Published In September 2000
Educating and encouraging employees to follow safe practices on the job is an excellent investment. Providing a full complement of safety programs following Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) guidelines and your own company’s safe work policies protects employers and employees alike from the fallout that preventable injury or illness can cause. Proper attention to safety rules, regulations, and practices results in reduced compensation costs, fewer lost-time accidents, and fewer federal fines for noncompliance. Other possible benefits include lower liability insurance rates, fewer bad feelings, and absence of any sense of blame or remorse. OSHA standards dictate that it is an employer’s responsibility to perform a workplace assessment to determine whether hazards are present that necessitate use of personal protective equipment (PPE), including special attire, then train each worker on its proper use and application. To conform to OSHA guidelines and to keep work sites as safe as possible, it is a good idea to make a company safety policy available, both in hard copy and on your Web site. This safety policy should follow OSHA guidelines and address general, specific, and potential hazards on the job. It is also important to provide periodic safety programs to educate all workers. And it is good policy to convey the concept to all workers that management welcomes notification of unsafe or potentially unsafe job site situations so you can correct them rather than risk negative consequences (accident or illness). If you have a large crew, and especially if your company has frequent employee turnover or rapid growth, it might be efficient to schedule safety seminars regularly, under the leadership of a company-appointed safety director. Live wire precautions The biggest concern of electricians working with live wires is to avoid electrocution, electric shock, or burns. When working on or near live wires, employees should stand on insulated rubber matting, wear insulated gloves, and use insulated tools, preferably with large finger guards to avoid contact with exposed metal parts. For assurance that a tool has proper insulation, look for the official international 1,000-volt symbol on the tool itself. Manufacturers often put together an assortment of popular insulated tools in a carrying case. Klein Tools, for instance, offers a Basic Insulated-Tool Kit that includes three different cutting pliers, three screwdrivers, a cable cutter, and wire stripper-cutter, all clearly marked with the 1000 V rating. Each tool features a flame-retardant, impact-resistant, bright-orange outer coating over a tough, high-dielectric white inner coating that is bonded to the tool, and integrated thumb guards. Should the insulated coating of any tool ever show any signs of damage or compromised integrity, a worker should know not to rely on it for protection against shock. Even a tiny perforation can render the insulation ineffective. Ergonomics Workers who perform repetitive hand and arm motions throughout the day are subject to repetitive stress injury (RSI) and should consider wearing wrist and elbow supports to help protect those body parts from RSI without compromising hand and arm movement. Providing a tool with an integrated cushion grip that adds friction and/or padding, or adding grip wrap or tape permanently around a hand tool to provide a textured surface to increase friction and absorb impact force can reduce the negative effects of long-term gripping of a heavy tool. GripStrip with Gelpact (available from SAF-T-GARD), for example, features a shock-absorbing gel combined with a flexible textured polyurethane strip that could help limit effects of prolonged gripping. Electricians can also wear anti-vibration gloves that dampen vibrations that could damage nerves in the palm and index finger, or use tools that attempt to reduce vibration (like the Milwaukee Electric Tool Corporation Orbital Supersawzall reciprocating saw). Another approach is to rotate workers throughout the day among different tasks, thereby limiting any one worker’s exposure to repetitive vibration. Ladder safety When working around electricity, your crew should use dry, non-conducive fiberglass (or wood) ladders. Make sure each ladder used on a job site has on it a fully readable sticker explaining proper setup and use. Encourage workers to look the label over before climbing. (If the wording is obscured, get a replacement safety instruction label.) Many of the ladder manufacturers offer videos and/or booklets on ladder safety that remind and reinforce instructions and warnings. Standard practices should always include inspecting a ladder carefully before climbing to make sure there are no missing, damaged, or loose components, ensuring that all connections are secure, and removing from use and tagging for repair or disposal any damaged ladders. Other constant reminders should reinforce the practice of placing the foot of an extension ladder one-quarter of its length away from the wall or other vertical plane of support during the intended use and never in front of an unlocked or unbarricaded