Electricity can kill or severely injure people and cause damage to property. However, you can take simple and easy precautions when working with or near electricity and electrical equipment to significantly reduce the risk of injury to you, your workers and others around you. Electric shocks can also lead to other types of injury, for example by causing a fall from ladders or scaffolds etc.
What are the Hazards?
The main hazards of working with electricity are:
Electric shock and burns from contact with its live parts
Injury from exposure to arcing, fire from faulty electrical equipment or installations
Explosion caused by unsuitable electrical appliance or electric flash igniting flammable vapours or dust, for example in a spray paint booth.
What you have to do
You must ensure a risk assessment has been made of any electrical hazards. Risk assessment should take into consideration the type of electrical equipment used, the way in which it is used and the environment that it is used in. Aspects covered include:
Who could be harmed
How the level of risk has been established
The precautions taken to control the risk
You must make sure that the electrical installation and the electrical is:
Suitable for its intended use and the conditions in which it is operated
Only used for its intended purpose
In wet surroundings, electric equipment can become live and make its surroundings live too. Fuses, circuit breakers and other devices must be correctly rated for the circuit they protect. Isolators and fuse-box cases should be kept closed and if possible locked. Cables, plugs, sockets and fittings must be robust enough and adequately protected for the working environment. Ensure that machinery has an accessible switch or isolator to cut off the power quickly in an emergency.
House Keeping is Important
Rats and other rodents can eat off cable installations, thereby exposing the bare live conductors. This can cause bridging and lead to electric shocks or even electrocutions.
Always replace wires when insulation gets flayed, broken or worn out. They could create excess heat, thereby causing fire.
Switch off and unplug appliances before cleaning or adjusting them
Take care to treat your cords gently. Never nail or tightly tack them down and regularly check to make sure that they are not pinched between or underneath furniture. Excessive pressure on power cables can damage insulation (exposing conductor) or compress the conducting wire, which can lead to overheating and put you at risk of an electrical fire.
Do not attempt electrical repairs. All electrical works should be done by a license technician.
Always ensure proper earthing of your building to avoid electric shock.
Pay attention to what your appliances are telling you. When an appliance repeatedly trips a breaker or circuit, blows a fuse or gives you shocks, its not just a coincidence, these are signs that something is wrong. Prevent further and possibly more dangerous malfunctions from occurring by immediately unplugging the appliance and discontinuing use until a professional technician can inspect it, make repairs and ultimate declare the appliance safe.
As much as possible, you must make sure that electrical equipment and installations are serviced and maintained to prevent danger. Users of electrical appliances including portable appliances, should carryout visual checks. Remove the equipment from use immediately and check, repair or replace it if:
The plug or connector is damaged
The cable has been repaired with tape, is not secure or internal wires are visible etc.
Burn marks or stains are present (suggesting overheating)
Repairs should only be carried out by a competent person (someone who has the necessary skills, knowledge and experience to carry out the work safely). Have more frequent checks for items more likely to become damaged (e.g. portable electrical tools and equipment that is regularly moved, or used frequently or in arduous environment). Less frequent checks are needed for equipment less likely to become damaged (e.g. desktop computers etc.)
Consider whether electrical equipment, including portable appliances, should be more visual inspected or tested by a competent person. Also think about the intervals at which this should be done.
Make arrangements for inspecting and testing fixed wiring installations, i.e. the circuits from the meter and consumer unit supplying light switches, sockets, wired-in equipment (eg cookers, hairdryers) etc, to be carried out regularly so there is little chance of deterioration leading to danger. This work should normally be carried out by a competent person, usually an electrician
When is Someone Competent to do Electrical Work?
In this context, a competent person is someone who has the suitable training, skill and knowledge for the task to be undertaken to prevent injury to themselves and others. More specialized work, such as maintenance of high-voltage switchgear or control system modification, is almost certainly likely to require additional training and experience.
Key Points to Remember
· Ensure that workers know how to use the electrical equipment safely
· Make sure enough sockets are available. Check that socket outlets are not overloaded by using unfused adaptors as this can cause fires
· Ensure there are no trailing cables that can cause people to trip or fall
· Ensure everyone looks for electrical wires, cables or equipment near where they are going to work and check for signs warning of dangers from electricity, or any other hazard. Checks should be made around the job, and remember that electrical cables may be within walls, floors and ceilings (especially when drilling into these locations) etc.
· Make sure anyone working with electricity has sufficient skills, knowledge and experience to do so. Incorrectly wiring a plug can be dangerous and lead to fatal accidents or fires
· Stop using equipment immediately if it appears to be faulty
· Ensure any electrical equipment brought to work by employees, or any hired or borrowed, is suitable for use before using it and remains suitable by being maintained as necessary
· Consider using a Residual Current Device (RCD) between the electrical supply and the equipment, especially when working outdoors, or within a wet or confined place.
Overhead electric lines & Underground Cables
Be aware of the dangers of working near or underneath overhead power lines. Electricity can flash over from them.
· Don’t attempt to cut or trim any tree touching power lines to avoid electrocution.
Don’t work under them when equipment (e.g. ladders, a crane jib, a tipper-lorry body or a scaffold pole) could come within a minimum of six meters of a power line without getting advice. Speak to the line owner, e.g. the electricity company, Railway Company or tram operator, before any work begins.
· Use extreme caution when working from metal scaffolding or aluminum ladders around power lines. Electricity looks for the easiest path to ground. You could be the path if the metal object you are touching comes in contact with an electric circuit and suffer electric shock in the process.
· Keep yourself, your building or any object you’re using a minimum of 6 meters (20 feet) away from overhead powerlines.
· Always assume cables will be present when digging in the street, pavement and/or near buildings
Consult local electricity companies and service plans to identify where cables are located to avoid shock.
Article by Paul Ephraim – SCSP ELV Staff
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