Facility Safety

Shock and Burn

Electrical safety demands compliance and more

August 2, 2011
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 The Bureau of Labor Statistics recorded more than 18,000 injuries involving electrical shock or electrical burn between 2003 and 2009, and 1,573 electrical fatalities. Other sources suggest these numbers could be even higher, including an oft-cited estimate that each day there are five to 10 arc flash incidents alone in the U.S.

 With a high risk of severe injury or fatality, such accidents can result in medical costs, fines and insurance increases that add up to millions of dollars, significant time away from work, and incalculable damage to employee morale and productivity, company reputation, and market position. The first step in protecting your employees and your company from the devastating consequences of electrical accidents is compliance with both mandated standards and codified best practices such as OSHA 1910.269, NFPA 70, NFPA 70E and the IEEE’s National Electric Safety Code (NESC).

Specifics vary depending on industry and task, but the fundamentals covered by these standards include:

Clearly defined electrical safety program

A written document should cover all electrical safety policies and responsibilities.

Electrical hazard analysis

A complete electrical system engineering study is required to determine, among other things, the Hazard/Risk Category of personal protective equipment (PPE) that an employee must wear.

Safety training

OSHA requires documented training for every employee who performs work on electrical equipment.

PPE and protective clothing

Employees working in areas with potential electrical hazards must be provided with adequate protective equipment and/or clothing.

Proper tools

Employers must furnish the tools needed for safe electrical work, such as insulated voltage-rated hand tools and voltage sensing devices.

Warning labels on equipment

In some cases required by law, visible labels on electrical equipment with PPE Hazard/Risk Category, incident energy, boundary distances and other data reinforce safety awareness and help mitigate liability claims.

Electrical safety program manager

Given the unique issues and risks, it is valuable to designate an experienced individual to oversee electrical safety, and keep the company up to date on electrical code requirements and best practices. 

Maintenance of electrical distribution system components

Over-current protective devices (OCPDs) such as fuses, circuit breakers and protective relays, if properly adjusted and maintained, can detect an arcing condition almost instantaneously and clear the fault quickly. Old components that have not been well-maintained result in a slower reaction and elevated safety hazard. A requirement to maintain electrical distribution equipment was added to NFPA 70E in 2009.

Up-to-date electrical distribution documentation

The electrical one-line diagram (essential when performing lock out/tag out), short circuit and coordination studies, and other critical documents should be updated whenever system components change. Good documentation management supports accurate, efficient hazard analysis, and helps mitigate liability if an accident occurs.

 

Complying with standards in the areas above gives your electrical safety program a strong skeleton. But to put some muscle on that skeleton and further reduce the risk and severity of electrical accidents, you need to shift your organization’s focus from compliance to continuous improvement. Everything impacting electrical safety is worth examining to see if it can be improved, but to achieve sustainable improvements, two areas are especially critical: training and safety workflow.

 “Full-Power” training & the blended approach

Seeing safety training as a “cost center” whose main purpose is compliance is a self-fulfilling prophecy — since you’re not looking for ways that it could deliver more value, it won’t. But leading companies are showing that training can deliver bottom-line benefits — from reduced incident-related costs to improvements in productivity, quality, and brand value. Plus, while everyone trains to the same compliance standards, safety training and performance beyond that point is proving to be a competitive advantage in attracting and retaining top employees, winning premium contracts, and more.

To tap the full power of training, many companies are also turning to cost-effective technology-driven solutions — from on-demand courses introducing lockout/tagout procedures to enterprise-wide systems that integrate safety, training, incident management, and more.

Regulations and common sense dictate that some electrical safety training can’t be done by computer. But using computer-based training where appropriate has many advantages — 24/7 accessibility, consistency, engaging, interactive learning, lower total costs, automated tracking and reporting — while giving staff more time to focus on tasks a computer can’t do. A blended approach that balances computer-based, hands-on, and other instructor-led training is the ideal — and the more comprehensive safety training solutions on the market make it easy to manage all training on one centralized system.

 Proactive safety workflow

A second key to getting more out of your safety training investment is to adopt a more proactive safety workflow that strives to identify and correct deficiencies before they become incidents. Below is a simple depiction of a proactive workflow that makes a dramatic impact on safety performance for companies that follow it.

 At the top of this workflow, Observations start with encouraging early reporting of near misses, but should evolve to include regular observations from everyone. More people observing gives safety and risk management professionals real-time information to Analyze and Prioritize for improvement opportunities.

Employing Causal Analysis to identify the root factors behind observations then provides a solid basis for Corrective Action.

Tracking these actions through completion, you can then add Focused Inspections to check progress and, beyond that, Measure and Report Culture Change.

The high degree of participation and visibility in this workflow greatly strengthens the overall safety culture — encouraging workers to “do the right thing” because safety is expected and valued, not just because of regulations or threats of punishment.

The success of this model depends on collecting and analyzing data, and feeding it into processes and systems to drive continuous improvement. Here again technology can be a tremendous ally. New web-based systems designed specifically for safety and related functions leverage the capacity of computers to collect, sort and organize data, while simplifying task management across the entire employee lifecycle: early detection, incident prevention, corrective actions, injury and case management, return to work. Some offer other innovative features to support a proactive approach, such as a newsfeed-style dashboard that allows employees to report unsafe conditions and near misses with just a few keystrokes.

A proactive, continuous improvement approach has been employed for decades in manufacturing and other business functions. When you consider the high price of electrical accidents, including potential loss of life, it is not hard to see why leading companies began applying a similar approach to safety and risk management. As technology has evolved to better support that approach, the added bonus is that “continuous improvements” in safety are also yielding measurable improvements in overall business performance.

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