Every day, millions of professionals engage in work that involves electrical equipment, and every 30 minutes a worker is hurt severely enough to require time off for recovery. While electrical hazards are not the leading cause of workplace accidents, they are disproportionately fatal and costly.
Too many workers continue to put themselves and others at risk by working with energized equipment or by not following proper procedure. In fact, statistics show that disregarding standard operating procedures is the leading cause of electrical accidents.
According to Occupational Safety and Health reports, there are four main types of injuries that can occur as a result of electricity-related accidents. These include:
- Electrocution (defined as the stopping of the heart due to an electric shock)
- Electric shock
- Falls caused through contact with high voltage
These hazards account for nearly 30% of workplace related fatalities, with power line contact and working with energized panels being the main culprits. For non-fatal accidents,
recovery from electrical shocks and burns can be a slow and painful process.
Canadian Electrical Code
The Canadian Electrical Code serves as the standard for safe electrical installations, maintenance, products and equipment across Canada. It is also supported by Provincial standards to help ensure the safety of workers and consumers. It is updated every few years, with changes being documented on an ongoing basis. All businesses have a direct obligation to abide by these specific codes to ensure a safe work environment.
For more information, visit the Canadian Electrical Code website
All legitimate Master Electricians or Electrical Contractors must be licensed by the province and must have completed all required apprenticeships and testing. In addition, technicians have to be certified for the specific type of work that they will be doing. This would include:
- ICI – industrial / commercial / institutional (which includes construction)
- Low-rise residential
- Lineworkers – (working with high voltage and utilities)
For more information on licensing, visit the Electrical Safety Authority website
Some people consider permits as simply a cash-grab for local authorities and will turn a blind eye when it comes to getting them. After all, what could possibly go wrong?
Ultimately, project permits for electrical work help to ensure that jobs are done correctly and that everyone’s safety is top-of-mind. Aside from that, companies and individuals are also liable for fines or disconnection of service if electrical work is found to be unsafe or off-code.
Whether it is an installation permit or an operating permit for ongoing maintenance, this process confirms that:
- The contractor is properly licensed
- The contractor is certified to do the type of work required
- The job is being conducted in compliance with applicable electrical codes
- The contractor is obligated to take corrective action in the event of any issues or problems
Now that you are familiar with the electrical code, have properly licensed contractors at your disposal and have your permits in-place, here are a few tips to help make the work even safer.
Make electrical safety an important part of your internal occupational health & safety processes and be sure to include the following elements:
- An internal committee responsible for risk assessment, licensing and general oversight
- Establishing and maintaining strict, written policies and procedures
- Conducting thorough worker training and refresher education
- Maintaining adequate first aid and emergency response equipment and procedures
- Establishing a system for incident reporting and other documentation
- NEVER work on energized equipment or panels. No question. Just don’t do it. Always disconnect the power source before doing anything.
- Treat all electrical devices as if they are live and test every circuit or conductor (every time) before you make contact with them
- Be sure to lock out/tag out all equipment and ground it before beginning any work
- Use the right tools for the job (don’t get creative) and make sure that all tools are insulated
- Never use metallic pencils or rulers or wear metallic jewelry when working with electrical equipment
Wear personal protective equipment (PPE) including:
- Fire resistant clothing
- Hardhat rated for electrical work
- Eye and/or face protection
- Insulated gloves and leather protector gloves over top
- Shock resistant footwear with non-conductive soles
- For added protection, use insulating or arc suppression blankets, line covers and matting, especially when dealing with higher voltage situations
- Always work in dry conditions and avoid standing water or areas with high levels of condensation. Where there is any risk of moisture, always use GFCI protection.
- Enclose all electrical circuits to avoid any accidental contact
- Do not store flammable materials anywhere near electrical equipment or panels
- Extension cords are for temporary use only. Replace with permanent wiring for longer-term applications. Also inspect cords regularly and immediately replace any that are cut or cracked. Make sure that all cords and equipment bear the mark of an independent testing lab such as CSA.
- Check regulations and be especially careful when operating near overhead wires. Contact the local utility company for assistance if in doubt.
- Always verify the location of buried or embedded electrical circuits before you dig or cut
- Know where circuit breakers and fuses are located before you begin work so that they can be quickly accessed in the case of an emergency
Even properly qualified workers can be susceptible to accidents. That’s why it’s important for everyone on the job to take responsibility for electrical safety.