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In recent years, thousands of occupational fatalities and injuries have occurred as a result of electrical contact. Many of these accidents happen when workers do not use the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) for the job or they use it improperly. The hands are one of the most critical body parts that need to be protected when working on or near energized equipment.

Consider that, just last year, a worker was electrocuted in St. Louis when his hand came in contact with an energized electrical panel box. He was not wearing hand protection. Following the accident, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) St. Louis Area Director Bill MacDonald stated, “Allowing workers to be exposed to live electricity without enforcing electrical safe work practices is inexcusable.” He added, “Employers have a responsibility to train workers in safe electrical work practices, such as recognizing unsafe conditions when exposed to hazards.”

Working with live lines and energized circuits or equipment requires the use of protective rubber gloves and sleeves rated for the exposure of the highest possible voltage that could potentially be encountered. As a reminder, different types of rubber gloves are needed for different levels of electrical exposure.

To review, when working with live lines or energized circuits, glove classes run from Class 00 for 500 volts (V) up to Class 4 for 36,000V. Remember, the general rule of thumb is rubber protective sleeves should meet or exceed the class rating of the rubber glove.

Appropriately rated rubber gloves and sleeves should also be worn when working within extended reach of an energized circuit or piece of equipment. “Extended reach” means the worker is within 5 feet of energized circuits or equipment, or a conductive object is within 5 feet of an energized circuit or equipment.

When working while on an aerial lift or bucket, rubber gloves should be worn “cradle to cradle,” which means wearing rubber protective equipment is essential from the time workers are on the ground, prior to commencing work, to the time workers are back on the ground after all the work is complete.

Additionally, rubber protective equipment should be worn “lock to lock” when working on or opening pad-mounted equipment. This means, before the equipment is unlocked and opened, workers must don the proper rubber gloves and sleeves to protect themselves the entire time they could be exposed to energized circuits while doors or covers are open or removed. They must wear these rubber gloves and sleeves until the work or testing is complete, the equipment door or cover is closed and the lock is replaced. If this equipment is put into an electrically safe working condition by de-energizing, proper lockout/tagout or hold-tag procedures must also be followed. 

According to OSHA: “Gloves and sleeves must be electrically tested before being issued for use. They must also be visually inspected and gloves need to be air-tested for any possible defects” (for example: cuts, holes, tears, embedded objects, changes in texture) before each day’s use and whenever there is a reason to believe they may have been damaged. Best practice is to inspect PPE and air-test the gloves and sleeves before each use.

This type of PPE should not be used if defects are discovered. Look for holes, tears, punctures or cuts; ozone cutting or ozone checking; embedded foreign objects; texture changes, including swelling, softening, or hardening; or if the material becomes sticky or inelastic. This includes any other defect that damages the insulating properties. Any PPE that does not pass inspection should be removed from service immediately.

Rubber gloves should be electrically tested at a minimum of every six months, and sleeves should be tested at a minimum of every 12 months. However, OSHA recommends monthly testing as a best practice for each piece of PPE.

These tests are vital, considering this example: In 2008, a lineman in Kentucky was electrocuted as a result of a damaged rubber glove and sleeve. After the accident, the PPE that the victim was wearing was tested. Visible holes in the right glove and sleeve were found. Further investigation also revealed that the PPE had been overdue for electrical testing. Though it is uncertain whether the equipment was visually inspected on the day of the accident, the damage to the glove and sleeve were major causes for the electrocution.

Proper storage of rubber gloves and sleeves also is important to maintaining the insulating qualities of the PPE. Gloves should be kept away from excessive heat, sunlight, humidity, ozone and any chemical or substance that could damage the properties of the equipment. Also, they should never be folded.

In addition to hand and arm protection, other forms of PPE can be used to reduce risk of electrical injuries and death. Training and hazard awareness is also a crucial element in worker safety. For more information on rubber gloves and sleeves, PPE, and electrical safety, visit www.osha.gov.

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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