From 2012 through 2016, three hundred twenty-five U.S. contract workers died as a result of electrical injuries. And construction trade workers represented a whopping 57 percent of fatal electrical accidents during that time.
Those are sobering statistics for the construction industry, and they’re just some of the findings in a September 2018 report from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) based on U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
Despite continuous improvements in construction jobsite safety over the years, electrical exposures are still a major hazard. Workers can be exposed to electrical shock, electrocution, burns, fires, and even explosions from a number of sources. And although the number of fatal electrical injuries has fluctuated from year to year, the overall trend continues upward.
Why do electrical related fatalities continue to trend upward?
One explanation could be the booming demand for contract workers, many of whom may not have had enough electrical safety training. According to the NFPA report, a significant number of electrical fatalities involve construction laborers, roofers, service workers, and others – not trained electrical specialists who regularly work with electricity.
Another factor is the pressure on workers to get projects done on time and on or under budget, forcing them to work faster, work more hours, or both. That’s a recipe for mistakes.
Everyone involved in the project needs to take electrical hazards seriously.
OSHA is definitely taking them seriously. In October, they cited a contracting company in Pennsylvania with five violations after an employee died from an electrocution accident. The company was hit with fines totaling more than $330,000.
Are you controlling electrical hazards on your construction sites? Here are 10 of the most common:
- Overhead and underground power lines. Always maintain a minimum distance of 10 feet from overhead power lines and know the location of underground power lines. Install safety barriers and signs to warn workers of the hazards.
- Damaged tools and equipment. Properly maintain all electrical tools and equipment, and observe proper Lock Out Tag Out procedures and repair protocols for damaged equipment.
- Inadequate wiring and overloaded circuits. Always ensure the correct wire for the operation and electrical load is used, proper extension cords are used, outlets aren’t overloaded, and proper circuit breakers are used.
- Exposed electrical parts. Temporary lighting and open power distribution units can create exposed electrical hazards that can cause shocks and burns. Use proper guarding mechanisms and routinely check for these hazards.
- Improper grounding. Improperly grounded equipment is the most common OSHA electrical violation. Proper grounding eliminates unwanted voltage and reduces the risk of electrocution.
- Damaged insulation. Check regularly for defective or inadequate insulation, report any findings immediately, and turn off power sources before replacing damaged insulation.
- Wet conditions. Everyone knows electricity and water don’t mix. Be extra cautious about operating equipment in wet locations.
- Lack of “top down” commitment. Electrical safety at the worksite starts at the top, and everyone down the line shares the responsibility. That includes the staffing agency or subcontractor directly employing the worker and the host employer hiring the contractor.
- Inadequate training. Remember that, according to the NFPA report, many electrical related fatalities involve workers other than trained electrical specialists. Every worker on the jobsite needs to be properly trained on working safely around electrical hazards.
- Apathy and lack of accountability. Electricity is easy to take for granted. But when workers get apathetic, bad things happen. Keep electrical safety top of mind on your jobsites and make everyone accountable for jobsite safety.