Managing Electrocution Risk on Job Sites

Electricity poses a serious workplace hazard, exposing workers to dangers such as electric shock and electrocution, as well as fires and explosions. According to OSHA, electrocution injuries alone accounted for 82 construction worker deaths in 2016, or 8.3% of the 991 fatalities caused by construction site hazards, making it one of the “Fatal Four” main causes of construction sector fatalities.

Electrocution can occur when a worker comes into contact with high-voltage power lines. To limit risk to workers, OSHA requires that jobsites clearly indicate overhead power lines and buried power lines, and post warning signs. Workers should be instructed to stay at least 10 feet away from overhead power lines, and to assume that lines are energized. If workers are operating equipment near power lines, the utility provider should be contacted to de-energize and ground the lines. Other protective measures required by OSHA include guarding or insulating the lines, and using non-conductive wood or fiberglass ladders when working near power lines. When temporary electric power is used on construction sites, ground-fault circuit interrupters should be employed.

In addition, OSHA guidelines advise using only equipment that meets its standards, and making sure that the equipment is operated appropriately, and is not altered or damaged. Workers should visually inspect all electrical equipment for cracks, frays, or exposed wires before use, and remove any defective equipment from service. Electrical equipment should never be operated in wet conditions, and a qualified electrician should inspect any electrical equipment exposed to moisture before it is re-energized.

OSHA also requires the implementation of lockout/tag-out procedures when equipment and circuits are not in use. Employees working in an area where energy control procedures are used must be instructed in the purpose and use of these procedures, and be prevented from re-energizing machines or other equipment until a qualified person has removed the lock/tag.

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