Safety and PPE for Electricians
Dangers of Electricity
The three greatest dangers for electricians are working with electricity, working in confined spaces and working at heights, according to junior vice president of Master Electricians Australia, Chris Lehmann.
A sparky since 1989 and now running his own electrical contracting business, Lehmann talks from experience. He told Pro Choice that being an electrician is one of the most dangerous trades because electricity is invisible.
“You can’t see it, you can’t hear it and it has no smell,” he said.
“You can see water running out of a tap , you can see a timber beam that might fall down but you can’t see electricity,” he said, adding that this is why, along with plumbing, it is one of the only two licensed trades.
Lehmann said that these increased dangers mean following correct safety procedures is vital. These includes the use of safe work method statements, wearing compliant clothing and PPE, developing procedures and training and monitoring workers to ensure they are competent.
How to Minimize Risks
He urged to place particular attention on supervising apprentices. Moreover, a safety observer should be on standby for hazardous and live work where it is unavoidable.
“The most important precaution is not working with live electricity. Electricians should never work live unless there are exceptional circumstances. They should test before and after their work to ensure the safety of themselves and others,” he said.
“The PPE required for electrical work will depend on the circumstances. Working in a domestic environment requires different PPE to working with high voltage or industrial installations where face shields, gloves and insulating mats are required in many cases,” he said.
“For clothing, you can’t be wearing synthetic fabric doing electrical work. If there is an incident it could melt onto your skin,” Lehmann said, adding that he supplies his staff with cotton drill and in some cases, flame retardant clothing.
“I supply my staff with compliant long sleeve, high vis shirts, long pants, hats and boots,” he said, although stated that heavy, non-flexible steel-capped boots could increase dangers when working at heights or on roofs and that all PPE and corrective action used should be based on an individual risk assessment of each job/task.
Lehmann added that insulated boots designed specifically for electricians might help a bit in the event of an incident. At the same time, he stressed that “test before you touch” and “not working live” offered far better protection.
Another legal duty of employers is having a low voltage rescue kit at hand, according to Lehmann.
“Every truck must have a low voltage rescue kit and every year I must ensure my guys are up to date with CPR and low voltage rescue – that is, how to ensure they know how to rescue and resuscitate someone who is hooked up to power safely and with the minimum risk to themselves.”
Hazards Beyond Electricity
Other dangers for electricians include working at heights and in confined spaces.
“When my guys are working at heights they must be working in a three-point harness and have completed working safely at heights training.”
Lehmann listed some of the dangers in confined spaces such as in roofs and under houses. These included heat stress, a buildup of gases, or old failing or perished cables. The latter, potentially as a result of vermin eating the sheathing. In addition, improper installation of ceiling insulation, old earth protection systems, or non-compliant materials or previous work. Notably, Infinity cables or DIY work.
With the duty of care on employers, Lehmann said that using a digital safety system such as Master Electrician’s ME Safety made sense.
“It has safe work method statements, procedures and policies already made up so I can tailor to my business and there is a suite of safety systems and videos.”
Lehmann also said that Master Electricians provide members with support in the event of an incident.
“It takes the stress away – being trained by health and safety professionals and having legal people helping you navigate through any issues that might arise out of an unforeseen incident.”
Project Safety Switch
Lehamnn also discussed “Project Safety Switch”. It is a Master Electricians initiative driving for the installation of a safety switch on every home and workplace.
“Every circuit. Every home and workplace should be protected by a safety switch. Project Safety Switch arose from the wash-up of the home insulation debacle where those young kids were killed installing insulation. Safety switches save lives, prevent property damage and are imperative to electrical safety.”