Everyday Dangers

Safety August 2020

Electricity is not the only risk electrical contractors face. It is imperative to understand the fallout and other potential hazards that ECs encounter when working with electricity. Here is a helpful refresher on injuries that may happen to electrical contractors and a reminder of how severe such injuries can be.

The four most common injuries are electrical burns, electric shock, falls and lacerations. Electrical burns are one of the most obvious. Electrical shock is also a very common injury among contractors. It may occur with or without accompanying burns.

Electric shock occurs when electricity flows through the body. When this happens, it affects the body’s normal electrical impulses and travels through the nervous system. It can cause damage to internal organs, heart rhythm problems or even death. As a result, electrical injuries are often more severe than they appear externally.

A large percentage of electrical jobs requires contractors to work on ladders or in elevated positions. As a result, falls can occur. Injuries caused by falls can also happen in conjunction with electrical injuries. In fact, electricity can even cause a fall by throwing a victim a short distance. Therefore, it is important to look for the symptoms of electrical contact prior to treating fall- related injuries.

It is not uncommon for electrical contractors to lacerate their hands when cutting electrical components. This can occur when tools slip and cut or injure a contractor’s hands or arms. Minor lacerations should be cleaned and treated with bandages. However, deeper cuts should be sutured up by a medical professional within six to eight hours. This will ensure that wounds heal properly. Exposure to an injured worker’s blood should also be minimized to limit the risk of injury and illness caused by blood-borne pathogens.

Additionally, electrical contractors may become injured as a result of repetitive stress or overexertion to the back, knees, fingers and hands. Repetitive stress injuries are also referred to musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).

According to law firm Hardison & Cochran, Raleigh, N.C.: “Injuries can be caused by using force to operate a tool or perform a task; working while bending or stooping; awkwardly positioning the hands, wrists, elbows or shoulders; staying in the same position for a long time; and holding vibrating tools; and standing on hard surfaces; and applying continuous pressure to the body. A repetitive stress or overuse injury can be just as debilitating and painful as fall injuries or other injuries resulting from accidents. These types of injuries can end your career and cause you to experience both significant discomfort and a reduction in your quality of life.”

In an effort to reduce MSDs among electrical contractors, employers can invest in ergonomic tools and provide contractor training on safe work practices. In recent years, many employers have replaced corded tools with battery-operated products. For example, powered screwdrivers and vibration-reduction technology in tools helps reduce cumulative trauma disorders. As further tool advancements are made, the number of MSDs should decrease.

Other hazards that electrical contractors face include lead, solvents, solder and other materials; working in confined spaces; welding hazards and ultraviolet radiation; extreme temperatures; mold, bacteria and fungi; risk of infection from bird or rodent droppings; risk of eye injury from flying particles; and possible asbestos exposure. Each of these hazardous conditions presents an added risk of injury and illness.

Linemen and wiremen, specifically, encounter the risk of injury in the form of strains and sprains, struck-by hazards, electric contact and arc flash. Although electric shock is the greatest electrical hazard, arc flash injuries are far more gruesome and can be much more painful. Arc flash is the light and heat produced from electrical energy that can cause substantial damage, harm, fire, injury or death.

Arc flash occurs when a flashover of electric current leaves its intended path and travels through the air from one conductor to another or to the ground. It can be caused by many things, including dust, dropping tools, accidental touching, condensation, material failure, corrosion or faulty installation. Arc flashes can result in burns, fire, flying objects, blast pressure and a sound blast. Proximity to the hazard, the temperature and the time for the circuit to break are three factors that determine the severity of an arc flash injury.

About the Author

Tom O'Connor

Safety Columnist

Tom O'Connor is safety and regulatory affairs manager for Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and software for contractors. Reach him at toconnor@intecweb.com.

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