According to the 2018 edition of NFPA 70E, the definition of electrical safety is “identifying hazards associated with the use of electrical energy and taking precautions to reduce the risk associated with those hazards.”
Each May, we observe National Electrical Safety Month, which was established by the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI). It is an annual campaign to promote electrical safety by raising awareness about electrical hazards. The goal is to educate people about the steps they can take to reduce the number of electrically related fires, property loss, injuries and fatalities. It is up to all of us to promote electrical safety. Talk with your family and friends about electrical safety at home and with your clients and customers at work. Spread the word, and raise the awareness—it’s working!
Raising awareness is key to reducing injuries and fatalities. In the early to mid-1990s, most people were unaware of NFPA 70E, and many companies as well as workers had very lax electrical safety programs. I recall people reaching into energized electrical equipment bare-handed to perform a task with no PPE or thought for safety.
However, over the past two decades, NFPA 70E has gained traction and is at the forefront of electrical safety. This traction—coupled with other codes and standards, increased awareness, better electrical safety practices, worker training and emphasis on minimizing or eliminating energized work—has driven down the number of electrical injuries and fatalities.
Fatal electrical injuries—down
To illustrate how much progress has been made, let’s examine a few statistics based on the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which are published in both NFPA 70E Annex K and by the ESFI. The Annex K data show the number of fatal workplace electrical injuries has fallen from 335 in 1992 to 139 in 2013. Additional BLS data from the ESFI show this number fell further to 134 electrical fatalities in 2015.
Although the overall trend is downward, more recent BLS data from 2016 show the number of fatalities jumped to 154. Hopefully, this 15 percent increase is just one of the bumps that have occurred along the downward trend over two decades of data.
Nonfatal electrical injuries—down
The trend has also seen a decrease in nonfatal electrical injuries. These are classified as requiring days away from work. In 1992, the BLS data show there were 4,806 nonfatal electrical injuries, but the most recent data from 2016 show this number has seen a dramatic decrease to 1,640! The year 2015 saw a bump to 2,480; however, the overall downward trend continued.
The good news is both fatal and nonfatal electrical injuries have dramatically decreased. The bad news is this isn’t time for a victory dance because there still are too many injuries and fatalities from electrical hazards.
The ESFI has published some interesting details regarding the 2016 BLS data. Although an electrical arc flash can be a deadly or debilitating hazard, electrocution remains the major cause of electrical fatalities. Exposure to electric current is No. 6 on the list of causes leading to fatal on-the-job injury.
When it comes to the question of which industry sector has the greatest number of fatal electrical injuries, the construction industry takes the lead with 53 percent based on 2016 data. This is an improvement from 2015 when it was at 60 percent. Number two on the list of the most fatal electrical injuries goes to professional and business services.
One worker dies for every 12.47 electrical injuries, making this one of the most frightening statistics that comes from NFPA 70E Annex K. It is based on data from 2003 through 2009 that shows, of 20,033 electrical injuries, 1,573 resulted in fatalities. This emphasizes just how unforgiving the hazards associated with electricity can be.
Residential electrical fires—down
In 1980, it was estimated that there were 75,000 home structure fires attributed to electrical causes in the United States. Data from 2014 estimate this number fell to 48,100 for a 36 percent decrease. According to a 2017 NFPA document, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated annual average of 45,210 reported U.S. home structure fires involving electrical failure or malfunction, based on the most recent data from 2010–2014.
Here is one final fact you might not know: there also is an Electrical Safety Day. Although there is no officially designated day, it does exist—it is today! And tomorrow, and everyday—on the job, at home, everywhere.