January 2020
Safety

Electrical safety on the job-site: The shocking realities

Builders Mutual

Electrocution is among the top four construction insurance claims—and it’s the fourth leading cause of death for construction workers across the United States. Awareness of electrical hazards should be a constant focus of everyone on the job-site. Here, Sean Purcell, C-MESH, CBIA, risk management technical manager at Builders Mutual, addresses why electrical safety must be part of every company’s overall culture of safety.

 

The risks

Exposure to electrical hazards can lead to shock, burns, and fatal electrocution—and these dangers are not just for electricians on the job. In fact, all trades on the job-site are at risk, from framers and roofers to drywallers and plumbers. Site visitors, such as real estate agents and prospective homebuyers, can also become victims of electrical hazards when proper measures aren’t taken to keep these risks at bay.

 

Injuries caused by electrical current:

  • Cardiac arrest from electrical shock to the heart
  • Muscle, nerve, and tissue destruction
  • Electrical burns, external and internal (to heart, muscles, or brain) 

 

The reasons

Electricians and non-electricians alike make every effort to keep up with the project schedule. Unfortunately, sometimes this can lead to safety measures being compromised or overlooked—actions like having underground utilities marked or ensuring GFCIs are in place and are working.

Sometimes hazards are a matter-of-task experience. In other words, when someone’s been on the job for a long time, job familiarity can lead to a false sense of security. Even an experienced electrician may think, “Oh, I can change that outlet without checking to see if the power is still on. I’ve done it a hundred times.” But it takes just one untested outlet or unwrapped wire to destroy or end a life. 

 

Real-life cases

Here are two examples of incidents from the recent files of Builders Mutual—and both reveal the dangers of not staying focused on electrical safety. 

INCIDENT 1: A worker was taking down scaffolding and attempted to move a 20-foot pole made from multiple 2x4s. The beams were connected by a metal strip running between them for more rigidity. As the worker carried this unwieldy burden, the pole fell into the overhead powerlines leading into the house. The worker was unprotected, and the power came through the metal strip in the wood (which was also wet). The consequential electrocution and burns sadly resulted in a fatality. 

POINTS OF PREVENTION:

  1. Allocate enough help—and enable workers to ask for help—assembling and taking down scaffolding and moving cumbersome materials. 
  2. Have your local power company protect overhead powerlines with rubber matting. This step takes time and may cost money—but it can save lives. So plan ahead.
  3. Ensure workers get help and use a tag line so the pole can be controlled while being moved. 

 

INCIDENT 2: A utility contractor was putting in additional underground utility lines. Although the existing lines had been marked, rain had washed away the markings from the dirt. The contractor thought he knew where the lines were when he started digging with a shovel. Sadly, he hit a powerline, and the current went up through the shovel, killing him instantly.

POINTS OF PREVENTION:

  1. Don’t dig if you aren’t sure where the powerlines are. If no lines are marked, call the marking company and wait until all lines are located. 
  2. Do not presume you know where the lines are—even if you have blueprints. Plans change, so don’t take anything for granted. 

 

$70,000

average electrical incident claim cost (Builders Mutual) 

The remedy

Everyone—electrician or non-electrician—needs to stay informed about electrical safety. Numerous resources and training materials (in English and Spanish) can be found online, and you can download the electrical safety Toolbox Talk from Builders Mutual to get your team onboard. 

At Builders Mutual, we talk often about creating a culture of safety. When it comes to electrical hazards, here are some key points to share with workers to ensure everyone on the job-site stays protected against electrical hazards:

  • If you see something wrong, don’t ignore it! Tell your supervisor. Shift your thinking from “It’s not my problem” to “I am preventing potential disaster and keeping everyone safe.”
  • Be prepared. Know where the overhead wires are (and get them wrapped, if necessary), and be sure the underground wires are sufficiently marked.
  • When you’re working near electricity that should be shut off, use a tester—a simple, inexpensive, and quick measure to ensure safety.
  • If you’re not an electrician, don’t mess with electricity. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

Supervisors are integral to cultivating a culture of safety. Constantly emphasize that everyone on the job-site is accountable for everyone else—so each person must act to acknowledge problems. For electrical safety, it’s typically the basics that get overlooked: marked powerlines, missing grounding pins, exposed wires, no lock out/tag out (LOTO).

When the team stays focused on getting the basics right, the impact is significant. Moreover, do a walkthrough at the end of each day. No electrician should leave a job that has not been checked for safety hazards. This check should simply be part of the workday. These actions will ensure that after-hours visitors (potential buyers, for example) will stay safe as well.

For more information on electrical safety, contact your risk management consultant or visit us at buildersmutual.com.

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