door. Ladders should always be matched to the application, and crew members should make sure the duty rating (the total weight that will be on the ladder) and highest standing level meet working requirements. If you employ physically large workers (literally), consider purchasing one or more of the new special application ladders that conform to this year’s new ANSI Type 1AA duty rating for 375 pounds. Werner Company, through its Ultra Pro Series, offers a full line of non-conductive side fiberglass step and extension ladders designed to carry the heavier load. Made of fiberglass material upgraded to meet the demand of 375 pounds, the ladders will still fit on existing carrying racks and, typically, weigh only slightly more than existing fiberglass ladders, the company pointed out. Lockout/tagout Perhaps the most important precautions that can save lives on the job when electricians need to temporarily turn off the power involves the practice of lockout/tagout. OSHA (in Section 1910.147, addressing “the control of Hazardous Energy”) mandates that all electrical circuits be “locked out” before workers start to maintain and service lighting, machines, and equipment they serve. Once the current is off, the circuit needs to be tagged or marked to indicate it should not be mistakenly reconnected. OSHA requires that a written program covering lockout/tagout be facility/site specific and include the identification, location, and proper lockout procedure for each piece of equipment. Make sure all lockout/tagout devices can withstand the environment at the location used. Uniform color, shape, and size lockout/ tagout devices help to avoid any cases of mistaken identity. When tagout devices, only, are utilized, put them where a lock would have been attached. When using a vinyl “DANGER DO NOT OPERATE” tag, identifying which circuit is “off” with an erasable marker would serve as double insurance. If, nevertheless, there is risk of someone inadvertently re-energizing the circuit, OSHA guidelines mandate putting a lock on the disconnect that should not be removable by unauthorized personnel unless that person resorts to undue force or use of a tool. A lock may be placed without a tag only when one circuit or one piece of equipment is de-energized and the lockout period does not exceed the work shift during which the lockout was put into place. Even then, a lock should only be placed when employees exposed to “hazards associated with reenergizing the circuit or equipment are familiar with this procedure.” There are also very strict guidelines about who may remove each lock and tag. Preferably, according to OSHA, the removal is handled by the employee who applied it or another employee under his or her direct supervision. Other lockout/tagout devices, including simple low-tech devices like plug lockouts and wall switch lockouts, can also save lives or prevent injury. Ditto single-pole and multi-pole breaker lockouts, fuse lockouts, wall switch lockouts, and a plethora of labels in various materials. Ideal Industries, Inc.’s Universal Multi-Pole Breaker Lockout, for example, works with most major multi-pole breakers with tie-bar switches and features a thumbscrew to secure and lock the tie bar in place, eliminating use of a self-locking cable tie. Suitable for providing diverse lockout capability for many projects, the Contractor Lockout Kit from Panduit Corp. consists of various padlocks, a multiple lockout device, and wall, circuit breaker, and plug lockouts, along with safety tags and other components, all neatly ensconced in a carrying case. Some safety devices are designed for permanent installation. Stranco, Inc.’s Circuit-Safe breaker switch lockout system, for instance, mounts permanently to a service panel, dead front. Available in sizes to fit a variety of brands and models of panels, the system locks out electrical circuits by mechanically preventing the movement of toggle switch handles from the specified position to the opposite position once the lockout pin is placed in use. The device allows service personnel to secure computer, fire alarm, emergency lighting, life support, and other dedicated circuits in the “on” position. Many companies offer a wide variety of electrical warning labels in dispensers, on cards, as indoor adhesives, as outdoor adhesives, and as rigid indoor and outdoor signage where adhesives won’t work. Various sizes and types of machine and operational safety tags in write-on, semi-rigid plastic and card stock are also available. If you want to make your own signage, Panduit Corp. offers SAFETY EASE Safety Sign Software, for creating lockout, operational, and electrical signs and tags quickly in English and Spanish, using an ink jet or laser printer. The software comes with over 2,000 pre-defined legends or you can create your own. Pop-up edit screens enable users to edit text, change headers, and add pictographs. Panduit also sells indoor pressure-sensitive adhesive laser printable signs in white and colors and self-laminating adhesive sign carriers that convert your inkjet- or laser-printed paper signs to adhesive indoor signs. Indoor rigid vinyl safety tag carriers are also