Most of us go to work every day assuming that at the end of the day we will be returning home safely. However, the facts are that 7,600 electrical contact injuries occur annually in the United States. Of these injuries, 3,600 of them leave the worker disabled, unable to continue their career in the same capacity or forcing them to leave their occupation. In addition to these injuries, one person dies from electrocution in the workplace every day. Historically, electrocutions are the fourth leading cause of workplace deaths. As startling as these Department of Labor statistics are, they do not tell the whole story. These statistics only represent the incidents that are required to be reported. They do not include the injuries that are not required to be reported and the near miss situations that occur every day. A near-miss would be classified as an electrical incident in which no one was injured and the electrical equipment was not damaged causing lost production.
Electrical safety affects the workplace in many ways. This includes legal, economic, and social issues. Legal aspects, for example, can be very costly to an employer. The electrical safety requirements mandated by OSHA are the employer's responsibility. The employer is ultimately responsible for a safe workplace. For example, if a contractor is performing work at a facility that is owned by someone else, OSHA assigns responsibilities to the facility's owner as well as tothe contractor. An unsafe workplace can be economically costly and time-consuming. Costsassociated with safety include incident investigation, maintaining files for legal purposes, increased insurance costs, medical costs, and litigation. Even though the number of electrical accidents is lower than other occupational injuries, the economic impact is dramatic.
The evolution of technology and awareness of electrical hazards is transforming electrical safety awareness and protective strategies in the workplace. Because electricity is an invisible hazard, many people minimize or ignore the hazards to workers. In fact, minimizing one's first electric shock on a job was considered a right of passage. In support of this culture, techniques were generated to minimize on-the-job hazards. The 1953 American Electricians Handbook provided specific guidelines on how to test for the presence of voltage.
The guideline reads: "Electricians often test circuits for the presence of voltage by touching theconductors with the fingers. This method is safe when the voltage does not exceed 250 volts and is often very convenient for locating a blown-out fuse or whether or not the circuit is alive. Somemen can endure the electric shock that results without discomfort whereas others cannot." Industry at that time considered this technique to be an acceptable work practice, one that was reinforced by a lack of research, technology, and prioritization for safety.