Safety in Electrical Occupations--part 2: On the Job

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OSHA is an acronym for Occupational Safety and Health Administration, U.S. Department of Labor. Created by congress in 1971, its mission is to ensure safe and healthful workplaces in the United States. Since its creation, work place fatalities have been cut in half, and occupational injury and illness rates have declined by 40%. Enforcement of OSHA regulations is the responsibility of the Secretary of Labor.

OSHA standards cover many areas, such as the handling of hazardous materials, fall protection, protective clothing, and hearing and eye protection. Part 1910, Subpart S, deals mainly with the regulations concerning electrical safety.

These regulations are available in books and can be accessed at the OSHA website:

Hazardous Materials---It may become necessary to deal with some type of hazardous material. A hazardous material or substance is any substance to which exposure may result in adverse effects on the health or safety of employees. Hazardous materials may be chemical, biological, or nuclear. OSHA sets standards for dealing with many types of hazardous materials. The required response is determined by the type of hazard associated with the material. Hazardous materials are required to be listed as such. Much information concerning hazardous materials is generally found on material safety data sheets (MSDS). (A sample MSDS is included at the end of the unit.) If you are working in an area that contains hazardous substances, always read any information concerning the handling of the material and any safety precautions that should be observed. After a problem exists is not the time to start looking for information on what to do.

Some hazardous materials require a hazardous materials (HAZMAT) response team to handle any problems. A HAZMAT team is any group of employees designated by the employer who are expected to handle and control an actual or potential leak or spill of a hazardous material. They are expected to work in close proximity to the material. A HAZMAT team is not always a fire brigade, and a fire brigade may not necessarily have a HAZMAT team. On the other hand, a HAZMAT team may be part of a fire brigade or fire department.

Employer Responsibilities

Section 5(a)1 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act basically states that employers must furnish each of their employees a place of employment that is free of recognized hazards that are likely to cause death or serious injury.

This places the responsibility for compliance on employers. Employers must identify hazards or potential hazards within the work site and eliminate them, control them, or provide employees with suitable protection from them. It’s the employee's responsibility to follow the safety procedures set up by the employer.

To help facilitate these safety standards and procedures, OSHA requires that an employer have a competent person oversee implementation and enforcement of these standards and procedures. This person must be able to recognize unsafe or dangerous conditions and have the authority to correct or eliminate them. This person also has the authority to stop work or shut down a work site until safety regulations are met.


MSDS stands for material safety data sheets, which are provided with many products. They generally warn users of any hazards associated with the product. They outline the physical and chemical properties of the product; list pre cautions that should be taken when using the product; and list any potential health hazards, storage consideration, flammability, reactivity, and, in some instances, radioactivity. They sometimes list the name, address, and telephone number of the manufacturer; the MSDS date and emergency telephone numbers; and, usually, information on first aid procedures to use if the product is swallowed or comes in contact with the skin. Safety data sheets can be found on many home products such as cleaning products, insecticides, and flammable liquids.

--2 Place a barricade around a trench and use a ladder to enter and exit the trench.

--3 A confined space is any space having a limited means of entrance or exit.

--4 Safety tag used to tagout equipment.

--5 The equipment can be locked out by several different people.


It’s often necessary to dig trenches to bury conduit. Under some conditions, these trenches can be deep enough to bury a person if a cave-in should occur.

Safety regulations for the shoring of trenches is found in OSHA Standard 1926, Subpart P, App C, titled "Timber Shoring for Trenches." These procedures and regulations are federally mandated and must be followed. Some general safety rules also should be followed:

1. Don’t walk close to trenches unless it’s necessary. This can cause the dirt to loosen and increase the possibility of a cave-in.

2. Don’t jump over trenches if it’s possible to walk around them.

3. Place barricades around trenches.

4. Use ladders to enter and exit trenches.

Confined Spaces

Confined spaces have a limited means of entrance or exit. They can be very hazardous workplaces, often containing atmospheres that are extremely harmful or deadly. Confined spaces are very difficult to ventilate because of their limited openings. It’s often necessary for a worker to wear special clothing and use a separate air supply to work there. OSHA Section 12, "Confined Space Hazards," lists rules and regulations for working in a confined space. In addition, many industries have written procedures that must be followed when working in confined spaces. Some general rules include the following:

1. Have a person stationed outside the confined space to watch the person or persons working inside. The outside person should stay in voice or visual contact with the inside workers at all times. He or she should check air sample readings and monitor oxygen and explosive gas levels.

2. The outside person should never enter the space, even in an emergency, but should contact the proper emergency personnel. If he or she should enter the space and become incapacitated, there would be no one avail able to call for help.

3. Use only electric equipment and tools that are approved for the atmosphere found inside the confined area. It may be necessary to obtain a burning permit to operate tools that have open brushes and that spark when they are operated.

4. As a general rule, a person working in a confined space should wear a harness with a lanyard that extends to the outside person, so the outside person could pull him or her to safety if necessary.

Lockout / Tagout Procedures

Lockout and tagout procedures are generally employed to prevent some one from energizing a piece of equipment by mistake. This could apply to switches, circuit breakers, or valves. Most industries have their own internal policies and procedures. Some require that a tag be placed on the piece of equipment being serviced; some also require that the equipment be locked out with a padlock. The person performing the work places the lock on the equipment and keeps the key in his or her possession. A device that permits the use of multiple padlocks and a safety tag. This is used when more than one person is working on the same piece of equipment. Violating lockout and tagout procedures is considered an extremely serious offense in most industries and often results in immediate termination of employment. As a general rule, there are no first-time warnings.

After locking out and tagging a piece of equipment, it should be tested to make certain that it’s truly de-energized before working on it. A simple three step procedure is generally recommended for making certain that a piece of electric equipment is de-energized. A voltage tester or voltmeter that has a high enough range to safely test the voltage is employed. The procedure is as follows:

1. Test the voltage tester or voltmeter on a known energized circuit to make certain the tester is working properly.

2. Test the circuit you intend to work on with the voltage tester or voltmeter to make sure that it’s truly de-energized.

3. Test the voltage tester or voltmeter on a known energized circuit to make sure that the tester is still working properly.

This simple procedure helps to eliminate the possibility of a faulty piece of equipment indicating that a circuit is de-energized when it’s not.


Also see: Electrical safety systems

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Monday, February 25, 2013 14:58