available. Sometimes it is not a question of lockout, but of discharge that you would want to prevent. Again, there are products to reduce the risks. Burlington Safety Laboratories’ Static Charge Wand, for example, allows workers to safely drain hazardous electrostatic charges from capacitors and other types of equipment before touching. The 31-inch wand features a 23-inch-long, non-conductive fiberglass handle that was tested at 100,000 volts/foot for five minutes and a handle guard that prevents accidental gripping beyond the safe point. Fall protection OSHA requires use of a personal fall-arrest system if there is risk of a worker falling from an elevation (generally 6 feet or more). The system, which requires an anchorage that can support a minimum of 5,000 pounds, activates if a fall of a height longer than the tether between the worker and the anchorage occurs. For safety at heights, Klein Tools Klein-Lite Tradesman’s Set (No. 87150) includes a single-ring fall-arrest harness with adjustable chest, shoulder, and leg straps (designed to distribute impact forces over thighs, pelvis, waist, chest, and shoulders as OSHA requires). It also offers easy-connect leg buckles for quick engagement/disengagement, and a deceleration lanyard featuring double-locking Klein-Lok snap hooks and an energy-absorbing polyester inner core protected by a tubular nylon webbing outer shell. Training opportunities The marketplace is flooded with professionally produced videotapes, audio tapes, manuals, booklets, and real-life safety instructors. Some of the videos are suitable to serve as a primary source of training; others would work well as a supplement to a training session with a live leader. One school of thought has it that the use of actors portraying roles mimicking real-life situations could help make the training seem real and relevant and, perhaps, perk up an audience. At any rate, videos have the advantage of being recyclable, either periodically, for reinforcement, or for introduction of a topic to new crew members. The Hand Tool Institute offers a 29-minute video, “Safety in the Workplace,” that focuses on over 100 common uses and abuses of hand tools. The video alerts tool users to hand tool safety practices that help prevent accidents. The Power Tool Institute sells a 19-minute video, “Power Tool Accidents—They Can Be Prevented,” that addresses the importance of keeping a work area safe, electrical safety, proper tool use and care, and suggestions for developing good personal work habits. The “Lockout Regulations Training Video,” available from Panduit Corp. in English or Spanish, is available individually or as a part of a package that includes a leader’s guide, training log, participation guides with quizzes, certificates of completion, and lockout/ tagout samples. The “Group Lockout Video Training Program,” also from Panduit Corp., addresses multi-craft, multi-shift lockout procedures and includes a leader’s training guide, participation guides, and samples. The “Lockout/Tagout Video of Energy Sources,” available from Ideal Industries, Inc., covers control of energy sources, types of accidents in the workplace, examples of how lockout/tagout works, and details of OSHA regulations, techniques for locking and tagging out, and other safety information. NECA offers numerous publications that address various aspects of safety on an electrical job, including the popular 87-page, Personal Protective Equipment Manual (NECA index No. 5120), which provides graphics-rich guidance to contractors addressing OSHA regulations involving personal protective equipment. The manual includes explanations of relevant requirements and hazard assessment and controls, selection flow charts, cost analysis, training outlines, inspection checklists, tool box talks, and suggested records. Contractors interested in improving delivery of job site safety programs could get a lot of assistance from the Project Safety & Loss Control Manual (NECA index No. 5121). Users can select relevant sections from the 438-page text when developing internal safety policies and practices, and when addressing clients’ requests in contracts and specifications. In addition to covering topics such as medical/fire/emergency services, mobile equipment procedures, and traffic work zone set-up, the manual offers interesting insights into the OSHA inspection process. Supervisors’ Guide to Safety Training (NECA index No. 5122) emphasizes new-hire orientations and effective delivery of toolbox talk, and also offers advice in developing specialty programs. A train-the-trainer section delivers instructions for analyzing job sites, interpreting requirements, locating and using safety resources. The guide includes outlines and sample scripts that encourage persuasive training by focusing on concepts rather than on rote learning. The 178-page manual Safety Manual for Electrical Contractors (NECA index No. 8100) offers step-by-step guidance in the development of an OSHA-compliant safety program. The pocket-sized 46-page OSHA Safety and Health Standards Digest for Electrical Construction Workers (NECA index No. 5044) could serve as a ready reference or reminder for