Why you need an electrical safety program

Congratulations!

You’ve taken the first step in helping your electrical workers perform their jobs safer by purchasing everyone some arc rated clothing. Maybe you’ve even taken it a step further and had someone perform incident energy calculations on your facility and labeled all the equipment appropriately. Fantastic!

There is just one thing you are missing… well, maybe two things… or depending on the way you look at it, you are still missing a lot!

Let me explain…

Imagine you are a site manager or crew supervisor. You notice that your work area has a lot of high areas that your workers need to access. You say to yourself “I’m going to do something about this”, so you higher a consultant to come to your site and label each area where a worker might be standing with the height relative to the ground… 5ft, 11ft, 34ft, 56ft…  until all areas are labeled (probably a little overkill to higher a consultant to use a measuring tape but let's just ignore that).

A few weeks go by and you haven’t really noticed any changes in your worker’s behaviors… humph… you think about it for a moment, and then aha! The lightbulb goes off... harnesses! Next, you purchase everyone some harnesses and lanyards and issue them out to the workers as they come in the next day.

There, now you can relax, your workers are safe. You decide to go into the office and pour a cup of coffee. While looking out the window you notice that the workers aren’t quite getting the harness thing. Two of them have their harnesses upside down and another two have tied off to each other! You stare in disbelief as you wonder what has gone wrong…

Now this example is a little silly, and hopefully, your employees are a little more competent than the ones in the example but you can see my point. Simply providing PPE and signage is not enough to keep people safe.

You need a program.

When dealing with electricity, you need an Electrical Safety Program. It could be a stand-alone document or rolled into an all-encompassing safety management system, but at the end of the day, you need something that explains the policies, procedures and protocols you expect your employees to follow when working on or near electrical equipment.

Who needs a program?

I’d argue that almost all types of industrial business need an electrical safety program. The first ones that come to mind are electrical contractors, mines, sawmills, chemical plants, HVAC installers, oil refineries and power generation plants.

There are lots of businesses that still require a program even if you do not directly employ electricians. Maybe you run a small facility for making windows, or vacuum cleaners, or chocolates, or whatever… if there is ever a time you need to contract an electrician to either fix something or add a new system you need to have a program. Remember that the electrician who comes to your facility for the day is your employee while he or she is on site.

What does the program cover?

An electrical safety program needs to cover a few basic concepts but can be expanded to cover much more as your business gets more complex or the inherent risk of the work is increased.

The key elements that the program should cover are a site policy to give a guiding principle for the program, roles and responsibilities so everyone knows what they are accountable for, training requirements for both electrical and non-electrical workers, hazard assessment and mitigation techniques to ensure a consistent approach for dealing with hazards, and job procedures for those tasks that are relevant to the success of the program.

Where do I start?

You can pick up a copy of CSA Z462, Canada’s workplace electrical safety standard. Inside you will find a list of the items that should be covered in the document. I’d be happy to answer your questions and help get you started on your path to creating a world class electrical safety program.