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Electrical safety tips to boost your injury prevention drive

By Vanessa Chris
| www.cos-mag.com

Too many workers are falling victim to electrical injuries due to lack of awareness and proper training. Power up your electrical safety program with these workplace best practices.Electricity is a funny thing — and an often overlooked component of many industrial health and safety procedures. Without being able to hear, smell or see it (until it’s too late, of course) it’s easy to forget that it’s there, assume that it’s safe or, occasionally, become a little overconfident when dealing with it.

After all, many employees in industrial settings deal with dangerous circumstances every day — from large pieces of complex machinery to hazardous chemicals. When something electrical goes wrong, it’s tempting to try your hand at fixing it — after all, it’s just electricity, right?

This type of blasé attitude surrounding electricity is something the CSA is working hard to eradicate — primarily through its Z462 standard.

“Most of the electrical incidents we see result from a plain lack of awareness,” says David Shanahan, project manager at CSA Standards. “Sometimes, there’s a presumption that a system has been deemed safe and employees just don’t question it. Other times, people who aren’t trained in electrical work try to fix a piece of machinery themselves. We see many general maintenance people, or ‘handymen’, doing electrical work that they’re just not qualified to do.”

This lack of awareness surrounding electrical safety is what leads to accidents — and even then, some people don’t realize the damage that these type of accidents may cause, Shanahan says.

“We see situations where people who have received a shock don’t bother to see a doctor afterward,” he says. “They don’t realize that any electrical shock can do damage that a person isn’t immediately aware of. Damage to the nervous system isn’t always obvious.”

Even companies that think they have their bases covered, by employing a certified electrician on staff or having a reliable contractor on call, are at risk of workplace injuries.

“The assumption is all licenced electricians are set to perform all electrical tasks,” says Greg Williamson, manager of prevention specialty services at the Infrastructure Health and Safety Association (IHSA). “The thing is, even the linemen certified in the trade aren’t suitable to perform all electrical tasks. You have to be diligent — just because you have an electrician on staff doesn’t mean they’re trained to do everything.”

Williamson says sometimes it might be necessary to call in a contractor who specializes in the task at hand — something many employers are unwilling to do, because of the extra cost involved.

Electrical safety standards, legislation

With so much to know about electrical safety, what is a diligent employer to do? Well, the first place to start would likely be your provincial health and safety act. While the rules and legislation governing electrical safety vary from province to province, most of their content is similar, and basically outlines the responsibilities of employers and employees.

There are also voluntary standards — such as those outlined in CSA’s Z462 — that are best practices that should be followed. While not everything may pertain to you or your company, it’s a wise idea to see what does and take the steps to alter your business processes accordingly.

Education as prevention

While the financial penalties for a workplace accident will ultimately be the responsibility of the owner of a business, employees and supervisors also have a role to play in ensuring their workplace remains accident-free. It’s therefore in the employer’s best interest to ensure everyone has the proper education and tools available to make the right decisions and protect themselves.

“In the past, 50 per cent of line workers didn’t make it to the end of their careers,” says Williamson. “That number is much better now, and education is a huge part of that.”

The IHSA recommends that employers offer supplemental and ongoing training to all their electrical staff — preferably every three to five years. For other employees, who typically shouldn’t be dealing with electricity, it’s all about increasing awareness.

“Make sure people know where electricity flows and what to stay away from. It’s also important to ensure the dangerous areas are properly enclosed,” says Shanahan. “Maintenance is another huge factor. Make sure equipment is properly maintained because erosion and wear can cause safety to deteriorate.”

Your company should also keep a Rolodex of qualified electrical contractors — if you don’t have any on staff. Employees should know that, if something electricity-related occurs, electrical workers are the only people authorized to perform the required task. In the same sense, on-staff electricians should feel comfortable letting you know when they are qualified to do a job — and when they’re not.

For those incidents that occur on the floor, it’s important that your supervisors are enforcing company policies, and are aware of the appropriate procedures that are in place for dealing with them.

If you’re still uncertain about where to start, associations like the IHSA offer workplace safety audits and customized training programs that are designed to meet the needs of your specific workplace. While the IHSA is based in Ontario, it has done plenty of work for out-of-province businesses.

The CSA is also working to make its voluntary electrical standards more accessible to the end user —primarily the average trade worker or employee. In 2012, it will be publishing a less-technical handbook to accompany its Z462 standard.

The CSA has also entered into the social media age with LinkedIn and Facebook accounts. If you’re looking to join a discussion about electrical safety — or if you have a question you’d like to ask the professionals or your peers — you can join the CSA Standards - Electrical group on LinkedIn.

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Vanessa Chris is a freelance writer based in Toronto. You can contact her at vachris@rogers.com.[/em]

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