workers on the job. Another popular publication, Respirator Protection Program Guidelines (NECA index No. 5123) specifically addresses OSHA’s new respiratory protection standards (29 CFR 1926.103) and helps electrical contractors meet the requirements for specific, written respiratory protection programs that need to be implemented at each job site. TalkTools features several different kits that could educate safety directors or supervisors on such topics as lockout/tagout; slips, trips, and falls (covering wet floors, stairs, and step and extension ladders); personal protective equipment; back care; and fire prevention/evacuation. Each kit contains a hard copy of Safety Talk as background for the person giving the talk, a large full-color storyboard, a set of 30 scratch surface quiz cards that enable the lecturer to evaluate the success of the talk, four reinforcement posters, and one recognition award, along with a “Train-the-Trainer” video that prepares the supervisor for effective delivery of the program. Individual posters are also available. Business and Legal Reports sells graphics-rich employee booklets teaching the basics of on-the-job safety on several topics, including lockout, general workplace safety, and electrical safety. The NAHB/OSHA Jobsite Safety Handbook, available in Spanish as well as in English from the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), identifies hazards and OSHA regulations that can prevent worker injuries and help contractors achieve compliance with OSHA regulations. IDEAL Industries offers free safety talks on lockout/tagout anywhere in the country for groups of at least 10 employees. The talks, which last either one or two hours and include pizza, feature live and video overviews of the relevant OSHA regulations, explanations of the importance of lockout/tagout and the necessity of a facility/site-specific program, and how to achieve proper lockout/tagout. In addition, there is a hands-on perusal of various products for a lockout/tagout program, including electrical lockouts for breakers, hasps, locks, and tags, valves, and a variety of safety signs. Once you know what signs you want to hang up in the office and on job sites, if you have a PC and color Inkjet printer, you can create and print your own safety signs with MaxiSigns99 by MaxiSoft Software. The application, which has eight pre-loaded header/signal words and 330 pictographs, can produce over 2,000 different (customizable) OSHA-mandated, ANSI-compliant safety and facility signs and tags in both English and Spanish. OSHA, itself, runs frequent workshops and seminars around the country to which you might want to send your safety director. Without leaving the office, however, your safety director could find a lot of guidance and information on job site safety, including ergonomics, by browsing the OSHA Web site at www.osha.gov. Safety suggestions Workers should wear proper safety equipment, including: Safety glasses or face shields for cutting of materials, nailing, or working with potentially harmful chemicals or concrete; Full face masks for protection from sparks or splashing liquid; Hard hats for protection from falling or flying hazards; Kneepads; Hard-soled “construction” shoes or boots; Dust masks or particulate respirators on dusty sites or when cutting lumber, scraping paint, working with insulation, or where airborne particles could present a health hazard; and Ear protectors to muffle incessant hammering, drilling, sawing, or explosively loud noises. Provide each job site with an easily accessible first aid kit and, if there is no telephone, a two-way radio or cellular telephone to summon aid in case of an accident. Always have the telephone numbers of ambulances, doctors, and hospitals conspicuously posted near (or with) the telephone. Before any of your crew starts a new aspect of a project, make sure each member understands proper tool use and maintenance and understands safety precautions that apply when setting up and using ladders, scaffolding, and temporary steps. Companies and organizations mentioned in this article: Business and Legal Reports: www.blr.com, (800) 727-5257 Burlington Safety Laboratory: (800) 220-2120 Ideal Industries: www.idealindustries.com, (800) 435-0705 Klein Tools: www.kleintools.com, (847) 677-9500 Maxisoft Software www.maxisoft-software.com, (800) 622-6312 Milwaukee Electric Tool Corporation: www.mil-electric-tool.com, (877) 279-7819 NAHB: www.nahb.com, (800) 368-5242 ext. 507 NECA: www.necanet.org, order desk (301) 215-4504 The Hand Tool Institute: www.hti.org/video.htm, (914) 332-0040 The Power Tool Institute: www.powertoolinstitute.com, (216) 241-7333 TalkTools: www.talktools.com, (800) 233-5666 Panduit Corp.: www.panduit.com, (888) 506-5400 SAF-T-GARD: www.saftgard.com, (800) 548-GARD Stranco, Inc.: www.strancoinc.com, (800) 348-3217 Werner Co.: www.wernerco.com, (724) 588-8600 Voltgard: www.saftgard.com, (800) 548-GARD OSHA: www.osha.gov, (800) 321-OSHA The FELDMANS provide Web content and write for magazines, trade associations, building product manufacturers, and other companies. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (914) 238-6272.