May is National Electrical Safety Month. The Electrical Safety Foundation International (EFSI), a non-profit organization dedicated exclusively to promoting electrical safety in the home, school and workplace, looks to lead efforts to educate the public about steps that can be taken in order to reduce the number of electrically related fires, fatalities, injuries and property loss. While electrical hazards are not the leading cause of on-the-job injuries and death, they are disproportionally fatal and costly. For every 13 electrical injuries, one worker dies. Our own Electrical Safety Program, laid out in our WOM Safety Manual, is to “establish work policies, practices and procedures to train associates in basic electrical hazard recognition and safe work practices.” Whether you are doing commercial property management, apartment management, hotel or resort management, this applies to both “qualified and non-qualified associates.”
A qualified associate will have verifiable electrical training and experience and demonstrates skills and knowledge in electrical equipment and hazards. OSHA allows only qualified associates to work on or around energized electrical circuits or equipment. For the purposes of our program, a qualified associate is one who performs maintenance on routinely de-energized, locked and tagged out equipment, or works with electrical tools as part of their job. A non-qualified associate is defined as someone that has little or no training in electrical work. Non-qualified workers may not perform work on, or be exposed to, energized parts. However, non-qualified workers must still be familiar with electrical-related hazards and how to report an uncontrolled hazard.
Understanding the hazards of electricity is the first step. There are 4 basic ways that electricity can harm us: electrocution (fatal), electric shock, burns and falls. Electrocution occurs when electrical current passes through our bodies, it can disrupt the normal electrical signals from our brain to our muscles. Electric shock can cause burns. Sometimes on the surface of the skin or more often deep with-in. It can also cause us to ‘startle’ where our muscles contract, involuntarily causing us to make unintended contact with other objects or to lose balance and fall. There are other ways that electricity can harm us as well, so avoidance is key.
The objective of our Electrical Safety program is to have a ZERO energy state prior to engaging in repairs of electrical equipment. But you should never assume that what you are going to be working on has been electrically disconnected because you flipped the switch to off. Even if a circuit breaker panel is well marked, and you have locked it out yourself, you cannot assume that the power is really off. Always “test before you touch” to prove that it is. If you do not know how to take this step, then you are not qualified to proceed with the task. You will need to seek assistance immediately.
In the commercial building maintenance field, we often must work on, or very near to, energized circuits. This can be done safely only if you know what you are doing, and you remain aware and alert while engaged in the task. Even if you are knowledgeable about what you are working on, in most cases, it should be de-energized, locked and tagged out. Working on energized circuits increases the risk of injury or property damage. Also, leaving the power source unattended without locking and tagging out can lead to someone else accidentally turning it back on while you are working on it.
At the end of the day, you must be knowledgeable about the risks involved in any maintenance task. If not, you should seek assistance. There is simply no reason to be injured, or cause another person injury, because help wasn’t sought, or a question went unasked. You cannot be safe, if you don’t know what steps to take, to do something safely.
Have a great week and stay safe!
Director of Facilities Services