Just because workers have been trained on safety practices, doesn’t mean they know how to avoid injury or even death from electrical shock.
That is what Littelfuse found when the Chicago-based circuit protection manufacturer surveyed 575 people who work directly with electricity across a variety of industries, such as manufacturing, utilities and electrical maintenance and repair. Their jobs include technicians, design and project engineers, maintenance electricians, electrical contractors and managers (safety, plant and purchasing).
More than 90% of those who said they think it’s safe to work on or near equipment voltage to ground of up to 500 volts (V) have been provided with safety training by their company. Not surprisingly then, a majority (62%) of those who said they consider up to 500V to be a safe working voltage reported having experienced electrical shock by more than 220V while on the job.
“If a worker cannot distinguish a safe working voltage from a hazardous condition, then their safety training failed,” Littelfuse writes. “It is also probable that any pertinent safety practices the worker has retained are ineffective when they are unable to read a hazardous situation.”
Every respondent who cited personal protective equipment (PPE), or a form of it such as gloves, as the main reason for why workers at their facility work on equipment while it’s energized also said they are provided electrical safety training by their workplace.
“If a worker believes they do not need to de-energize equipment if they wear PPE, then their safety training has failed,” Littelfuse writes.
Those respondents also said that their facility does not send its electrical gloves to a laboratory for testing¾although facilities are required to.
Facilities should go above and beyond providing PPE to prevent electrical shock, according to Littelfuse. Electrical hazards can be eliminated using “hard-science” methods such as ground-fault circuit interrupters, “which do not rely on the soft-based science of human-based behavior for them to work as hoped,” the report noted.
While the National Electric Code always requires the use of PPE whenever there is a shock hazard that can cause injury or death, the Code does not require GFCI protection for such circumstances, Littelfuse writes.
“And yet, PPE is the least effective preventative measure and responsible for many injuries and fatalities due to its human-based practices,” the manufacturer writes. “GFCI protection, which is a much more effective preventative measure as it nearly eliminates the hazard, saves lives because it does not require human involvement for it to work. Its out-of-sight-out-of-mind practice requires zero energy from the workers for it to guarantee their safety.”
The Code does not protect all workers from shock, Littelfuse concludes.
“The industry has the data to capture the changes desperately needed in the 2023 NEC and better align the new addition with NFPA 70E’s core message: human-based controls are an inadequate measure for ensuring safety,” Littelfuse writes.