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November 12, 2015
Electricity: What you don't know can kill you

Workplaces without electricity are virtually nonexistent. And whether it's outlets or overhead power lines, it's important for employees to have a basic understanding of electricity and the risks it poses. Misinformation can prove fatal.

The following are some myths your employees may hold about electricity that you should set them straight on ASAP:

1. Wood doesn't conduct electricity. This one isn't actually a myth — wood is, in fact, nonconductive. However, water does conduct electricity, and wood that is wet or damp can still pose a risk.

2. Rubber in boots, gloves, and tires will protect against electrical shock. This is only true to a point. Where high voltages are involved, such as those found in power lines, reliance on this myth can lead to serious injury or death.

Regular boots and gloves will not protect against the amount of power found in a typical electrical power line. And where tires are concerned, not only do they not protect against the risk of electrical shock, some tires actually conduct electricity (for example, those made with carbon-based rubber, steel belts, and reinforcements).

3. Only high voltage kills. Even low voltages, like those found in a household or an office setting, can kill given the right circumstances. Because human bodies are 70 percent water, they conduct electricity very well. Low-voltage electricity received as a sustained electric shock or at the wrong point during a heart rhythm can cause death or disability.

4. As long as a metal ladder or other conductive object isn't touching an electrical line, it's safe. Electrical arcing can occur if a conductive object, like a metal ladder, comes near a power line — even if it doesn't actually touch the line. If a conductive object is going to be used where power lines are present, proper distances from lines must be maintained in order to ensure electrical arcing doesn't occur.

5. The third prong can be removed from a plug. The third prong of a plug should never be removed — it's a grounding prong designed to reduce the risk of shock or electrocution.

6. A downed electrical line is a dead electrical line: A downed power line should never be considered dead; even if it's momentarily dead, it can re-energize at any time. Also, employees should be instructed to maintain a safe distance from downed power lines. Soil, especially wet soil, can conduct electricity, creating a shock hazard to anyone approaching the line.

Electricity is everywhere, and we take it for granted. But not treating electricity with the respect it deserves can result in serious injuries and fatalities in the workplace.

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