One of the reference book recommended by Nicet for the fire alarm certification exam is the Electrical Safety Student Manual. The book is around 90 pages long and available for free on line through CDC website. I will try to summarize the book in this post.
According to the Bureau of labor Statistics Census of work related deaths, electrical hazards are the fifth leading cause of work-related deaths. Whenever you are working with power tools or electrical current, there is a risk of injury due to electrical hazards. These hazards can come in four main forms that include electrocution, burns, falls and electrical shock. So if you are working at home, or on a job site, it is important to recognize situations where there is risk of injury and take the necessary precautions to avoid an accident. The following guide will assist you in understanding how an injury occurs, recognizing potential hazards and suggestions for solving them.
Understanding how electricity can harm you is the first step in learning to avoid injuries, or even death. Electricity is one of the most widely used types of energy and it is easy to loose site of just how dangerous it can be. Injury can come in many forms, including the following:
Electrical shock and Electrocution
This type of injury most commonly occurs where there is exposed wiring of two different voltages or a live wire and an electrical ground come in contact with you. For example, touching two wires of different voltage at the same time will connect the two voltages with your body, allowing electrical current to pass through you. This injury will be magnified if you are standing in water at the time begins to flow.
The severity of your injury will depend on the amount of voltage you receive and the amount of time that it flows through your body. The human body can only withstand 10 mA, or milliamperes before you will begin to loose control of your muscles. Anything about this amount can cause respiratory paralysis, burns and even heart paralysis resulting commonly in electrocution. In the case of electrocution, where too much current is allowed to pass through the body for too long, death will occur.
These types of burns are common and not often fatal. They usually occur when you touch electrical wiring or improperly maintained equipment. A few main instances where serious electrical burns occur are:
- Arch Blasts- this is when a strong, high-amperage current arcs through the air. A typical area to find an arch blast is a gap between electrical wires due to neglect. High temperatures from this blast will result in serious burns.
- Electrical Fires-This type of hazard is very common at workplaces and homes and is caused by abused or defective electrical equipment.
- Thermal Burns-If electrical equipment is allowed to ignite an explosive material, it will cause a massive explosion resulting in burns. Failure to properly contain hazards gases, materials or dust can cause this type of explosion.
Three ways to remain safe while working with Electricity.
Whenever there are power tools and electricity in use, there is risk of these injuries. You can help prevent injury and death from electrical currents by following three main rules to a safer work environment:
1) Recognize Hazards
In order to prevent a hazard, you must first be able to recognize where one is occurring. Know where to look for a potential hazard. Depending on the location you are working, some of the following may create a potential hazard:
- Inadequate wiring
- Exposed electrical parts and overloaded circuits
- Power lines overhead
- Poorly insulated wiring and damaged power tools
Also be aware of non-electrical situations that could lead to injuries including exposed chemicals in the work area and poorly set up equipment. In addition, double check that you are using the correct tool for each job to assure safety.
2) Evaluate Hazards
Once you are aware of your hazards, know what risk they pose to you. Exposed wires and damaged equipment should be immediately considered a hazard. Pay attention to your GFCI while using equipment and watch for hints that there may be a hazard. For example, if your GFCI continues to trip, look for signs of damage instead of constantly resetting. Watch for tripped circuits, blow fuses and equipment that feels hot to the touch as these are signs of too much current. A burning smell or evidence of burns around wiring are also a good indicator that a potential hazard exists. The most important action you can take to prevent electrical injuries is to be aware of your surroundings at all times.
3) Control Hazards
When controlling hazards, it is best to create a safe work environment by removing hazards and practicing proper procedures at all times. Even in a safe environment be prepared for a hazard to occur. If you following some of these basic safety practices, you can assure that in the event a hazard does occur, you have take the necessary precautions to avoid injury:
- Treat all conductors, wires and circuits as if they are energized.
- Use “lock out, tag out” procedures on all equipment
- Use insulation and avoid exposure to live wires and parts.
- Ground all tools used on the work site.
- Use GFCIs and overcurrent protection devices whenever working on a site.
- Use the correct tool and extension cord for the assignment.
- When you must work with live wires, use the proper safety equipment at all times.
To avoid injury or even death while working with electricity, it is important to be aware of your surroundings and learn to recognize and prevent hazards before they occur. Create a safe work environment by evaluating and eliminating safe hazards from the site, and remain vigilant while working. Many accidents can be prevented if you recognize and respect the power of electricity. Most importantly assure that you are following safe practices and using safety equipment whenever dealing with electricity. Never allow yourself to become too comfortable when working with this essential but dangerous form of energy.