer, untrained or less experienced workers are appropriately supervised.
- Power down your equipment whenever possible. De-energizing equipment and machinery prior to commencing work on it is the number one way to prevent electrical injuries and fatalities, according to Electrical Safety Foundation International.
- Train workers early and often on lockout/tagout policies in your workplace. Don't put off training - a number of fatal incidents have involved workers in their first week on the job. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration estimates that compliance with lockout/tagout procedures prevents 50,000 workplace injuries each year - and saves about 120 lives.
- Keep your lockout/tagout policy in writing and make it available to employees, in accordance with OSHA Regulation 1910.333(b)(2)(i).
- Ensure all tools used in the workplace are insulated to the highest voltage they will encounter in your workplace. Don't let employees use their own tools they bring from home (you may not have the same control over contractors).
- Enforce a workplace dress code. No worker who works around energized equipment should wear acetate, nylon, polyester or rayon, or blends of these fabrics, unless the fabric has been treated to withstand the conditions at your workplace.
- Eliminate pools of standing water.
- Make personal protective equipment (PPE) available to workers - and insist that they use it. PPE can prevent or mitigate injuries from electrical arcs, flash fires, and contact with live electrical lines and other energized equipment. Ordinary work clothes can catch fire, and continue to burn and cause injury even after the worker is removed from contact with the energized machinery. Appropriate PPE can go a long way to preventing this hazard.
- Implement strict 'test before you touch' policy - and provide the circuit testing equipment to do it.
- Test your test equipment - both before and after using it to test a circuit.
- Keep your workplace as clean and dust free as possible. Dust can contribute to arc flash hazards.
- Calculate electrical loads on all equipment when powered up. Loads as low as 3-10 milliamperes can cause painful involuntary muscle contractions, while currents as low as 30 milliamperes can cause potentially fatal respiratory paralysis, according to OSHA.
- Maintain workers compensation insurance on all employees - and ensure your subcontractors do the same.
- Use barricades to restrict access to hazardous areas or conditions. Ensure the barricades themselves are non-conductive.
- Ensure the only people servicing, maintaining or repairing electrical equipment, wiring or cabling are qualified technicians or electricians.
- Don't use fabric softeners, bleach or starch when laundering protective clothing.
- Wash FR clothing separately from other laundry.
- Wash FR clothing at low temperatures.
- Tumble dry at lowest possible setting.