Frequent readers of ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR are more than likely aware of the existence of federal OSHA regulations and other contractual standards for safe work practices in construction. These include the National Electrical Code, NFPA 70E: Electrical Safety Requirements for Employee Workplaces, and the National Electrical Installation Standards. An inspection and citation for safety violations should come as no surprise to contractors who are keeping up with this material.

There’s another angle to safety that is talked about less often: public perception.

News reports describing building fires often attribute the causes to “faulty electrical wiring” even before any forensic investigations are completed. Unless electrical contracting’s good work is well communicated, its overall image is tarnished by such reports. However, you know that electricity can be dangerous to health and even fatal if not respected and used responsibly. Electrical laws of physics are absolutely unforgiving, and even the smallest mistake can cause fire, injury or death.

According to statistics from the National Fire Protection Association, between 1994 and 1998 there were an average of 406,700 residential fires per year, and nearly 17 percent were related to electrical power wiring or appliances and equipment. Another 42,700 fires, or 10.5 percent, were related to heating and air conditioning systems. These events combined to cause an average of 860 deaths, 4,875 injuries and nearly $1.3 billion in property damage annually.

Actual loss of money and use of facilities, or even life, are very likely to motivate people to pay due diligence and attention to electrical safety, but too often after the fact. Helping to keep the public informed about safe use of electricity could be one of the most cost-effective public relations efforts everyone involved with building electrical applications could provide. If each of the more than 650,000 people in the electrical contracting industry accepted public safety as part of responsible citizenship, your impact would certainly reflect well on yourself as well as the industry and improve its overall public image while helping to reduce injuries, save lives and protect buildings.

One special resource for helping you to become an advocate for better public awareness and use of safe electrical practices is the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI). ESFI provides an ever-increasing library of publications and tools to help keep people electrically safe at home, at school and on the job in buildings of all types. The ESFI is sponsored by NECA and many other responsible groups and individuals with a stake in public electrical safety.

May is designated annually by the ESFI as National Electrical Safety Month, and some special thematic materials are published for special use at that time. However, electrical safety is a challenge 24/7/365, and the Foundation provides resources you and your family, as well as customers and employers, can use cost-effectively on a continuous basis. By letting others know about these resources, you will multiply their effectiveness many times over.

So, at least consider getting copies of the recommended materials from ESFI and deliver them with a comment or two, in person. It never hurts to be an advocate for electrical safety, and your efforts might directly improve your bottom line too. You may discover more needed work than you ever imagined. Here is how to learn what to say and do before next May rolls around again.

First, visit the ESFI Web site at www.electrical-safety.org, and get familiar with its contents. Browse around the various sections on home, school, and work place electrical safety. Let’s take a look at them now.

Home Safety—In this section you will find a general introduction titled, “About Home Safety,” followed by several specialized features including Home Electrical Safety Tips, Bob Villa’s Audio Safety Tips (this requires a .wav player), Home Electrical Safety Quiz, GFCI Demo, Electrical Safety Tips for Seniors, Home Safety FAQ and Product Recalls. Did you know there is a warning about a GFCI made overseas and marketed under several different trade names that is not UL listed?

I particularly like the “Home Electrical Safety Quiz.” This is a cartoon-style interactive virtual walk-through of a typical house with some not-so-obvious electrical dangers to find in each room. It makes a perfect family project to work through with your own kids who then can pass it along to their friends and families. What seems like fun is actually an important educational lesson about electrical safety in the home. You might find some things to correct in your own house.

School Safety—In addition to the Home Electrical Safety Quiz and Bob Villa’s Audio Safety Tips, this section includes a general introduction, a College Orientation Brochure and a presentation of the annual National Electrical Safety Month Kit. You will want to make sure any college students in your house read the student brochure and possibly take copies to the dorm manager when they return to campus.

Workplace Safety—This section opens with a general statement and includes Workplace Electrical Safety Tips, a GFCI wall poster, Other Workplace Safety Resources and Product Recalls. Under Safety Tips is comprehensive checklists covering topics such as: cords, equipment and tool grounding, electrical safety documents and regulations, electrical safety principles, electrical shock dynamics, (did you know that the “grip paralysis threshold” is only 10mA of current through the human body?), hazard identification and analysis, electrical hazard mitigation/prevention, shock rescue procedures, lightning strikes and preventive electrical maintenance.

ESFI Library—In this section, you will see a listing and description of the several documents and annual program planning kit for National Electrical Safety Month. All materials can be viewed free of charge in .pdf format if your computer is equipped with Adobe Acrobat Reader. If not, the program can be downloaded free of charge from the supplier. You can also order extra copies of all ESFI materials online with the downloadable order form. One item I found of special interest is the “Outdoor Electrical Safety Check” booklet. If I had read that before I stepped onto wet grass while operating an ungrounded power saw, I could have prevented a nearly lethal shock I shall never forget.

Now that we have toured the ESFI Web site, you can begin learning how to use the materials. Again, answers are provided in the annual planning kit for National Electrical Safety Month. You can view the whole thing free in .pdf format or download it to a file. The theme last year was “Inspect and Protect,” and it was intended for home safety applications. The introduction stated in part, “Whether we get our power from the sun, wind, water, coal or oil, the end product, electricity, needs to be respected. For that reason, education and awareness about electrical safety is crucial, and National Electrical Safety Month each May is a cornerstone for that effort. The aim of this kit is to help support the efforts of all those interested in learning about and teaching electrical safety, organizations and individuals alike, in May and throughout the year.”

The ESFI kit includes various samples of recommended ideas including public service announcements, news releases, mayoral proclamations, bill/paycheck stuffers, and more.

One powerful technique not mentioned already is to form an industry speakers bureau to convey safety and other industry messages to stakeholders and the public. In the Washington, D.C. area, we have organized an industry speakers bureau around the members of the NECA-IBEW DC Toastmasters Club. If you would like to know more about this and get help in organizing such a group in your area, contact Thang Nguyen at 703-658-4383 or e-mail txnguyen@wdcneca.org.

If these suggestions are above your pay grade, refer this article to your employer and industry association leaders, so they can implement an electrical safety public relations program in your area. Your suggestion could be well appreciated, and the industry will benefit.

TAGLIAFERRE is proprietor of C-E-C Group. He may be reached at 703.321.9268 or lewtag@aol.com