Did you know that electrical workers are still one of the most dangerous jobs in Australia? The fatality rate is 2.0 per 100,000, which doesn’t sound like much, but that’s only counting fatalities, not serious, crippling, or long-term injuries.
This is why it is important to have a robust Safe Work Method Statement template (SWMS), and fill it out in full before each work task that involves electrical risk – of which there are many different variations.
What is an electrical risk?
There are three major causes of electrical risk. These are by no means a final list (and if there are unusual risks you are also required to note those in the SWMS), but many work sites across Australia will feature one of these:
1) When there’s the potential for contact with exposed live parts, which can cause electric shock and burns. This applies to any environment where there are exposed leads, or electrical equipment coming into contact with metal surfaces – including metal flooring or roofs.
2) When there are faults that could cause fires – basically, any environment in which electricity is involved and there are also flammable materials around.
3) When the environment has the potential to be explosive. This means that the electricity could be the source of ignition and rapid creation of flame – think arc flash.
Additionally, there are two particular environmental conditions where electricity poses a heightened risk:
1) When outdoors, and particularly in wet environments. Wherever there’s the potential for equipment or wiring to get wet, there is heightened risks of damage.
2) When in cramped spaces with earthed metalwork. In those environments, if an electrical shock occurs it might be difficult to avoid electrical shock.
How can I avoid these risks?
As noted above, the SWMS is a critical document in protecting people on the worksite, as it will list out all the areas of electrical risk, and the best practice steps to mitigate against those risks. As long as the entire worksite is motivated behind complying with the SWMS, the risk on-site will be minimised.
Some of the other important steps in mitigating risk on-site include:
1. Assume everything is ‘live’
Always treat every conductor and equipment as live.
Try never to touch any conductor at any time. You can practice this even when you are stripping cables ends. Use pliers rather than your fingers to strip and twist cable.
Always assume metallic covers such as for switchboards and light fittings are ‘live’ before you touch them.
2. Separate yourself from earth
Before you start any electrical work, check your surroundings and equipment. Voltages between phases and earth (including metalwork, damp situations, other conductive surfaces and persons nearby) is just one of the many sources of electric shock.
Always ensure you are not contributing to a pathway for electrical current. Use insulated barriers or mats, sparky safe boots, insulated tools, fiberglass ladders and look for loose cable connections. If separation from earth is impossible then ensure a safety observer/rescuer is present.
3. Always test for dead
Remember, testing for dead is considered ‘energised work’. So, don’t give it lip service. All electrical conductors and parts, including neutral and earthing conductors, should be treated as energised until proven de-energised.
Always follow correct testing and isolation procedures and techniques. Work should not be carried out on or near de-energised exposed conductors and parts until an electrical worker has:
a. Positively identified the relevant electrical equipment and conductors, all of their energy sources and the isolation points.
b. Isolated electrical equipment and conductors from all energy sources.
c. Secured the isolation.
d. Discharged, where necessary, any stored energy. e.g. capacitors.
e. Proved the de-energisation of all relevant electrical equipment and conductors.
f. Identified the limits of the safe area of work.
Refer to AS/NZS 3012:2011 Safe working on or near low-voltage electrical installations and equipment.
4. Verify your test your equipment
When voltage testers are used to prove de-energisation, they should be tested for correct operation immediately before use, and again immediately after use, particularly if the test result indicates zero voltage, to confirm that the instrument is still working correctly.
5. Always use insulated tools and equipment
Always hold the insulated parts of pliers and screwdrivers – never touch the uninsulated part of the tool. Inspect your tools regularly and if there is any doubt that their insulation might not be adequate, replace them.
6. Use your gloves
Whenever testing or fault finding, use your insulated gloves. Gloves complying with AS 2225 or an equivalent Standard and insulated to the highest potential voltage expected for the work being undertaken, and air tested each time prior to use.
7. Get the right gear
Electrical work can be unpredictable. You never know how far upstream a circuit a fault will take you. Before you know it, you could be working on equipment with enough short circuit potential to blow more than just your socks off.
Any work on or near low-voltage energised conductors requires Arc Rated clothing as a minimum. Poly-synthetics or even cotton has the potential to catch on fire after an arc event and continue to burn long after the incident increasing the severity and the depth of burns Arc Rated Clothing could literally be the difference between life and death.
Always wear safety glasses near electrical equipment and also use an arc rated face shield with a chin cup for higher current equipment.
8. Leave your watch and jewellery at home
Never put fashion before safety. Bracelets, rings, neck chains, exposed metal zips, watches and other conductive items should not be worn while working on or near exposed energised conductors or live conductive parts. Not only because they are conductive, but they can also get caught in equipment. If worn, earplugs or earmuffs should not be conductive.
9. Be aware when working in small spaces
Care should be taken when working in areas of reduced mobility because of restriction of movement and the inability to readily escape from the area.
Examples of areas of reduced mobility include:
– Restricted areas in and around switchboards
– Ceiling and roof spaces
– Spaces under floors
– Ladders, scaffolds or elevated work platforms
– Pits or tunnels
– Confined spaces
In 2015, five electrical workers died in a roof space from electrocution in Australia. Small spaces and reduced mobility is a killer. When working on or around live conductors and equipment in small spaces, always have a safety observer/rescuer present with a rescue kit nearby.
10. Strip, twist and tape every time
When roughing in, always ensure cable ends are stripped, twisted and taped. This is to ensure that when completing a final test, if something is not fitted off, the test will fail.
11. Always check for compliance
If a product does not meet Australian Standards, you should not be installing it. Always purchase or install products from reputable wholesalers and reputable manufacturers. Look for the RCM tick or other appropriate approved marking. If in doubt, contact the manufacturer to obtain a compliance certificate or the regulator in your state/territory.
12. Follow the instructions
AS/NZS3000 clause 1.7.1 (c) states electrical equipment shall be installed in accordance with the requirements of this Standard and the additional requirements as specified in the manufacturer’s instructions.
Throughout the AS/NZS3000: 2018 Wiring Rules there are references to manufacturer’s instructions including many clauses that highlight the requirement that equipment being installed complies with manufacturer requirements.
13. Check your work
All electrical work must be verified and a certificate of electrical compliance or safety is completed. This is your guarantee that the any work is compliant and your reputation remains in check.
If in doubt, don’t do it. When it comes to electrical work, there are never any risks worth taking.
It is all too common for electrical contractors to be asked to work under potentially dangerous conditions. Disruptions cost money, but they don’t cost lives. Never put financial gain ahead of safety. Your survival may depend on it.
Finally, consult with the experts. The team at NECA is here to assist you with your workplace safety. Our team has the experts, experience and resources to help guide you with any questions you might have. Contact us today!