Wear proper PPE, no matter how long it takes to put on
I hope that soon, the current critical health situation will be a lesson learned and not one that occupies nearly every news broadcast and newspaper. Among all the sad COVID-19 news was an indirectly related tragedy that makes it clear electrical safety should be an issue every day for anyone who works with or around electrical systems.
The incident took place at a local hospital in the midst of preparing for the increasing number of coronavirus patients and fatalities. An electrician was working on providing 480-volt service for additional refrigeration units for an expanded temporary morgue.
A code was called over the PA system when it was discovered he contacted energized circuits that resulted in severe burns. Though initial medical treatment was followed by rapid transportation to the nearest burn center, the prognosis wasn’t good. The extent of the visible damage plus the unseen damage to the heart and other organs that resulted when the current flowed through the body often has a lethal outcome.
Details will likely be forthcoming through OSHA investigations and reports as well as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) through the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries. The BLS collects data on workplace injuries, which was last updated in the 2018 report. While the number of electrical-related fatalities and injuries between 2012 and 2016 shows an approximate 30% decrease from the prior five-year span, one in 13 electrical injuries results in a fatality at an unacceptable rate of about three deaths per week.
A significant part of this reduction can be attributed to the growing training and acceptance of the requirements for electrical safety in the workplace from NFPA 70E. Hopefully, these practices include using qualified personnel only, identifying hazards, wearing proper personal protective equipment (PPE) for the task and hazard, de-energizing the circuit, implementing lockout/tagout, and using equipment and instruments rated for the environment on a daily basis.
But how many of the statistics are a result of being in a hurry or under pressure to get the job done quickly?
The data shows incidents occur in residences, industrial/commercial facilities and outside of structures, among all age groups, and it doesn’t matter if the person is a salaried worker for a company or self-employed. It is not just the electrical contractors that make up the statistics of injury and death from electrical-related incidents. Educating the rest of the workforce, especially in the construction industry, is an even more challenging task and requires a different approach because the “just don’t do it” slogan doesn’t always work. Large placards describing the arc flash hazard to someone who doesn’t know what damage an arc flash can cause is not an effective deterrent.
The construction industry isn’t alone in bypassing known-safety procedures to get a job done in a hurry, especially in what are considered emergency situations. I have seen it in fire service and heard about it in the medical profession.
I was taught in one of my first basic training sessions to qualify as a firefighter that the first rule is “don’t become a victim.” You becoming a victim means there is one fewer person to do the required work; it also means other people must rescue and treat the responder-turned-victim. For instance, if I didn’t put on the self-contained breathing apparatus because I was only sent in to do a quick check in the room above a fire, my lungs could’ve been damaged when a closet door opened and let air into the oxygen-starved space, resulting in a fireball.
In all of the power quality investigations I went on as a support person or factory representative, the person making the connections often did not wear proper PPE. Though the utility troubleshooter complained about wearing it, he always did. Others, not so often, if at all.
Yet in the years I was in charge of the product development group, I had to represent, and defend, the company’s interests in a number of incidents where someone was hurt using our equipment. In every one of those, the victim wasn’t wearing the proper PPE and ignored safety warnings in the user’s guides, but the lawsuits still occurred. Every one of them was preventable.
Wear your proper PPE. Haste makes tragedy, and it happens too many times a year. Don’t become a victim.