There are three major hazards of electricity: electrical shock, electrical arc-flash, and electrical arc-blast. These electrical hazards in the workplace pose a significant risk of injury or death to any employee who may be in the vicinity of electrical equipment when energized parts are exposed or when a failure occurs. The principal legal requirements for electrical safety in the United States are developed and issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) of the U.S. Department of Labor. The OSHA Act was signed into law on December 29, 1970, with the first electrical safety standard becoming Final Rule on January 16, 1981. OSHA has provided the industry with several performance-oriented regulations that address the minimum requirements for safe work practices that are necessary to protect employees from these hazards. These regulations include:
Design Safety Standards for Electrical Systems
Electrical Safety-Related Work Practices
Control of Hazardous Energy Source (Lockout/Tagout)
Electrical Power Generation, Transmission, and Distribution
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Permit-Required Confined Spaces
This paper will address electrical hazards along with these OSHA regulations, as well as a corresponding consensus standard, published by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), NFPA 70E, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace, that reinforces the OSHA requirements. Additional regulations concerning energy control (lockout/tagout) and confined space work that apply to electrical safety are also addressed in this paper. Compliance with these regulations and standards is intended to protect employees who work on or near exposed energized and deenergized parts of electric equipment by providing the requirements for various hazards analysis and safe work practice procedures, as well as the required personal protective equipment. Compliance will also help reduce the number of electrical accidents that result from the use of unsafe work practices and equipment by employees.
Statistics show that several hundred deaths occur annually as a result of electrical shock. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) statistics show that electrical contact results in 4,000 non-disabling and 3,600 disabling injuries annually, plus ONE death in the workplace every day in the United States alone. Other studies show that 10–15 employees are hospitalized every day with electrical arc-flash related burns.
Electricity is no respecter of persons; it will injure or kill a contractor, custodian, manager, or office worker just as fast as it will injure or kill an electrician. The laws of physics for electricity apply to everyone. Some employees have a higher risk because they work with electricity directly as part of their everyday jobs, while others work with it indirectly, primarily by the use of cord- and plug-connected equipment and portable tools, but they also face risks from electrical hazards.
Surprisingly, over half of those killed in electrical accidents are not in traditional electrical fields but are from fields such as contractors, outside service personnel, painters, laborers, and drivers.