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7 Ways to Minimize Risk of Electrical Injuries to Indiana Construction Workers

Steve Wagner

Synopsis

  • A review from Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) investigations of electrical injury incidents indicate that work inappropriately performed on energized equipment is associated with a growing share of electrical injuries, such as arc flash and arc blast, for workers who failed to recognize electrical sources.
  • Many workers who experience a high-voltage injury, low-voltage injury, or arc related injury, typically have insufficient training for working on or around energized electrical equipment.
  • Thorough pre-job planning with trained personnel is essential for identifying all electrical sources, including identifying potential hazards that are may not be noticeably present.
  • Time pressures, strict production schedules, failure to use appropriate personal protective equipment, and supervisor demands also contribute to compromising workers’ safety from electrical injuries.
  • At Wagner Reese, we believe it remains the employer’s responsibility to provide a safe work environment for all staff so that devastating workplace accidents related to electrical hazards can be avoided.

On-the-Job Electrical Hazards Can Cause Life-Long Injuries

Electrical hazards can take on a variety of forms and will most commonly pose serious injury risk to electricians or mechanics who are performing basic electrical installation or repair work. There are four classes of different types of electrical injuries:

  • True electrical injuries: The person becomes part of the electrical circuit and has an entrance and exit site
  • Flash injuries: Superficial burns caused by arcs that burn the skin; no electrical energy travels through the skin
  • Flame injuries: Caused by ignition of the persons clothing by arc; electricity may or may not travel through the person’s body
  • Lightning injuries: A unique type of injury that occurs at extremely high voltages for the shortest duration; the majority of electrical flow occurs over the body

Most current numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) have shown approximately 24,100 non-fatal work related electrical injuries between 2004 and 2013. While it doesn’t happen often, electrical injuries do have the potential to be deadly. During that same time frame BLS identified 1,962 fatal electrical injuries. Not only can electrical injuries trigger traumas throughout the body and induce a range of complications like cardiopulmonary arrest, renal failure, and sepsis, exposure to electricity may also produce long-term neurological and psychosocial effects and significantly influence the quality of life.

Electrical Shocks, Arc Flash, and Arc Blast

The most common electrical injury events associated in the workplace are electric shocks, arc flash, and arc blast. Low-voltage shock injuries result from direct contact of the worker with electric current, while high-voltage shocks typically create an arc, which carries electric current from the source to the worker without any direct physical contact.

The Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration (IOSHA) helps define arc flash as, “when current passes through air between two or more conducting surfaces or from conductors to ground.” Arc flash has a variety of possible causes, including gaps in insulation, corrosion, condensation, and dust or other impurities on a conducting surface. Arc flash has the potential to produce temperatures as high as 35,000 degrees, radiant energy up to four times the temperature of the sun, and may cause:

  • severe burns
  • hearing loss
  • eye injuries and retinal damage
  • permanent skin damage from blasts of molten metal and debris
  • lung damage
  • death from internal traumas

Arc blast can be created by an explosive energy released during an arc flash explosion. BLS reports arc blast sending more than 2,000 electrical workers to medical centers each year.

Fluke is a leader in the manufacturing, distribution and service of electronic test tools and software, and offers this definition on understanding an arc blast. Arc blast occurs when the accompanying pressure of an arc flash produces waves that can damage hearing or brain function and send loose equipment, tools, machinery, and debris flying to cause further injuries.

Despite companies saying they follow best practices, arc flash and arc blast are real dangers in electrical environments. And most of these workers injured will not have been properly warned of the magnitude of the hazard or may not have been warned at all. Employers should be implementing an overall electrical safety program as part of their occupational health and safety management system and include risk assessment procedures to address employee exposure to electrical hazards. By following best practices, using the proper equipment, and staying as far away from energized components as possible workers can reduce their risk of those events.

Best Practices to Reduce Electrical Injuries for Workers

Fluke has also created seven safety measures workers can take to reduce the risk of arc flash which we thought served as great reminders for both employees and their workers to avoid electrical injuries.

  1. Get trained on safe work practices. Qualified and unqualified employees who may potentially be exposed to electrical hazards must undergo training to identify and avoid electrical hazards and follow safe work practices such as, lockout/tagout procedures, maintaining hazard boundaries, and abiding by PPE requirements.
  2. De-energize equipment before accessing. Inspect your test tools and verify them with a known voltage source. De-energize and lockout/tagout the equipment. Repeat the meter verification test.
  3. Conduct regular inspections. The key to identifying an abnormal reading is to gather baseline readings for especially important components and equipment. Critical components to inspect include electrical connections, insulation, and circuit breakers.
  4. Wear arc-rated personal protective equipment (PPE). Wearing the proper PPE in conjunction with the other safety measures is critical to minimizing injury in the event of an arc flash incident. In order for the PPE to perform effectively, its arc thermal performance rating must meet—or exceed—the thermal energy transfer during the arc flash incident.
  5. Select tools rated for the environment. Test tools, test probes, flexible clamps, and other accessories are considered part of PPE and must meet established safety requirements. Make sure your meter and accessories have the appropriate CAT and voltage rating for the electrical environment in which you will use them.
  6. Use remote display or wireless test tools. Extend your safety zone with non-contact or wireless test tools. Non-contact test tools allow you to take readings on an energized part without making contact. Wireless test tools enable you to attach the probes or clamp to the measurement target and remove yourself from the arc blast zone to read the results.
  7. Install infrared windows for switchgear inspection. Installing properly certified infrared (IR) windows allows technicians to inspect electrical equipment without removing the panel cover. That makes it easier for companies when inspecting switchgear and motors.

Call Us If You Have Been Injured on the Job

If your employer failed to protect you from workplace hazards or your electrical injury could have been prevented by a training program or better safeguards, contact the work injury and compensation lawyers at Wagner Reese to find out more information about how we can help. We won’t collect any fees unless your case is settled or won.

Connect with us by submitting our online form and our attorneys will review your information. If you wish to speak directly with us, please call (888) 204-8440.

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