In the modern world, we are exposed to more technology in the workplace than ever before, and technology means electricity. The amazing application of electricity in our daily lives is something that most of us take for granted, and while it is important to acknowledge the power and benefits of electrical equipment, we should never forget the constant risks that are posed by all things electrical. Perhaps what makes electricity so dangerous is that it is invisible and therefore easy to dismiss.
However, in the UK alone during 2010/11, it is not easy to dismiss the estimated 350,00 people who suffered some form of major injury due to electric shocks (at home and work), including 28 fatalities, according to Electrical Safety First. The health risks of electrical accidents include minor and major burns, heartbeat disturbance, persistent numbness and/or pain, temporary loss of sight, breathing difficulties, loss of muscle control (potentially leading to falls), and more. Electrical faults are also one of the top causes of fires and explosions in work environments.
With that in mind, here are ten tips to help prevent electrical problems and related injuries in the workplace:
(1) Maintain safety policies and trained staff
Draw up a list of key safety procedures and assign trained members of staff to regularly carry out inspections and visual checks on electrical equipment, to assess potential electrical hazards, and to apply the agreed safety procedures. Preventative and proactive measures are always preferable to being reactive.
(2) Pay attention to the location of electrical equipment
Ensure that electrical products are not used in wet, damp, or dusty areas. Also, all electronics should be kept away from the possibility of liquid spills (eg, drinks).
(3) Check the placement of electrical cords
Try to avoid any situation where electrical cords are placed across corridors, walkways, or doors/points of access. If there is no other choice, ensure that the cords are safely held in place by industrial tape for that specific purpose. Keep electrical cords away from sharp objects, such as nails or hooks, and heat sources, such as radiators or space heaters (see no. 4).
(4) Be wary of portable space heaters
These portable units are particularly hazardous when used in enclosed areas, such as under desks, where they can cause melting or even fires. Keep these units in open spaces and away from other electrical equipment.
(5) Don’t overload extension cords or adapters
Avoid any situation where it is necessary to plug one extension cord into another, to “piggyback” multiple adaptors. This can cause overloading and overheating, leading to electrical fires. Instead, look to install additional mains points to counter these problems.
(6) Use qualified professionals for repairs and installations
Ensure that any electrical repairs, installations, and wiring are carried out by recognized and qualified electricians. Check that the electrical supply for the relevant area is isolated before any work is performed.
(7) Power down
When finished with electrical equipment for an extended period of time, particularly at the end of a work day, be certain to switch off and power down. When removing plugs from a power point, pull from the plug head, not from the cord. Also, make certain that “live equipment” is disconnected before cleaning, moving, or adjusting.
(8) Be aware of your surroundings
Make sure that all staff know where to locate breakers and fuse boxes in case of an electrical emergency. Ensure that access to these points is not blocked.
(9) Use RCDs
RCDs (Residual Current Devices) can help to detect faults in electrical systems and to stop the power supply in case of a problem. If an RCD trips, be sure to check for the cause of the problem, and fix it, before using that system again. Be aware that RCDs will not necessarily detect all faults; they should be used in conjunction with other electrical safety measures to provide the best chance of incident prevention.
(10) Ensure regular user checks
Although it is highly recommended to have trained members of staff to perform regular checks on electrical equipment, all users of such equipment should be encouraged to perform basic checks themselves. Issues to look out for include: damage to cords, power points, or plug pins and covers; indications of overheating, such as staining or burn marks near to cords and plugs; exposure of wires; and ill-fitting plugs.
This advice should provide a solid foundation in ensuring the safe use of electrical equipment in the workplace. However, it is important to guard against complacency and every work environment should regularly assess its safety measures, as well as provide ongoing practical training for its staff. Being aware of the risks of electricity in advance and knowing how to prevent its hazards are essential in negating the need for reactive measures. We may take the benefits of electricity for granted, but we should never underestimate the need for protecting against its dangers.
W Burns (Electrical) & Sons Ltd is an established electrician in Sheffield, South Yorkshire specialising in both domestic and commercial services.