Electrical safety is vital for those that work in the field.

Which voltages are safe for work? With many electrical incidents, current is the critical factor that determines safety, with Ohm’s Law (V=IR) deciding the outcome. Individuals have been electrocuted at voltages of 110 volts AC and 42 volts DC, while currents nearing 100mA through the heart can cause ventricular fibrillation, which can result in death.

According to OSHA, electrocution is considered one of the “Fatal Four” causes of death in the workplace. There are, on average, 800 electrical workplace deaths annually.

Electricians and electrical engineers are typically well versed on the “Dos and Don’ts” of electrical systems, but mechanical engineers, maintenance personnel, managers and salesmen are also highly likely to encounter electrical systems and may not have had as extensive training.

Here are some electrical safety tips for engineers and personnel. Please note, if you are unsure of an electrical environment, always seek a knowledgeable person to assist you.

Do not make assumptions.

Mistakes happen, and systems can be wired incorrectly or mislabeled improperly. External factors such as bad line power, bad grounds or other electrical loads can also reflect back to the current system.

Assess your environment.

Moisture is dangerous when it comes into contact with electrical systems, and spills or condensation are immediate red flags. Other things to observe include panel location, dangling or messy wires and the location of safety and shut-off devices. (Also read, Recalibrating Safety Training: 4 Steps to a Safer Jobsite for additional information.)

Electrician's gloved hands - electrical engineers test electrical wires

Work unpowered.

While this is not always possible or practical, it is the best way to mitigate risk.

Watch for:

  • Power storage devices such as capacitors, drives, power supplies and batteries. These can hold a dangerous charge even after main power has been removed.
  • Illegal bypass of safety devices. Often, service persons will bypass the power circuit to troubleshoot a panel while open. This may mean overcoming the disconnect or shorting-out shutoff devices.
  • Lighting and logic circuits may not always be designed to shut off with the rest of the system.

Do not work alone. 

When servicing a machine, most plants require an electrician who knows the system or someone who can respond to the electrical incident to be present.

Wear proper safety equipment.

Safety equipment can range from full electrical suiting to properly insulated tools. Always use recommended safety equipment and check for holes in electrical suits or gloves. Likewise, be sure to use insulated tools without chips or scratches in insulation. Additionally, use surge protectors or electrical tools with proper safety shut-offs. It is also crucial to have a reliable multimeter. Keep in mind that a $10 unit battery checker may not have the proper fusing to protect you from high-current systems.

Use proper machine equipment.

When building or servicing a panel, adhere to the following equipment recommendations:

  • Always use recommended gauge wire and proper sized fuses or breakers, not just what is commonly stocked.
  • Do not install excess wires in a single terminal block connection.
  • Use certified components and check ratings. Improperly tested or underrated components can be key failure points.
  • Set proper device parameters, such as limiting a servo drive’s output current to not exceed a motor’s rated current.

Leave your workspace safe.

If you are leaving your workspace for any amount of time, make sure it is safe for another person to come service the machine. A LOTO (lock-out-tag-out) may be required in many plants. You should also properly terminate wires and remove bypass of safety devices.

If you are working near, on or selling electrical components, please take the time to familiarize yourself with your specific systems, taking the time to always read manuals. Never assume that any system is safe.

To learn more about workplace safety and electrical standards, visit OSHA’s website today.