Did you know that the current from a 7.5 watt, 120-volt lamp can cause a fatal electrocution (www.fs.illinois.edu)? Electricity is now used and depended on for every aspect of our lives, but it can also be fatal. You can receive an electrical shock in many ways including: using ungrounded and/or defective electrical equipment, overloading switches and outlets or coming into contact with energized electric lines and/or power lines. There are a few key rules to working safely with electrical equipment and these rules must be understood and always followed to ensure that we do not put ourselves and others in harms’ way.
Monday - Electrical Safety
It is critical that you know how to power up and power down equipment that utilizes electricity before you start working with it. Don’t assume you know where the stop and emergency stop controls are – locate them and understand how to use them before you begin your work.
The next rule, we often take for granted, is thinking or assuming that someone else has already checked the equipment for you – thoroughly check electrical cords and powered tools before you use them. Look for damaged cords with exposed or frayed wiring. If you find a damaged cord, put down the electrical tape and find the nearest garbage can. Place the damaged cord in the garbage and get a new one. Don’t attempt ‘on the fly’ electrical repairs, the risk is not worth the potential gains!
If you find yourself working around electrical panels you must ensure that your PPE is E-rated and that the rating matches the hazard classification of your work area. Again, don’t assume you have the correctly rated PPE – check first. Also remember to check your tools and work supplies. If you are working in an area with water you must use tools with GFCI. If you are utilizing a ladder while doing electrical work, you must keep that ladder at least 10’ away from power lines.
One other critical thing to remember at work as well as at home – if you need to dig into the ground check first with the local utility company to ensure that you don’t accidentally dig into live utility lines.
Tuesday - Lockout/Tagout: 7 Steps for Shutdown
One of the most important things you can do while working with energized equipment is utilize Lockout/Tagout (LOTO) procedures to control all forms of energy during maintenance and repair work. Lockout/Tagout is more than just putting a yellow or red lock on the main electrical disconnect to a machine or part of a machine, it is the singular most important thing you can do to protect yourself from contact with energized equipment. There are 7 very important steps you must do when putting Lockout/Tagout in place:
- NOTIFY – Notify all affected employees that you are going to be conducting a lockout/tagout.
- PREPARE – Before you begin, be sure you know all the types of energy involved, hazards presented by energy, and how to control the energy.
- SHUTDOWN – Turn off machine or equipment.
- ISOLATE - Isolate machine or equipment from its energy source(s). (For example, turn off main circuit breaker.)
- LOCKOUT – Apply your lock. Be sure that it holds the isolating device in the “off” or “safe” position.
- RELEASE - Release stored energy. Relieve, disconnect, restrain, block, or otherwise ensure, that all energy sources – electrical, mechanical, hydraulic, compressed, etc. are de-energized.
- VERIFY/TRY – Try the on-off switch or other controls to be sure the machine won’t start. Return the switch to the “off” position. YOUR LOCKOUT IS COMPLETE.
You must receive full and thorough LOTO training before you engage in a LOTO. Do not complete a LOTO procedure until you are clear and comfortable with the steps needed and remember that everyone who utilizes LOTO must be trained annually.
Wednesday - Throwing Electrical Disconnects
It is important that when we throw (turn on or off) an electrical disconnect that we do it properly. When we utilize disconnects to lockout a machine some may think that it is just a matter of pulling down the switch, but there is much more to it.
Arc flash, which is a short circuit through the air that flashes over from one exposed live conductor to another conductor or to ground, can be one of the dangers in throwing a disconnect. These electrical explosions, similar to lightning, are instantaneous and contain so much energy that severe burns and even death can occur if you are directly in the path. It is important to turn off the motors and/or machines prior to throwing an electrical disconnect. Never utilize the disconnect itself as an on/off switch.
There is also a specific way to turn off a disconnect called the "Left Hand Rule". Most disconnect handles are mounted on the RIGHT side of the switch while the hinges are on the left. To turn off a disconnect:
- Stand to the right side of the switch, not in front of the box.
- Grab the disconnect with your LEFT hand.
- Turn your body and face away from the switch.
- Close your eyes.
- Take a deep breath and hold it.
- Then "throw" the disconnect lever.
Using this method helps protect you if an arc flash does occur within the cabinet during the activity.
Thursday - Missing Ground Prongs
A “ground-fault” is an unintentional flow of electricity between a source of electrical current and a grounded surface. One way to avoid a ground-fault is through the use of GFCI. The ground-fault circuit interrupter, or GFCI, is a fast-acting circuit breaker designed to shut off electric power in the event of a ground-fault within as little as 1/40 of a second. It works by comparing the amount of current going to and returning from equipment along the circuit conductors. When the amount going differs from the amount returning by approximately 5 milliamperes, the GFCI interrupts the current (www.fs.illinois.edu).
To be sure that you are working safely with electrical equipment, take time out to look and ensure electrical plugs are grounded; look for 3 prongs on the plug. If you don’t have three prongs, that electrical hookup is not grounded. A missing third prong from an electrical plug resulted in the electrocution death of a worker. He was climbing a ladder to hand a power drill to another worker when he received a fatal shock. Investigators found the extension cord was missing its grounding prong. The grounding wire and the frame of the drill were being electrified off and on by the energizing wire. The drill was not double insulated. You probably have been told many times about the dangers of using defective electrical equipment. If you have used such equipment and got away with it, count yourself lucky. Your story could have turned out tragically, as it did for this worker. Remember to inspect a power tool before you use it. If you find signs of damage or wear, discard it or turn it in for repair by a qualified person. Don't attempt electrical repairs unless you are trained and qualified. And never make alterations such as removing the third prong so you can plug it into a two-prong outlet or extension cord.
Friday - Find It First
Take a few minutes right now and survey your areas for Safety Opportunities related to electricity. If we can find and fix these first, then we put up roadblocks to a potential injury. Remember when you report the Safety Opportunity include suggested corrective actions!
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