The Risk of Working Energized (and an Opportunity to Give)

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The Risk of Working Energized (and an Opportunity to Give)

Electrically Energized Work: Weigh the Risks

For the past 16 years (founded in 2004), e-Hazard has existed with one big goal – to stop electrical injuries in the workplace. In all our classes, our instructors cover shock prevention, arc flash safety, and methods of protection from other electrical hazards, like blast, falls after a shock, etc. We and other companies that focus on electrical safety have this same goal in common. 

Then you read a news story like this one:  Two Men Rushed to Burn Units (Cherokee County, GA)

Although there are no official results from the investigation yet, the known facts are very tough. We have two workers in different burn centers, with burns at least 2nd and 3rd degrees, covering a large percentage of the bodies of both victims. Their recoveries will likely take months, not weeks, and the process of recovery is too difficult to accurately put into words.  My thoughts and prayers go out for both families as they go through some tough months ahead. 

Basics of Electrical Safety

Let’s look again at the basics of electrical safety. Throughout OSHA and NFPA 70E®, a key point in any electrical job is de-energization, along with lockout/tagout and an approved form of verification. This verification can change, depending on the voltage in question. In the United States, levels above 600 volts AC allow for a listed proximity detector to perform live-dead-live prior to installing grounds. In the lower voltages, a meter or tester is required to test all phases phase-to-phase and phase-to-ground, including the required live-dead-live check. 

If you are unsure of what a live-dead-live check is, here is a quick definition: it is verifying that a meter/tester/proximity detector works both before and after testing for absence of voltage on an electrical system. This is a key step in the creation of an electrically-safe work zone, and, again, these critical steps are required both by OSHA and NFPA 70E®. 

The requirements of live-dead-live and an approved method of lockout/tagout can be found at the following links on OSHA websites: 

For all electrical supplies, excluding electrical utilities (1910.333)

For electrical utilities: Section D on the following website (1910.269)

Electrically Safe Work Condition

Similar guidance is found in NFPA 70E®, in Article 120, titled Establishing an Electrically Safe Work Condition. The live-dead-live requirement is mentioned in 120.5(7) of the 2021 edition. Note that ANYTHING shy of creating an electrically-safe work condition often results in horrible situations like the one mentioned in this article. 

The question we as electrical professionals must ask ourselves is this: is the task I am about to perform worth my life? Is this task worth the mental anguish my spouse and/or children will suffer? If the answer is, “No,” then it is time to do what we teach in our classes – take 5 steps back, look around the jobsite for 5 minutes, and find 5 things on that site trying to hurt or even kill you. If those things have not been mitigated by some approved method, then it is time to STOP THAT JOB! 

I’ve seen too many lives ruined or lost, families destroyed, and co-workers suffer mental anguish to keep silent. As a firefighter and medic with over eighteen years in the field, let me be crystal clear – the RISK of injury is not something you gamble with. I hope you never see a burn victim, a serious car accident, or a severed limb. But every time I have, it has served as a serious reminder to STOP TAKING UNDUE RISKS. 

I could go on but suffice it to say please be careful, and do not let anything put you in a situation that could result in what these two families are now experiencing. 

NFPA 70E® Appendix Q

NFPA 70E® 2021 edition has a fantastic appendix, Appendix Q, to address the situations that we as humans can easily get ourselves into. These include stress, habits, assumptions, complacency, overconfidence, errant mindsets, inaccurate risk perceptions, shortcuts, and limited short term memory. 

(See Table Q.5 for an exhaustive list and human performance tools to combat these human nature elements).  

Lifelong Advice

My first employer after my stint in the U.S. Navy made a statement once that has stuck with me for over thirty years: “When you come to work, your goal is to go home as good or better than when you came in – NEVER WORSE!” That has been my motto ever since. I hope it, or something like it, becomes yours. 

Author's Note

If you care to donate to these precious families of the injured workers in the news story above, please see the links below. The costs of travel expenses, loss of income, and health care quickly mushroom. I am sure they would appreciate any assistance that you are willing to give. 


Ken Sellars

Ken Sellars is an instructor of electrical safety, NEC, Grounding/Bonding and Arc Flash Safety courses nationwide. Read more about Ken.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. GTCole

    Thanks for sharing this information Ken and like you it bothers me greatly when workers are killed or seriously injured from an electrical incident. Obviously like you, I have no details about the event you’ve shared but the rules of probably indicates there’s a good chance mistakes were made, or shortcuts taken. Since the bulk of fatalities and serious injuries from electrical accidents are caused by “Human Errors”, the odds are pretty high.

    The HU error precursors of overconfidence, complacency, mind-set, assumptions and inaccurate risk perceptions are often the culprits behind most of the electrical workers killed or maimed. And personally, I believe for those who are highly trained, very experienced, well respected for their technical skills, overconfidence and complacency are the two primary killers.

    Informative Annex Q from 70E is a great resource to help manage human performance errors.

    We can’t change the past, but we should learn from them with the goal of not repeating them. In the nuclear power industry, we call this Operating Experience, “OE” for short.

    We may never know all the details that lead to the accident in GA, but chances of survival for the worker who suffered burns “on 100% of his body” is slim at best. We will certainly pray for the two workers. But in the meantime, let’s never forget electrical work is dangerous but we can minimize the risk and even eliminate the electrical hazards by placing the equipment into an Electrically Safe Work Condition.

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