Since 1994, the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) has been promoting electrical safety across North America by facilitating public education throughout the year and observing National Electrical Safety Month (NESM) each May. These annual month-long campaigns all have the same purpose, but ESFI and its many partners constantly reinvigorate the way electrical safety is addressed to ensure the specific topics central to each year’s NESM are fresh, timely and relevant.
The focus of NESM 2012 is on emerging technologies and identifying and abating the electrical hazards associated with them. Those technologies include electric vehicles, solar power, wind power and smart meters. This year’s campaign also highlights the benefits provided by existing home safety technologies, such as arc-fault circuit interrupters, ground-fault circuit interrupters and tamper-resistant receptacles. Related educational resources are available at www.esfi.org. They’re all free, and they have a shelf life that extends well beyond this month.
As a champion of electrical safety, the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) supports ESFI’s mission. NECA contributes to the foundation and is represented on ESFI’s board of directors. Like this important ally, our organization promotes electrical safety every day. NECA also reinvigorates its approach continually and keeps up with evolving safety concerns.
We’re marking NESM with the second annual NECA Safety Professionals Conference. Its purpose is to bring up-to-the-minute information on regulations, compliance, management techniques and standards development to those who manage safety and health programs or have similar responsibilities within our companies. Rapid changes in technology and techniques—and corresponding changes to the codes and standards that govern our daily work—affect our industry more than most. So, it’s essential that the people we make responsible for our company’s safe performance have all the information they need—information that can be applied immediately on the job.
Among many other conference topics (including some targeted to line constructors) are changes to NFPA 70E 2012, the Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace. Its updated requirements also are the basis for new NECA safety resources. We inside contractors need to understand and abide by 70E. Endorsed by NECA’s Standing Policy on Safety, this standard expands on OSHA requirements that prohibit work on energized electrical equipment unless the task is not feasible in a de-energized state (such as for testing or troubleshooting) or in the exceedingly rare cases where de-energizing would actually increase hazards.
Michael Johnston, NECA’s executive director of standards and safety, provides a good reason why compliance with applicable safety standards and best practices is so important: “According to the U.S. Department of Labor, an average of 9,600 serious electrical shock and burn injuries occur annually. In addition, there is about one electrocution per day. ... The largest hazard is still electric shock, but arc flash injuries are by far the most gruesome, painful and life-changing. ... The risk is far too great to keep taking chances and working on ‘hot’ conductors and equipment.”
In “The Key to Safety,” page 86, which pertains to the role of supervisors in safety programs, Mike points out that, “on average, 80 electricians are killed each year in workplace accidents, which are not necessarily limited to electrocutions. More than 10,000 electricians are injured each year with an average loss of work time of 10 days per incident.”
I concur with Mike’s assessment that these statistics are unacceptable, and I certainly agree that supervisors are in a key position to reduce them.
The companies I’m involved with share a safety mission statement: “We believe that all incidents and injuries are preventable and demonstrate this belief through our daily business activities.” It goes beyond communicating our safety and health policy to all our employees and providing them safety orientation and refresher training on a routine basis. It also involves training employees—especially those who have direct responsibility for job site safety—to engage in such activities as prejob planning with a view toward hazard abatement and investigation and follow-up of any accidents that occur. We strive to avoid mistakes, but if mistakes happen, we must learn from them.
Commitment to safety is an essential element of corporate culture. It has to come from the top down, but it can only be carried out if you empower your employees with all the safety education and training they need and then hold them accountable for results.
When it comes to safety, employees are responsible. So are employers, of course. And customers, too. Achieving job site safety is a job for everyone every day of the year.