Electrical Safety at Work
The Shocking Facts
How Shock Happens
Electricity always seeks the easiest path to the ground. It tries to find a conductor, such as metal, wet wood, water—or your body! Your body is 70% water. So if you touch an energized bare wire or faulty appliance while you are grounded, electricity will instantly pass through you to the ground, causing a harmful, or fatal, shock.
It Doesn't Take Much
The amount of electricity used by one 7.5-watt Christmas tree bulb can kill you if it passes through your chest. Avoid shock by learning how electricity travels and how to stay out of its path.
Shockproof Your Workplace
Check Cords and Connections
Before you start work, check electric cords for wear. If you're outside or in a wet location, be sure tools and extension cords are suitable for outdoor use and circuits are equipped with Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs) which prevent serious shock. Are cords free of oil, heat and corrosive chemicals? Never yank, kink, or bend cords. Unwind them fully before use, and store loosely coiled in a dry place.
Use Power Tools and Equipment Safely
Never carry a tool by its cord. Be sure a tool is switched "off" before plugging or unplugging—this protects you and the next person who uses it. When using portable power tools, keep the cord behind you where it can't be cut. Watch out for energized areas when reaching into equipment.
Learn and follow your company's lockout/tagout procedures for de-energizing equipment before service or maintenance. If in doubt, ask a supervisor or qualified electrical worker for help.
Keep Tools Clean and Dry
Dirt and dampness increase the risk of shock. Keep your tools, work area, and storage space clean and dry. When cleaning electrical equipment, be sure it's unplugged, and follow the manufacturer's cleaning instructions.
When You Work Near Power Lines
Protect Yourself and Others
In your workplace, or working around the house, take these steps near power lines to be safe:
- Locate nearby overhead and underground lines. Contact utility companies before starting work. Some states have one-call systems for locating underground power lines before you start digging.
- Warn others about nearby power lines and other electrical hazards.
- Keep your distance. Make sure booms, poles, ladders, antennae, and other equipment clear lines by at least 10 feet in every direction. Never use metal poles or ladders near power lines.
If Your Vehicle Is Touching A Power Line
If you cannot safely drive away from the line, stay inside and wait for rescue workers. Warn others to stay away from the vehicle. If you must get out because of fire or other danger, jump out without touching the vehicle and the ground at the same time. Shuffle away with very small steps. Don't try to help others out of the vehicle or you could be shocked.
The Safety Habit
It's More Than Following Rules
To be truly safe, make safe work habits second nature. Look out for everyone. Take responsibility for noticing, reporting, and correcting electrical hazards.
Many electrical injuries could be prevented if people were alert to hazards. Stay aware by keeping focused on your job and don't let emotions like anger and frustration get in the way.
Avoid Unsafe Shortcuts
It might take longer to keep your area clean and dry, or inspect cords for wear, but it's worth a few minutes to prevent shock or fire. Shields, barriers, insulation, and GFCIs protect you, so don't modify them just to get a job done faster.
Use Personal Protective Equipment
Personal protective equipment is your first line of defense against shock and electrical burns. Keep boots, gloves, and other gear clean and in good condition—even a pinhole will let electricity through. Wear non conductive protection and use insulated tools.
Don't touch anyone in contact with a power source. Instead, unplug equipment or cut power at the control panel.
Fallen Power Lines
NEVER touch a fallen power line, or anything or anyone in contact with it. If someone is in a car that is touching fallen lines, do not touch them or the car or you could be shocked. Instead, call the power company. If a power line hits your vehicle, stay inside, warn others away, and wait for rescue personnel. If you must get out, jump clear without touching the vehicle and the ground at the same time, and shuffle away.
If electrical equipment catches fire, unplug it, or interrupt power at the main switch. Tell the fire department it's an electrical fire. If it's small, use a multipurpose fire extinguisher. If you doubt you can put it out, leave and take everyone with you. Remember, never use water on an electrical fire. (Learning your company's fire escape plan and procedures for notifying emergency personnel will help you move quickly if a fire occurs.)
Reviewed for technical accuracy by Susan P. Bacer, M.P.H., Co-Director, Injury Prevention Center, Johns Hopkins University.