Danger: Electricity at the Worksite

Author: Leah Cooper

Electrification has added convenience and greater power on the worksite. However, just like in every great superhero comic, with great power comes great responsibility. Electric-powered components can be especially dangerous and do require rigorous and routine inspections. Worksites rely on quality checks and regular real-time reporting from workers on any potentially hazardous situations. Electrical hazards occur in many common working situations: improper grounding, damaged insulation or exposed parts, overloaded circuits, wet conditions, and more. Know how to spot potential electrical hazards to avoid bodily harm and property damage.

Electric Grounding

Grounding is a process used to eliminate unwanted voltage. While your power supply is designed to maintain standard voltage, fluctuations do happen. When it comes to construction, switching on large electric tools can cause an initial surge in electrical power. The grounding pin on your power cord creates a physical connection to the earth, prevents excessive power from passing to the tool or the user.

Grounding reduces the risk of electrocution and shock. Users are warned, even minor shocks pose a significant risk! Always beware of the risk of cardiac arrest before operating electrical equipment: check to make sure grounding pins are always intact.

Exposed Wiring & Electric Parts

Electricity is natural energy— a single lightning bolt carries about 5 billion joules. That’s the equivalent of 38 gallons of petroleum gas! Conventional electric meters can supply around 120 volts per outlet. However, without a properly sealed conduit to harness the electricity, you’re likely to experience a shock that will make you feel as if you really were struck by lightning.

Avoid:

  • Exposed terminals
  • Missing circuit breakers
  • Exposed wires
  • Holes or openings in electric power sources
  • Broken cord insulation.

Equipment with exposed openings or breaks should never be used on the construction site. Contact with exposed electrical wiring can result in severe injury. Electrical tape may have many uses, but it would never replace missing or torn insulation around wires. Insulation is designed for a specific gauge with a purposefully non-conductive material.

Notify, repair, or replace when you see an issue with electrical equipment on the worksite.

Extension Cords

Powered equipment requires appropriate extension cords for adequate amperage. Choose the correct wire gauge for the power output you need.

Distance from the original power source will reduce amperage: use a Spiderbox or generator to extend your working space. Spiderboxes also protect against power surges, cutting the power at the Spiderbox before it reaches your primary power source.

Avoid hanging power cords from sharp objects or wedging in windows and doors. Abrasion can cause damage to the cord’s protective insulation.

Overloaded Circuits

Spiderboxes not only extend your power’s reach but can spread your power use between the box and your main circuit. Overloaded circuits can cause fires, damaging property at equipment.

Unlike power strips and surge protectors that can be used within the home, construction sites should use a 3-way extension with a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) instead. Anytime there is an imbalance between incoming and outgoing current, the GFCI unit will break the circuit.

Power Tools

In all cases, damaged tools should never be used. Replace or repair devices at your local restoration shop, like General Equipment & Supply (GES). Broken tools do not work as designed and pose a severe risk to the operator. Damaged electrical equipment may shock and electrocute the user.

Follow manual and label instructions to use the appropriate circuit and extension cord.

Invest in double insulated equipment. Double insulated equipment is denoted by the ‘double square’ symbol on the label. The outer metal case of double-insulated tools is securely insulted from any electrical wiring inside the tools. Loose wires will not be able to contact the outside metal care of your tool, preventing the operator from shock in the event of equipment failure.

Location

Never use electrical equipment in wet locations. The free ions in water conduct electricity, turning a small spill into a major disaster.

Should your site have overhead powerlines, be sure to keep equipment away from or at minimum 10 feet below the line. Overhead lines are routinely operated at voltages above 765,000 volts. That’s over 63,000 times more powerful than an average car battery.

Combined with non-conductive personal protective equipment (PPE), workers can safely navigate a project: thermoplastic hardhats, rubber gloves, and insulating clothing. Today’s construction sites are better equipped by following best practices for electrical operation standardized by OSHA. Most electrical accidents can be prevented with cautious tool operation and regular equipment maintenance.

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