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August 22, 2014
Workers who know their electrical safety basics are less likely to be shocked

Would you be shocked to learn that most of the workers injured by electricity are not electricians? They’re more likely to be people who weren’t supposed to encounter an exposed live circuit—people like janitors, mechanics, and painters, whose contact with electricity is unexpected and deadly. Protect these workers by making sure they understand the hazards they may be exposed to and how to stay safe.

Background on electrical safety

Who needs to be trained? All workers need to understand basic electrical safety practices and rules. They need to know how to identify electrical hazards and keep clear of them.

Why train workers in electrical safety? Although qualified electrical workers who work with exposed live parts might be at higher risk of arc flashes, workers who aren’t qualified electricians are also at risk of electrical injury.

Basics of electrical safety

Instructions to Trainer: This session covers some common situations in which nonelectricians may encounter electrical hazards. It does not cover overhead power lines; if your workers are potentially exposed to overhead power line hazards, you will need to cover that separately.

You’re not electricians, so you may not give much thought to electrical hazards. But nonelectricians face serious electrical risks, too. Nonelectricians are exposed to hazards like:

  • Electric shock. An electric shock may not kill you directly, but even a minor shock can knock you off a ladder or throw you backwards into a piece of moving machinery.
  • Electrical burns. Electricity can cause skin burns or internal burns, depending on the path the electricity takes.
  • Electrocution. Electrical current can be strong enough to kill.
  • Fires and explosions. Overloaded circuits can heat up, causing fires, and electrical sparks in the presence of flammable vapors or dusts can cause explosions.

Let’s talk about the kinds of situations that can put you at risk and how you can keep yourself and your coworkers safe.

Moisture. Moisture provides a conductive path for electricity, and it can get into almost anything, even a double-insulated tool. It can also damage electrical equipment, causing ground faults and corrosion. Be careful in:

  • Damp environments;
  • Very hot, high-humidity environments where you are constantly damp with sweat; and
  • Water, including irrigation systems, fountains, floodwater, and rainy conditions.

Be safe! To protect yourself in wet or damp conditions:

  • Use ground fault interruptors (GFIs). GFIs shut down your equipment if electricity is leaking from the insulated circuit. Make sure to test your GFI every time you use it.
  • Inspect your equipment. Never use equipment with damaged cords or insulation in a wet environment.
  • Don’t stand in water. Never operate any electrical equipment while standing in water.
  • Insulate yourself. Wear insulating rubber boots or shoes, and make sure your hands stay dry.

Workers should recognize that a cord or plug that heats up during use indicates an overload and is a fire hazard. They need a larger cord, or the equipment needs repair.

Openings in electrical panel boxes, enclosures, and fittings. An uncovered opening exposes live parts within the box, creating a shock, electrocution, and arc blast hazard.

Be safe! If you see the following uncovered openings or exposed live parts, take the right precautions:

  • Open panel boxes. Close the cover if you see a circuit breaker box, fuse box, or electrical panel box left open.
  • Empty sockets. Cover empty sockets in a fuse box or breaker box.
  • Missing faceplates. Missing faceplates on electrical outlets and switches expose live parts inside. A simple plastic faceplate is all it takes to fix this hazard.

Obstructed panel boxes. You should have at least 36 inches of clear space in front of electrical panel boxes at all times; higher voltage panel boxes require more space. You must not use the space in front of an electrical panel box for storage. Storing material in this area creates fire, shock, and arc blast hazards.

Be safe! The required clear space in front of a panel box should be clearly marked--make sure nothing is in that space. If electrical equipment is in its own room, the room itself must not be used for storage. Also, nothing should ever be placed on top of a panel box.


Electrical safety is everyone’s responsibility. Make sure you can recognize unsafe situations, and don’t leave them uncorrected.

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