One of the most important responsibilities of a facility’s management team is to keep employees safe. In your plant, there’s a good chance electrical equipment is constantly being changed or updated and improved. With new equipment comes new types of hazards and risks. An electrical safety program needs to address these changes.
Some of the most common hazards in a facility are often those involving electrical equipment. Developing and implementing a strong electrical safety program requires building awareness about electrical hazards and a safety-conscious culture. Plant and safety managers should keep in mind that a proactive and personal approach to electrical safety starts with a team and its leader, and leverage the following items to help establish and maintain a culture that values a safe work environment:
- Identify your safety champions. These people are truly passionate about a safe workplace. They take an active role on safety committees and they lead by example among their peers. A cross-functional team is best to get a diverse perspective.
- Work as a team to perform an audit on the current program. Performing an audit of the facility’s electrical equipment and procedures allows you to look around at specific areas within the plant where electrical hazards may exist. As a rule of thumb, most facilities should consider performing this type of audit about once per year, or whenever changes are made, to ensure the facility and its electrical systems continue to operate safely.
- Fix gaps by designing out hazards whenever possible. Take steps to eliminate or reduce hazards to an acceptable risk level and consider Prevention through Design (PtD). PtD is essentially the concept of designing out hazards or designing in controls to equipment or processes to mitigate exposure. Although it’s best to design for complete elimination of the hazard, sometimes that is not possible or practical. For example, if a process requires human input, the possibility for error, whether intentional or unintentional, exists. The Hierarchy of Controls is a great tool to reference when considering ways to mitigate hazards.
- Include near miss reporting in the electrical safety program: The electrical safety program is intended to establish safety requirements for all employees, including those who work with or near electrical equipment during the course of normal work activities. This program should include provisions to report near-misses, so that hazards can be identified and mitigated. The electrical safety program should be evergreen, continuously improved and updated.
- Emphasize de-energized work and always verify. Ensure the safety culture values de-energizing equipment before any electrical work is performed. Note that the process for establishing an electrically safe work condition includes verifying the absence of voltage once the lockout/tagout process has been completed. Testing for the absence of voltage can be performed by using an adequately rated voltage tester and wearing the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) or by using an absence of voltage tester (AVT). The 2018 edition of NFPA 70E includes a new exception that allows Absence of Voltage Testers (AVTs) listed to UL 1436 to be used to verify the absence of voltage instead of a handheld voltmeter. AVTs simplify the verification step by automating the process and prevent workers from exposure to electrical hazards. Once the AVT is installed, a push of a button initiates the test. Users will see an active visual indication when the absence of voltage is confirmed.
- Practice active safety training. Another emerging best practice for electrical safety is the concept of an electrical injury drill. Companies have conducted weather drills/evacuations for years, but rarely practice for the unique dangers posed by electrical accidents. Electrical accidents can be particularly difficult for safety personnel to respond because the person most likely to be injured is also the person most likely to be responsible for the electrical system. By devising unique and challenging safety drills specific to the electrical system, companies can not only become more proficient in responding to incidents but identify potential areas of danger within their facility.
By establishing a clear and consistent electrical safety program that includes all employees, improving electrical safety will become an ongoing process, ensuring that it always remains a top priority for employees and management alike.
To learn more from Panduit on how to ensure electrical safety and compliance, please click here.
Rachel Bugaris is a Business Development Manager at Panduit Corp., where her work focuses on electrical safety solutions for the workplace. With a background in Research and Development, she has worked with many industrial organizations to develop standards and best practices for safety technology.