Good Morning Team,
I mentioned at the beginning of May that this was a busy month for safety and awareness organizations trying to get their messages across. Among the chorus is the non-profit organization; Electrical Safety Foundation International or ESFI. Their website indicates they are dedicated to promoting electrical safety in the home, school and workplace by educating the public on steps that can be taken to reduce the number of electrically related fires, property damage and loss, as well as injury and death. OSHA has estimated that nearly 200 electrically related fatalities occur each year. They also report that while electrical hazards are not the leading cause of on-the-job injuries and death, they are more likely to maim and kill when they do occur.
Electricity is most commonly expressed as voltage. We will routinely encounter voltages in the AC range of: 24v, 120v, 208v, 240v, 277v, and 480v. Voltages between 50v and 1000v are considered low voltage by the industry. In comparison, utility company transmission lines carry voltages between 2,300v and 39,000v. Now that’s high voltage! You can think of the voltage as the “push” or the “pressure” that the electrical circuit has available. So the higher the voltage the more potential push or pressure it contains. Another electrical measurement often heard is the amperage or amps. This is the current, volume, or speed, of power flowing, through a given point. Generally the higher the volts, the more potential amps available to flow.
I won’t go into the weeds too deeply here about how electricity can injure or kill, other than to say it takes surprisingly little to stop a human heart. Having any electrical current pass through the body, especially across the chest or torso, can disrupt the smaller electrical impulses our own bodies generate to cause our heart’s muscles to contract. This either stops the heart altogether, or more often than not, causes fibrillation, or quivering, of the heart muscles rather than the strong squeezes needed to move blood through-out the body. While the skin covering our bodies does have some limited electrical resistance to small volt/amp combinations, sweating or any other type of moisture on it, greatly reduces that. And since we are internally about 60% water – and most water conducts electricity – it easy to see that avoiding making contact with electricity is our best defense against injury or death.
The absolute best method in avoiding that shock, burn, involuntary muscle spasms causing other injury, or electrocution that coming into contact with energized components brings, is to never, ever get near it! However, unless you live in some undeveloped remote area you simply cannot avoid it altogether. Most of the time we are surrounded by it, that is until you desperately need a receptacle to charge your cell phone!J Also, as most of us maintenance technicians know, even turning off the power to be absolutely safe from possible electrocution, defeats our troubleshooting ability in some instances. There are some measurements that can only be taken when power is flowing. The real protection we have then is in understanding the hazard and remaining aware. Below are some tips to help us avoid any shocking situations.
There is really no reason to be afraid of electricity because without it, humankind would probably still be mostly in the dark, but we do have to respect it. The bottom line, as in all things safety, is in hazard recognition. If we don’t even know or recognize it can hurt us, we may never fully understand how to avoid it in the first place. Make sure your own actions don’t expose you, or others, to unnecessary electrical hazards.
Have a great week and be safe!
Director of Facilities Services