Talking to your workers about electrical hazards is always timely. Electrocution is a leading cause of occupational deaths, according to the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Electric shock also causes disabling injuries such as burns, respiratory problems, brain, bone and muscle damage and effects on the heart and other internal organs, nervous system changes. Here's what your workers need to know to safely work with two key electrical hazards: high voltage and arc flash.
The Dangers of High Voltage
Anything over 500 volts is considered high voltage. Contact with power lines or energy sources in this range can lead to death or severe injury. Even coming too close to high energy sources can be harmful, since the electric arc produced by these sources can jump anywhere from a few inches to several feet, depending on the voltage level involved.
Keep in mind that the human body is a great conductor of electricity. As electricity travels through your body, literally seeking ground, it leaves a path of harm and destruction all along the path it takes inside of you.
The injuries caused by high voltage include severe burns, not only on the surface of your skin, but deep in internal organs, as well. Besides burns, one of the biggest hazards associated with electric shock injury is sudden death due to heart attack. Electric shock can cause your muscles to contract irregularly. This includes irregular contraction of the most important muscle in your body, your heart. In addition, electric shock can damage muscles, causing release of kidney damaging proteins into the blood.
Precautions Workers Should Take
Some of the precautions you need to take if you work near high voltage lines include keeping a safe distance away from the lines. This can range from six to 20 feet away, depending on the strength of the line voltage. Equipment, like cranes, also needs to be kept far away from high voltage lines. The distance to keep equipment away ranges from 10 feet to 42 feet, again depending on the strength of electrical source.
Of course, if you are working in the vicinity of a high voltage line, you should make sure that it has been de-energized before you begin your project. You should also avoid working above or over high voltage lines, not only because this increases the possibility of contact, but also because tools or equipment may fall and hit the line and either damage it or lead to arcing.
Other things you can do to protect yourself include wearing rubber-soled shoes and eye protection, and removing all of your jewelry. You should also never work alone with or near high voltage electricity.
High voltage electricity is very dangerous. You do not even have to touch the power source to be affected. Electricity can travel, or arc, great distances, through air. You need to learn how to safeguard yourself from injury. Next week, we'll discuss the dangers of arc flash.