May is Electrical Safety Month!
Were you aware the month of May is known for something other than flowers? While flowers can brighten our day, they are also present when a loved one passes.
But for those who work around electricity, May is also known as National Electrical Safety Month. Various organizations collaborate to promote a greater understanding of the hazards of electrical energy to help the public and private sectors sustain this critical focus area in our workplaces and home environments.
Many may agree that Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFi), a non-profit organization that promotes electrical safety through many different venues, was the first to champion this long overdue cause starting sometime in the 1990’s. ESFi continues to sponsor the annual campaign. However, several well-known organizations such as the National Fire Protection Association® (NFPA®) and others have joined in this campaign to heighten awareness of electrical hazards.
With the rise in the development of electrical technologies, devices, and equipment entering our daily lives annually, especially now with electric vehicles and their supportive infrastructure, we at e-Hazard understand all too well the tragic consequences when the wonderful gift of electricity is not used or installed correctly.
According to recent data derived from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) as compiled by ESFi,* accidents involving electricity continue to be one of the leading causes of workplace deaths and serious injuries. During the last decade between 2011 to 2021, OSHA recorded 1201 fatalities with the BLS data showing 1653 deaths. **
People working in 118 different occupations lost their lives in some type of electrical accident. However, what is even more troubling is the fact most workers who died from electrical energy did not hold a job title related to an electrical occupation or trade, such as electricians, electrical apprentices, instrumentation technicians, linemen, linemen apprentices, electrical engineers, etc., as shown in Image #1.
While the statistics between 2011 – 2021 indicate 31% of workplace fatalities involved individuals with “electrical occupations,” with some listed in the aforementioned group, the percentage of fatalities more than doubles to 69% for those workers whose main job tasks do not require them to knowingly work on or near exposed energized parts or equipment.
As concerning as this trend is, there may be an encouraging lining. There was a slight decrease in the average number of fatalities for both groups, consisting of a 1.2% decline for non-electrical occupations and 0.89% for those holding traditional electrical occupations. And while these gains are admittedly small, they are, nonetheless, moving in the right direction. Let’s hope the positive momentum will continue with fewer fatalities and deaths in the coming years.
Looking a Little Deeper
As we continue to drill down to the top 10 occupations by job titles that suffered electrical fatalities, as shown in Image #2, we find some surprising albeit very concerning information in the numbers. The data indicates those within electrical occupations, specifically those with job titles of “electricians, electric power installers (linemen) and their apprentices,” totaled about 26.89% of all the electrical fatalities from 2011 to 2021.
When it comes to such common occupations, most readers understand those of us who choose such trades for a living are the ones who have the greatest exposure because we’re tasked with working on or near energized lines and equipment in our daily routine. However, we must also keep in mind these are the same professionals who hold the title of “Qualified Electrical Workers” as defined and mandated by OSHA regulations and industry consensus standards like NFPA 70E®, Standard for Electrical Safety in The Workplace.
Training for Qualified Electrical Workers
Qualified electrical workers do not possess a special immunity to electric shock or an asbestos-type skin to protect against arc flash or greater external and internal resistance to prevent deadly current from flowing through our bodies. To be a qualified electrical worker means the individual must not only be trained and knowledgeable of the equipment or a specific work method, but they must also be able to demonstrate those skills to avoid or eliminate those hazards.
Electrical workers are qualified based solely on their knowledge of the hazard derived from the quality of the training they received. Consequently, if their training is lacking or consists of poor-quality instruction, then their knowledge will be proportionally subpar at best.
Refer to OSHA 29CFR1910.333 and NFPA 70E article 110.6 for more information about training requirements for qualified workers.
Training Requirements for Unqualified Workers
But what about those numbers of workers killed who didn’t have an electrical job title? As mentioned earlier, over two-thirds of all workplace deaths from electricity affected persons whose exposure to electrical energy is incidental to other work activities with job titles, such as laborers, tree trimmers, HVAC technicians, painters, roofers and even truck drivers. Additionally, all of these victims would also be classified as “unqualified electrical workers.”
If the number of deaths of qualified electrical workers is concerning, then the fatality rate for unqualified electrical workers must be elevated to the level of alarming!
How many readers are aware that both OSHA and NFPA 70E have mandatory requirements for electrical safety training of unqualified workers?
OSHA 1910.332(b)(2) and NFPA 70E article 110.6(A)(2) requires additional electrical safety training of unqualified workers so they are familiar with any electrically related safety practices which are necessary for their safety. This means everyone in the workplace must receive some level of electrical safety training; however, the training requirement is incumbent on the key words “which are necessary for their safety.”
For example, the line operator in a production factory will certainly need instructions for the correct use of extension cords and GFCIs and for the equipment he’s operating with but probably won’t need training on overhead electric line safety if his work activities never expose him to it. A commercial painter, on the other hand, will also need the same training for extension cords and GFCIs, but if he uses elevating platforms to facilitate outdoor painting activities, then additional training of overhead line hazards would be mandatory.
It boils down to this: “If the unqualified worker has an electrical hazard exposure, then they must be trained so they will be familiar with the hazard.”
* Electrical Safety Foundation International “Electrical Fatalities in the Workplace: 2011 – 2021”
** The BLS draws workplace data from a wider source, whereas OSHA data is limited to only those industries and employers under its jurisdiction