Preventing Electrical Injuries in Construction

By Madison Eklund
May 17, 2018

Avoid these common electrical accidents by following simple precautions.

National Electrical Safety Month is underway and the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) has launched their annual effort to reduce electricity-related fatalities and injuries. This year's theme is “Understanding the Code that Keeps us Safe,” with focus on the National Electric Code, which is updated every three years.

The ESFI reported earlier this month that “in 2016, 53% of all fatal electrical injuries occurred in the construction industry” which far surpasses any other industry. Along with other important statistics, the ESFI produced a series of infographics that depict the most common workplace accidents, and the precautions that the construction industry can take to ensure safety in the workzone.

Arc flash

Each year, 2,000 workers are admitted to burn centers for treatments from severe arc flash burns. Arc flashes are sudden bursts of energy through the air due to a high-voltage gap and a breakdown between conductors. These usually happen when a test probe or tool is touched or dropped on the wrong surface. But they can also be caused by equipment failure, dust and corrosion. Intense heat up to 35,000 degrees Fahrenheit and pressure up to 700 mph can seriously harm any workers nearby.

To ensure safety from arc flashes, the National Electrical Code requires electrical equipment to be correctly marked with proper arc flash warning. An arc flash study should be performed on workplace facilities to determine the correct equipment labeling. The study can also check the energy current and coordination analysis. This determines the Arc Flash Protection Boundary, where proper personal protection equipment (PPE) must be worn.

Lockout/tagout

Failure to comply with the lockout/tagout standard is listed as one of the top Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) violations year after year. Workers neglect company LOTO procedures, which are in place to ensure that hazardous energy sources are isolated and turned off before work is started on connecting equipment. Taking the extra couple of minutes to de-energize an energy source before maintenance prevents an estimated 120 fatalities and 50,000 injuries each year, according to OSHA.  

Overhead power lines

Power lines are another top safety hazard specific to the construction industry. The most common hazard is the accidental contact of equipment, usually cranes, with the lines.

To prevent more accidents, the common rule of thumb for general equipment is to always keep a 10-foot circle of safety between you, your equipment and the power line. The ESFI created eight simple guidelines for contractors to remember around overhead power lines.

For cranes that are working around power lines, 20-50 feet minimum clearance must be established and used  at all times. If the crane can go within 20 feet of the line, the crane operator employer needs to contact the utility operator to determine if the line can be de-energized and grounded before work can begin, according to the OSHA.

While we only covered a few hazards, there are many more threats in this industry. Electrical safety awareness and education within companies and employees will prevent electrical fires, injuries, and fatalities. To maintain a safe work zone within your company, visit esfi.org for codes, guides and training techniques.

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