Total electrical safety in the workplace

Contractor Accreditation Services
Monday, 14 August, 2006

Electricity can shock, burn, damage nerves and internal organs or kill people and animals. It can also cause property damage.

Injury or damage can be almost instantaneous and without warning.

Recovery can be very difficult with permanent scarring, nerve damage or interference with the functioning of the heart (the heart may not resume normal functioning even after the electricity is disconnected from the body).

The release of energy from major faults can be very large and create an explosion or fire. Even minor faults can be a source of fire that can go on to cause serious property damage and risk to life.

"When assessing an electrical OH&S risk, we consider the likelihood of an incident and the potential for harm that the incident would provide," David Whitfield, general manager of Safety & Occupational Services (SOS) says, adding, electricity is "always in the highest category of risk, so even in a relatively low risk environment like an office; not adhering to electrical safety guidelines can have potentially fatal consequences. In the higher risk areas like factories and construction sites, the risks are significantly higher."

In terms of compliance, Whitfield says many companies that he sees think of electrical safety only after an accident has occurred. "We can make our systems employee proof, but not idiot proof. For most companies, electrical safety is an afterthought. Very few businesses fully comply with electrical safety requirements as specified under OHS Regulations and Australian Standards," he says.

An Australian Standard - ASNZ 3760 - already exists and is mandatory in many industries.

And on the 'due diligence' front, Whitfield says a significant proportion of companies do not cut the mustard, as they say.

"Electrical contractors are usually up to date with the requirements, although many of these fall down in the safety documentation area. Most businesses will fail the due diligence test," he notes.

However, one of the most important issues in terms of electrical safety according Mr Whitfield is that of badly-done electrical modifications in the workplace.

"Unfortunately, one of the most serious problems we encounter is 'modification'. Lazy and/or incompetent electricians and DIY electrical work are too common and can provide real workplace hazards."

This, says Whitfield, gives rise to a couple of areas that need immediate attention including "the regular checking of electrical systems as provided for in the regulations will highlight potential danger. Importantly, they will also show 'intent' to provide an electrically safe workplace."

Nationally, he says that although the number of electrical deaths has been falling, currently about 30 Australians are killed by electricity each week.

Furthermore, he says, in many workplaces (for example all construction sites, factories and manufacturing industries) it is now mandatory that all electrical equipment be checked and 'tagged' regularly.

Like most other causes of accidents, he says "it has its time in the limelight, but generally it does not receive a lot of attention because it does not create a lot of accidents. When electricity does cause an accident it is often fatal and this will elevate the topic for a time until some other accident moves the focus somewhere else."

Unfortunately, he adds, "OHS professionals can be as reactive as many industry groups, which is why SOS has set up an electrical safety division that specialises in providing monitoring and evaluation of electrical safety."

The recent changes to the IR laws in Australia is also another factor that Whitfield thinks will affect the way businesses handle electrical safety in the workplace. "Developing sound strategies that provide employees with enjoyable and safe work environments will always be the simplest way to improve long-term productivity and the bottom line," he says.

Related Articles

Reducing hazards around powerlines

Powerlines pose a serious safety hazard on work sites and have caused many deaths and accidents...

Top tips: selecting underground LED strip lighting

MineGlow shares five crucial insights to mitigate electrical risks and uphold safety standards...

How to safely upgrade electrical systems in asbestos-prone buildings

When planning electrical upgrades in buildings with potential asbestos-containing materials, a...

  • All content Copyright © 2024 Westwick-Farrow Pty Ltd