Simply because workers have been trained on safety-related work practices does not mean they know how to avoid electric shock or electrocution.
That is what Littelfuse found when the Chicago-based circuit protection manufacturer surveyed 575 people who work directly with electricity across industries such as manufacturing, utilities and electrical maintenance and repair. Respondents’ job titles included technician, design and project engineer, maintenance electrician, electrical contractor and manager (safety, plant and purchasing).
More than 90% of those who said they think it’s safe to work on or near equipment rated with a voltage to ground of up to 500 volts (V) have received safety training by their company. Not surprisingly then, a majority (62%) of those who said they consider up to 500V to be a safe working voltage, reported having experienced electrical shock by more than 220V while on the job.
“If a worker cannot distinguish a safe working voltage from a hazardous condition, then their safety training failed,” Littelfuse wrote. “It is also probable that the safety practices the worker has received are ineffective when they are unable to recognize a hazardous situation.”
Every respondent who cited personal protective equipment (PPE), such as gloves, as the main reason for why workers at their facility perform energized work also said they receive electrical safety training.
“If a worker believes they do not need to de-energize equipment if they wear PPE, then their safety training has failed,” Littelfuse wrote.
Those respondents also said that their facility does not send its electrical gloves to a laboratory for periodic testing, even though it’s required.
Facilities should do more than provide PPE to prevent electrical shock, according to Littelfuse. Electric shock and electrocution can be eliminated using “hard-science” methods such as the safety-related requirements in NFPA 70E, “which do not rely on the soft-based science of human-based behavior for them to work as hoped,” the report noted.
While NFPA 70E requires the use of PPE whenever there is an electrical hazard that can cause injury or death during justified energized work, it does not require GFCI protection for personnel as provided in the National Electrical Code for some, but not all installations, Littelfuse wrote.
“PPE is the least effective risk control measure and often the reason for many injuries and fatalities due to its human-based practices. GFCI protection, which is an NEC-installation requirement, is an effective preventative measure as it nearly eliminates the hazard and saves lives because it does not require human involvement to work. It’s out-of-sight-out-of-mind requires zero energy from the workers for it to guarantee their safety.”
The industry has the data to better align with the core message and purpose of NFPA 70E: human-based controls are fallible and often an inadequate measure for ensuring electrical workplace safety, Littelfuse concludes.