Contact with electrical current is one of the leading causes of occupational injuries and fatalities. Due to the nature of their jobs, wire and line workers carry an exponential risk for being involved in these types of incidents. Electrocution is one of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) “Fatal Four,” along with fall hazards, struck-by hazards and caught-in/in-between hazards. Fortunately, with the support of safety-training programs, most electrical incidents can be prevented by following relevant regulations. However, one of the most significant safeguards that employees and employers can take is the use of appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE).
Many forms of PPE protect workers from electrical hazards. According to OSHA’s eTool on Electrical Power, “Depending on the job task to be performed, PPE for the electric power industry generally includes safety glasses, face shields, hard hats, safety shoes, insulating (rubber) gloves with leather protectors, insulating sleeves, and flame-resistant (FR) clothing.”
Note that all equipment, such as glasses and face shields, should meet appropriate standards for electrical work to protect against arc flash. With the advances in protective clothing technology and the updated requirements in the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 70E, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace, arc-rated clothing should replace FR clothing.
In addition, some may require the use of insulating protective equipment (IPE). Examples include line hoses, rubber hoods, rubber blankets and insulating live-line tools such as hotsticks, switchsticks or shotgun sticks. However, IPE is not PPE, because it is not worn. This is worth noting because it is an important employee protection.
When determining the necessary PPE for a job, employers must conduct a hazard assessment to evaluate specific safety needs. Once the needs have been identified, employees must be trained on equipment use and care. It should also be continually addressed during daily job briefings. PPE should be inspected or tested each time it is used as required by OSHA and the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) standard. This process ensures the PPE is not damaged or defective and will work as intended.
When inspecting rubber gloves, sleeves and cover-ups, look for imbedded foreign objects, holes, punctures, cuts, tears, ozone cutting and checking, texture changes, hardening, stickiness, swelling, softening, inelasticity or any other defects that may affect PPE insulating properties. Any one of these conditions requires the PPE to be removed from service.
It is also important to test PPE. An air test is a common method to check equipment such as rubber gloves. Squeeze or roll gloves (or other rubber goods) while listening for air escaping through cuts, tears or holes. It can also be done with an inflator. If any air escapes the PPE, it must be removed from service. Some employers also require the water test, which involves filling a glove with water to help find holes.
Rubber gloves should be tested at least every six months, if the insulating value is suspect, after repair and after use without protectors. Rubber sleeves or rubber insulating blankets should be tested every 12 months, if the insulating value is suspect and after repair. IPE, such as insulating covers and line hoses, only need to be tested if suspect.
When not in use, rubber gloves and sleeves should be kept in a canvas bag or other approved container to prevent damage. Gloves should also be stored with cuffs facing downward to allow drainage and better circulation. This will also minimize the possibility of objects falling into the glove. Rubber protective gear should never be stored folded up, in direct sunlight, near or with petroleum products, near sharp objects, or with anything on top of them. These conditions can greatly compromise the PPE properties.
In addition to rubber goods, hard hats should be worn to prevent being struck by falling objects and being electrocuted. Three classifications of hard hats can be worn in this scenario: Class E (Electrical) hard hats can withstand up to 20,000 volts of electricity, Class G (General) hard hats are able to withstand 2,200 volts of electricity, and Class C (Conductive) hard hats offer no protection from electric shock.
Similarly, three general classifications of protective footwear can protect employees from electrical hazards. They include nonconductive footwear, antistatic footwear and conductive footwear. Antistatic footwear is designed for working in environments sensitive to static electricity. Nonconductive footwear is insulated to prevent electricity from getting to ground when you come into contact with live circuits or electrical equipment. Conductive footwear is intended to be worn in environments where the accumulation of static electricity on the body can be hazardous.
Electricity is a serious workplace hazard. If you would like more information, visit www.osha.gov.