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October 22, 2020

 

Electrical Safety Tips for Electricians and Other Field Service Pros

Remain vigilant and take these tips to heart before working with electricity.

Service professionals have to stay cautious around electricity. Common sense will take you far, but you should still follow some best practices to prevent injury and death.

The voltage in a residential home can kill you—and commercial sites are even deadlier. 411 workers get killed every year by electrocution, and thousands more sustain severe injuries.

All electrical systems have the potential to harm you, so you have to approach each job with knowledge and focus to stay safe. Don’t become a statistic. Follow these five best practices any time you work with electricity in the field.

1. Lock and tag your power source.

The cardinal rule of electrical work? Treat every device as if it’s live. Always disconnect the power source before working with any kind of electrical equipment. You’ll also want to check for a secondary power source before you begin work.

Follow OSHA’s Lockout/Tagout procedure every time you work with electricity. With this procedure, not only do you shut off the power source, but you padlock it shut. Place a tag on the padlock with your information, including the reason why you’ve locked the breaker. This information will keep other people on the job site from inadvertently switching the power on while you work.

Always double-check that an outlet isn’t energized before you begin work. Use a multimeter on the circuit before touching it with your gloved hands. After all, you can’t see current with your eyes; a multimeter offers a volt reading that ensures the circuit isn’t energized before you begin work.

If you need to leave for the day and haven’t completed the job yet, make sure you cap all electric contacts before you go. You don’t want other professionals on-site to come into contact with them, even if you think the power source will likely remain switched off.

2. Use the right tool for the job.

We get that shortcuts occasionally seem appealing. Sometimes you must improvise with the tools available on your tool belt. However, there are no shortcuts for electrical work. You have to remain extremely careful with the tools you use.

Always use tools intended for electrical work. You may find yourself tempted to rig something quickly with what’s on-hand, but that’s a recipe for disaster. Choose specialized tools with non-conducting handles, and always use them for the proper job.

You always want to use non-conductive tools, and that includes your work ladder. Aluminum is cheap and light, but it’s metal, and metal doesn’t play well with electricity. Use a wood or fiberglass ladder to work safely around electricity.

It’s also a good idea to inspect your electrical tools before working with them. Are there tears in the protective coating? Frayed cords? Is the handle cracking? If anything looks off, use tape and a Sharpie to label the tool as damaged so no one else uses it.

3. Watch what you wear.

If you know you’re going to work with electricity, rethink your work clothes. Avoid wearing loose clothing, like baggy sleeves or neckties. Your clothes should be reasonably comfortable, but not too loose.

Wear non-conductive clothes and shoes with insulated insoles. If you do have an electrical accident at work, insulated shoes prevent the current from grounding through you, which could save your life.

Don’t wear metallic jewelry or watches for electrical work, either. And yes, that includes wedding rings. Switch to a non-conductive silicone band or go ringless instead.

4. Water? Not your friend.

Elementary-school science class taught us that water and electricity don’t get along. You want to avoid water in your working environment at all costs.

Always work with dry hands. If you’re prone to sweating while you work, wear non-conductive gloves to keep perspiration away from the wires. It’s also smart to avoid working in rooms with lots of condensation. Try to dry out the room first to keep yourself safe.

If you do have to work in a damp area, use Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs) while you work. GFCIs interrupt the circuit so it can’t enter your body; they can save your life in a pinch.

If you find water on electrical equipment, don’t unplug it. Instead, shut off the power at the circuit breaker and then unplug the equipment. Never, ever work on waterlogged equipment if there’s a possibility it’s energized.

5. Touch with care.

If you need to touch a piece of equipment, always use the back of your hand. If you experience a shock, this won’t cause the muscles in your hand to contract, helping you escape serious electrocution.

Sometimes you’ll work on a job with a partner, or share the same space with another service professional. If you see them touch an energized wire, do not touch them. It’s hard to remember that in a state of emergency, but touching an electrocuted person will electrocute you too, since the human body is conductive.

Instead, cut the power source off. Next, call 911 and, if necessary, do CPR. If you’re not able to cut off the power source, use a non-conductive material, like wood, to push the person out of harm’s way.

Conclusion

Electricity is necessary for modern life, but it’s no joke when you’re working in the field. Keep yourself and others safe by following these five best practices for electrical work.