Open communication about job safety is good practice. For every job site fatality, there are hundreds of “near misses” resulting from unsafe conditions. Rather than breathing a sigh of relief and “forgetting” about any close call, workers should feel comfortable enough to immediately report the incident to a foreman or a safety manager.

That way, the hazard or work practice that led to it is addressed as soon as possible, even if work has to be stopped to correct the situation.

Have an emergency response system in place at all work areas, ready to activate in case of an accident. Keep an approved, properly stocked first-aid kit in an accessible place, and make sure everyone knows where it is. Post telephone numbers of the nearest hospital and other responding services near a telephone and in other prominent areas (for cell phone users).

Wherever possible, identify CPR-trained workers at each job site. It is good policy to suggest keeping job-site radios at moderate level so any verbal warnings of immediate or potential problems are audible.

To familiarize current crew with your company safety policies, conduct periodic toolbox safety talks at various job sites. While OSHA has a lot of material available in hard copy and at its Web site, you could also use third-party software or kits that package customizable materials suitable for printout and distribution.

Make sure your workers use insulated tools when working on or around live wires and use ground fault circuit interrupters on all 120-volt, single-phase 15- and 20-amp receptacle outlets that are not part of the permanent wiring or on any circuit if there is any hint of dampness. Verify that electrical installations in hazardous dust or vapor areas meet the National Electrical Code for hazardous locations. When conditions warrant, workers should also use only electrical tools and equipment rated for and appropriate for use in wet or damp locations.

Provide heavy-duty extension cords with molded plugs long enough for workers to maintain some slack and to prevent tension on terminal screws or joints. The National Electrical Safety Foundation recommends that the extension cord be as thick as the electrical cord for the tool. For added safety, when using flexible cords, do not exceed 80 percent of the rated amperage.

Safety guidelines for workers

• Check the wires on all hand tools and extension cords periodically for general aging and for any damage—nicks, cuts, or abrasions—from recent activity on the job. Discontinue use of any tool showing any perforation or imperfection in the wiring.

• If a cord is spliced, the splice should have insulating qualities equal to or better than the original cord.

• If the switch on a power tool sticks, replace the switch before using again.

• When working around live circuits, use insulated tools (certified as rated to 1,000V), preferably with large finger guards, to protect against worker contact with exposed metal parts.

• Climb only dry, nonconductive fiberglass or wood ladders at any job site to preclude any possibility of accidental shock if any part of the ladder (including side rails) comes into contact with exposed conductors or overhead wires.

• Remove and tag for repair or disposal ladders showing damage-missing rung, rotting wood, loose joint, etc.

• To avoid risk of accidental tip-over, never position a ladder in front of an unlocked or unbarricaded door.

• Don’t compromise a ladder’s duty rating or standing level. If necessary, locate a longer ladder before proceeding with the climb.

• To prevent trips, spills, or collisions, keep work areas free of debris.

• When working on energized lines or equipment over 600 volts, if possible, maintain a two-in-crew minimum at that site.

• As per OSHA requirements, where there is a risk of falling from an elevation (generally 6 feet or more), use a personal fall arrest system combining harness and leg straps, designed to distribute impact forces over thighs, pelvis, waist, chest, and shoulders.

• No matter how familiar the task is, always stay alert to help prevent accidents that are worker, rather than equipment, based.

Brookhaven National Laboratory states in its basic electrical safety-training course for its own employees that the number one contributor to electrical accidents is rushing while under stress.

“People are likely to make errors when they are under stress,” said Pat Williams, a safety training and quality manager at the laboratory. She also noted that her organization, in its basic electrical safety training course, emphasizes that employees should take the time to plan and do the job safely.

Other common elements noted include accidents and near misses during maintenance and troubleshooting, particularly where on (test)/off (adjust) operations occur, and there was lack of verification that equipment was de-energized; undocumented modifications in design of the equipment being tested that present unexpected hazards; new equipment designs that carry inherent or potential hazards that were not carefully noted; and inadequate or total lack of training for the work being done.

“Accidents are typically the result of a series of events, not just one thing gone wrong,” Williams said.

Electrical contractors should offer formalized safety training to all new staff, and periodically as a refresher for everyone. In addition, hard copies of safety policies should be available for worker reference at any time.

Every safety training program should emphasize the importance of adhering to proper lockout/tagout procedures every time an electrician needs to temporarily turn off power on a circuit to service lighting, machines, or other equipment.

Workers should never skimp on locks that make it impossible for someone to inadvertently energize a circuit, or on tags that make it doubly clear a circuit is off for maintenance or service and should not be reconnected. Uniformly colored and shaped lockout and tagout devices help identify their purpose.

Some manufacturers sell kits with a generous array of lockout/tagout devices, tags, and locks, along with a carrying pouch with belt loop or ring for clipping to a tool belt or tool pouch.

Remind your workers that, as per OSHA recommendations, it is always preferable that removal of locks and tags is handled by the same worker who installed them or someone under that employee’s direct supervision.

The FELDMANS provide Web content for companies and write for magazines, trade associations, building product manufacturers, and other companies on a broad range of topics. They can be reached at wfeldman@att.net or (914) 238-6272.