Staying switched on: the importance of electrical safety
Over the last four years, more than 2000 people have received electric shocks in NSW workplaces — more than five incidents per day. Not all people are required to be trained in safe operations around electricity, and as such, those who receive electric shocks are often not aware they are putting themselves and others at serious risk, writes Sam Sofi, Group Executive of Safety, Delivery & Operations at Ausgrid.
Workplaces are the first line of defence in communicating how to be safe around electricity. Indeed, chatting about risks at site toolbox talks is necessary, but this shouldn’t be where safety conversations end. Electricity safety needs to become part of everyday conversation on worksites, in offices and in the home.
The risks are real
Electrocution is the second leading cause of death in the Australian construction industry. It is everyone’s responsibility to look out for themselves and their workmates to ensure that everyone makes it home at the end of the day.
With continuously improving safety standards and workplace practices, working around electricity can be done safely — but everyone must remain vigilant about unsafe practices. It is very important that no one turns a blind eye to something that is unsafe. If you see something, say something.
Even the smallest lapse in judgement could be devastating when working near electricity. Whether working on scaffolding, operating a crane, driving an oversized vehicle or cleaning the area, everyone needs to be aware of electrical risks and hazards on a worksite. If the risk were to become a reality on a worksite, having a clear, commonly understood plan for emergencies could be the difference between life and death. Undertaking site inductions, knowing first aid, always having a safety supervisor onsite and, where appropriate, ensuring a Safe Work Method Statement (SWMS) is prepared are all crucial elements of keeping people safe.
Understanding is key
Electricity, particularly in an area under construction, could be where it is least expected. While there are a handful of visual aids to help identify where electricity might be, it is largely invisible — so these visual aids are not exhaustive and not always obvious.
Workers therefore need to explicitly understand their role and what to look for. Having this knowledge could ultimately save their life (or that of their workmate). If someone is not licensed or trained to work near electrical equipment, they should steer well away from the areas where they can see electrical equipment, before seeking guidance from a site safety supervisor.
A significant amount of work has been done to make working on or near electricity as safe as possible. Exclusion zones, safety observers, warning signs and temporary insulated barriers are all common practice on worksites and play critical roles in keeping everyone onsite safe.
ElectricitySafety.com.au is a valuable resource for those working in trade, around their own home or on a job site, providing a range of in-depth safety tips and information on how to stay safe around electricity. Before You Dig Australia and more recently, Look Up and Live, have also been specifically designed to display electrical assets below and above ground.
Key tips for safety around electricity
Workers must stay switched on when working near electricity. Consider the following every day onsite:
- Do not enter any exclusion zones established for overhead and underground electrical assets.
- Follow the industry standard for electrical installations, known as ‘wiring rules’.
- Remember, only licensed or registered electricians should perform repairs to electrical installations.
- Apprentice electricians must be appropriately supervised.
- Registered electrical contractors (RECs) must not work on energised installations.
- Ensure Safe Work Method Statements (SWMS) are prepared for high-risk construction work (HRCW) — for example, any work on or near energised electrical installations or services.
- Perform all work according to the SWMS for HRCW.
Working for tomorrow
As Australia’s energy future continues to change, the workforce will continue to develop new and emerging technologies. Keeping safe while building Australia’s future will ensure everyone goes home to their families at the end of the day.
All statistics obtained from www.electricitysafety.com.au.
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