The Most Common Electrical Accidents in the Workplace - And How to Avoid Them
Every year, the HSE receives around 1000 reports of accidents involving electrical burns or shocks. 30% of these accidents lead to fatal injuries, and many are a result of human error.
Electricity can cause painful muscle spasms, which can dislocate joints and even break bones. Contact with electricity may also result in skin burns, cardiac arrhythmias, damage to internal organs or respiratory arrest.
Fortunately, the majority of electrical accidents can be avoided. With this blog post, we aim to raise awareness of the dangers of electricity and explain how to combat them.
Three Primary Hazards
Electricity is typically associated with three distinct hazards:
Electric burns and shocks
Electric burns and shocks occur when a living organism comes into contact with a source of voltage. Electrical currents can block electrical signals between the brain and the muscles, inhibiting normal respiratory function, causing muscle spasms and stopping the heart from beating. The severity of an electrical shock is dependent on the type of tissue, type of current and how long contact with the source of voltage is sustained. Moisture on the skin can also impact severity.
Electrical burns occur when an electrical current passes through the body, which heats tissue along the length and width of the current flow. Burns are usually more common when the voltage is high.
Faulty electrical outlets and worn-out sockets are often responsible for electrical fires. When sockets and outlets begin to deteriorate over time, the wiring behind them loosens and eventually breaks, meaning that the socket is no longer properly grounded. Unrestricted or careless use of extension cords may also cause an electrical fire. Numerous appliances plugged into a single extension cord may create an excessive power load. “Kinked” or worn extension cords also present problems.
Arc flash and electrical explosions
Arc flashes, also known as flashovers, are types of electrical explosions and can be extremely dangerous. The temperature at the source of an arc flash is very high, and may even reach 20 000°C. For context, this is around four times the temperature of the surface of the sun. An accidental short circuit in an electrical phase causes an arc flash, which may result from dust, worn connections, gaps in insulation, or corrosion.
How can I prevent electrical accidents?
Proper electrical installation and monitoring
Proper electrical installation is crucial when preventing electrical shocks and burns, electrical fires and arc flashes. Make sure to choose a licensed electrician with a good Trustpilot score and positive customer reviews. An electrician with experience in your industry is preferable.
Make sure to arrange for regular PAT testing on electrical equipment. Contractors working on your property must be aware of electrical systems and any relevant policies and procedures. Carry out work when electrical systems are dead where possible.
Make sure that your employees are using appropriate PPE (personal protective equipment) if working with electricity. Insulating gloves can help to prevent electric shocks and burns.
E-Learning programmes, particularly those highlighting health and safety in the workplace, should be implemented and monitored. Make sure every employee understands that they have a responsibility to protect themselves, and others, from electrical accidents. Emphasise the dangers of extension cords, which can deteriorate over time. Extension cords should never be run through walls or across doorways.
Complete risk assessments, and regularly review them
Make sure to complete risk assessments before undertaking any work involving electrical risks. Unfortunately, accidents and near-misses are sometimes unavoidable. Record and review these to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future. Communicate outcomes with all staff members.
Invest in an electrical enclosure
Electrical enclosures, which contain wiring, fibre optic devices, power supplies and other electrical components, can significantly improve electrical safety in a workplace. They prevent component corrosion and protect against moisture, humidity, high temperatures and dust, lengthening the lifespan of electrical equipment.