According to the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI), there were 1,900 nonfatal electrical injuries involving days away from work in 2019 — a 22 percent increase from 2018. Clearly, we can all stand to improve electrical safety on the job. That effort starts with developing a comprehensive workplace electrical safety program, as recommended by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 70E Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace.
Electricians will recognize NFPA for its Standard 70, otherwise known as the National Electrical Code. Standard 70E is an adjunct to the NEC, a valuable addition that focuses entirely on electrical safety at work. It’s a key authority on the subject in the U.S. and a crucial resource for employers building a workplace electrical safety program. Here’s how NFPA 70E defines the subject:
An electrical safety program is “a documented system consisting of electrical safety principles, policies, procedures, and processes that directs activities appropriate for the risk associated with electrical hazards.”
Policies, procedures, and processes are where the rubber hits the road: They detail the steps employees must take when working with energized systems, enumerating the actual work practices, limits of approach, and safety techniques that reduce hazards. But what about the “principles?” At first glance, a workplace electrical safety program only follows one principle: Keep employees safe from electrical injuries.
As NFPA 70E explains it, though, safety program principles are there to guide the development of procedures. They’re the broad assumptions and commitments that determine how the safety program will be written in the first place. You may have as many or as few principles as your workplace requires — the only example in NFPA 70E lists 10 total — so this list is not intended to be comprehensive. Still, here are five guiding principles no workplace electrical safety program should go without.
- Dedication to inspecting equipment. Before you can remove an electrical hazard, you have to know it’s there. That requires frequent inspections of electrical equipment and systems, performed by a trained expert. In practice, this principle will guide procedures to begin with safety inspections prior to starting work. Or it may require a detailed schedule of planned inspection.
- Dedication to electrical system maintenance. In addition to the principle of inspection, an electrical safety program should be guided by a commitment to maintaining equipment and electrical systems, ensuring that conductors remain safely insulated, and that enclosures retain their efficacy. That could lead to procedures like planned maintenance schedules.
- Dedication to documentation. No single program can include all the plans and procedures necessary for safe electrical work in perpetuity — at least not unless you continually add to it. This principle asks staff to carefully plan new electrical jobs, document their experiences, and create new procedures to improve safety for the next employee on the job.
- Dedication to de-energizing. It’s not always possible to de-energize electrical equipment before working on it — but whenever it is possible, it’s a key safety procedure. This principle will show up in the plan’s processes, asking staff to disconnect equipment from power systems as a first step in each electrical task.
- Dedication to matching tools to tasks. Use the right tool for the job — it’s good advice in general, and especially when working with electricity. Following this principle will ensure that safe procedures specify which tools to use, and when, leading to safer work on electrical systems in all sorts of tasks.
This last principle overlaps with another important workplace safety subject: ergonomics. While your workplace electrical safety program will focus on preventing shocks and burns, it’s also crucial to protect staff from the ergonomic risks of handling electrical materials. BHS, Inc. offers an ever-growing range of electrical material handling equipment — from Conduit Carts that tilt to fit through narrow spaces to IIoT-enhanced Spool Winding Trolleys for safely, efficiently loading bulk cable runs onto reels. Together, these tools and machines help to prevent the musculoskeletal disorders associated with manual material handling in the electrical industry. In conjunction with your electrical safety program, that can significantly improve workplace safety overall.
To learn more about workplace electrical safety programs, access NFPA 70E: Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace here. It’s free, although you do have to sign up for an NFPA account (which is also free). For more information about BHS’s line of electrical material handling equipment, browse the collection, or call our sales team at 1.800.BHS.9500.