Your Guide to Electrocution Hazards Toolbox Talk

19 March 2021

Your Guide to Covering Electrocution Hazards in a Toolbox Talk

One of the deadliest hazards on a construction site is electrocution. Because injuries and fatalities are common, safety managers need to hold regular Toolbox Talks on this topic. 

Hosting regular talks on the deadliest hazards on a construction site, like falls, or struck-by incidents, can seriously boost the level of safety on your job site. In this article, we detail everything you should include in your next Electrocution Toolbox Talk.

“Temperatures have been recorded as high as 35,000 °F. High-voltage arcs can also produce considerable pressure waves by rapidly heating the air and creating a blast.” OSHA

We cover:

  • What is an electrocution hazard? 
  • What is BE SAFE
  • OSHA Electrocution hazard example
  • What are the top electrocution hazards in construction?
  • How workers can prevent themselves from electrocution hazards

What is an electrocution hazard? 

Electrocution, in this context, results when a worker is exposed to a lethal amount of electrical energy. 

An electrical hazard on a job site can cause:

  • Burns 
  • Electrocution  
  • Shock  
  • Arc Flash/Arc Blast  
  • Fire  
  • Explosions

B.E. S.A.F.E

How workers can remember electrocution safety on the job site according to OSHA

The term ‘BE SAFE’ is an easy way to spot and avoid electrical hazards.

These BE SAFE terms are defined as:

B for Burns: A burn is the most common shock-related injury. Burns from electricity are one of three types: Electrical, Arc/Flash, or Thermal Contact. 

E for Electrocution: Electrocution is fatal and results when a human is exposed to a lethal amount of electrical energy. 

S for Shock: Shock happens when the body becomes part of the electrical circuit; current enters the body at one point and leaves at another. 

A for Arc Flash/Blast: An arc flash is the sudden release of electrical energy through the air when a high-voltage gap exists, and there is a breakdown between conductors. An arc flash can cause burns. 

F for Fire: Problems with cords, plugs, receptacles, and switches can cause electrical fires. An arc flash can be spontaneous or result from inadvertently bridging electrical contacts with a conducting object. Other causes may include dropped tools or the buildup of conductive dust or corrosion.

E for Explosions: An explosion can occur when electricity ignites an explosive mixture of material in the air. 

OSHA Electrocution hazard example:

Two workers were moving an aluminum ladder. One of them was electrocuted when the ladder came in contact with overhead power lines. This simple oversight can lead to serious injury or even death.

Most common electrocution hazards:

The major types of electrocution hazards in construction include:

  • Contact with overhead power lines 
  • Contact with energized sources, like defective equipment, open sockets, or tools
  • Improper use of extension and flexible cords 

Overhead and Buried Power Lines

Overhead and buried power lines are dangerous because they transmit extremely high voltage. Deaths by electrocution are the main risk, but burns and falls from height are also hazardous workers while working on or nearby high voltage power lines.

Power lines are accessible not only by cranes but also ladders and suspended man-baskets directly under or nearby a power line also puts workers at risk of electrocution. 

Coverings on overhead power lines are mostly used for protection from weather conditions and not for protection from human touch. Remind workers that touching a powerline, regardless of whether it is covered or not, is deadly. 

Electrical Shock:

The top hazards surrounding contact with an energized source is the risk of an electrical shock or burn. Shock happens when the body becomes part of the electric circuit. 

The potential danger of an electrical shock depends on several circumstances, such as the pathway through the body, the amount of current, the length of the exposure, and whether the skin is wet or dry. Water is a great conductor of electricity, allowing current to flow more easily in wet conditions and through wet skin. 

How your body becomes a part of the electric current:

Your body becomes a part of the electric current when you come in contact with both wires of an electrical circuit, one wire of an energized circuit and the ground, or a metallic part that has become energized by contact with an electrical conductor. 

Electrical Burns

Electrical burns can be arc burns, thermal contact burns, or a combination of burns. 

Electrical burns are among the most serious burns and require immediate medical attention. They occur when an electric current flows through tissue or bone, generating heat that causes tissue damage. The body cannot dissipate the heat generated by current flowing through the tissue’s resistance; therefore, burns occur. 

How workers can prevent themselves from electrocution hazards:

Workers should:

  • Maintain a safe distance from overhead power lines 
  • Use ground-fault circuit interrupters or (GFCI) 
  • Inspect portable tools and extension cords 
  • Use power tools and equipment as designed 
  • Follow lockout/Tagout procedures 

Before work begins, be sure that the: 

  • Equipment/activity is located within a safe working distance from power lines 
  • Utility company has de-energized and visibly grounded the power lines or installed insulated sleeves on power lines 
  • Flagged warning lines have been installed to mark horizontal and vertical power line clearance distances
  •  Tools and materials used are non-conductive 

For Cranes and other high reaching equipment

  • Be sure the utility company has confirmed the voltage and, therefore, the power lines’ safe working distance.
  • If applicable and feasible, use an: observer, insulated link; boom cage guard; proximity device. 
  • If provided, Mobile heavy equipment use installed rider posts under power lines to avoid working too close to the power lines. 
  • For Ladders Use non-conductive ladders and be sure to retract them before moving. 
  • When considering Material storage, ensure that no materials are stored under power lines. 
  • Use caution tape and signs to guard off the area under power lines. 

For Excavations 

Locate and know what the local underground line locator service markings have marked before digging. Hand dig within three feet of cable location. Be aware that multiple underground cables can be buried in the area of locator markings

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Sonya Sikra

Sonya is the Brand Strategy Manager at GoContractor. She specializes in communicating how implementing tech in construction can drive productivity and profit.

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