Fatal Electrocutions

The following series of fatalities was studied by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Each involves contact with energized lines or equipment. In every case, NIOSH came to the same conclusion. After reading them, you can compare your thoughts to that conclusion. Both the NIOSH conclusion and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards are provided.

The first victim was a journeyman electrician who was pulling wire for a 277V emergency backup lighting system. He was standing on a ladder preparing to strip a hot wire when he was electrocuted. The entry and exit burns revealed he was caught on metal support bars from the drop ceiling. There was a burn on his right thumb where he apparently contacted the metal of the stripping tool and a burn on the left side of his chest.

An 18-year-old male apprentice was electrocuted while relocating overhead junction boxes. He and his supervisor were working on an energized 277V lighting system at a newly constructed industrial park. The victim had just completed a connection. While securing the connection with wire nuts, he contacted the uninsulated wires. He came down from the fiberglass ladder, took three steps and collapsed. The burn on his index finger identified the point of entry.

Five electricians and electrician's helpers were wiring fluorescent light fixtures for a hospital. Emergency fixtures on a separate circuit were to be wired first, and existing temporary lights were to be deenergized. Contrary to their instructions, the crew decided to speed up the project by allowing some of the circuits to remain energized.

Crew members recommended the circuits be tested to determine which were hot. One of the electrician's helpers, a 26-year-old male, chose not to use the tester. As he worked, he perspired heavily and was electrocuted when he leaned on the grid work. Co-workers founded him dangling from the ceiling grid.

A 46-year-old male electrical project supervisor wired a compressor motor for a plastic bottle packaging plant. After completing the installation, the main distribution panel was turned on, energizing the components inside the starter control panel. The starter indicator light activated, but the compressor motor did not work. The supervisor decided the problem was in the starter control panel. He planned to check continuity and opened the panel without deenergizing. When he reached inside to trace the wiring and check the integrity of the electrical leads, he contacted the 480V primary lead for the motor starter with his left hand.

NIOSH's response is simple-deenergize the lines. A lockout tagout program should have been implemented. OSHA agrees. The seventh-most frequently cited standard for electrical contractors is Subpart K Electrical, Part 1926.416 General. The 24th is 1926.417, lockout and tagging of circuits.

Paragraph (a)(1) of 1926.416 states: “No employer shall permit an employee to work in such proximity to any part of an electric power circuit that the employee could contact the electric power circuit in the course of work, unless the employee is protected against electric shock by deenergizing the circuit and grounding it or by guarding it effectively by insulation or other means.”

Paragraph (a)(3) states: “Before work is begun the employer shall ascertain by inquiry or direct observation, or by instruments, whether any part of an energized electric power circuit, exposed or concealed, is so located that the performance of the work may bring any person, tool, or machine into physical or electrical contact with the electric power circuit. The employer shall post and maintain proper warning signs where such a circuit exists. The employer shall advise employees of the location of such lines, the hazards involved, and the protective measures to be taken.”

Paragraph (a) of 1926.417 states: “Controls that are to be deactivated during the course of work on energized or deenergized equipment or circuits shall be tagged.”

OSHA leaves little room for variation in these standards. However, it has relied on the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 70E Standard for procedures. NFPA also directs electrical work be done deenergized, but offers justification for working energized in certain instances. When an employer can demonstrate that deenergizing is more hazardous, or the design of the equipment or operational limits makes it impossible, live work may be performed. NFPA requires an electrical work permit to work live. Contractors should refer to NFPA for these procedures.

All organizations feel an electrical safety program and work permit should be part of a comprehensive safety program. The NFPA 70E standard offers guidance for documents related to electrical safety procedures. The new version of the NECA Safety Expert System offers a basic safety as well as an electrical safety program with templates recommended by NFPA 70E. For more information on the NFPA standard visit www.nfpa.org. For more information on the NECA Safety Expert System visit www.necanet.org. EC

O’CONNOR is with Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and software for contractors. Based in Waverly, Pa., he can be reached at 607.624.7159 or joconnor@intecweb.com.


About the Author

Joe O'Connor

Freelance Writer
Joe O'Connor is with Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and software for contractors. Based in Waverly, Pa., he can be reached at 607.624.7159 or joconnor@inte...

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