The Ultimate Guide to Electrical Safety Programs

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Are you struggling to wrap your head around what an electrical safety program is? What do you need to do to create one? And how you are possibly going to implement and manage it?

Well, look no further.

In this ultimate guide to electrical safety programs, I’m going to go over everything you need to do to create, implement and manage your very own electrical safety program.



I will also be periodically checking back in on this article adding links to resources and updating my ideas as time goes on.

Who will this guide help?

You are probably going to fall under one of these three categories if you’ve read this far.

Safety Professional – You work for a medium-to-large size industrial corporation and electrical safety has been on your bucket list for years. You have extensive experience in operations but when it comes to electrical systems you could use some guidance.

Electrical Engineer/Technologist – Due to your technical background you have been asked to champion the electrical safety initiative. Trouble is you have little practical knowledge of influencing a safety culture and the company’s complex organizational structure only adds to the challenge.

Manager or Owner – Thank you! If you are reading this, I’m so happy. You must understand that a safety program (not just an electrical safety program) takes leadership, authority and the access to resources to be effective and you as a manager have the ability to access all three.

What is an Electrical Safety Program?

Imagine a guy named Bob.

Bob is interested in improving his health and decides he needs a fitness program in order to attain his goals.

Bob goes to his favourite exercise facility, walks up to the lady behind the counter and says “I would like to purchase one fitness program please”.

The lady looks at the pizza stains on Bob’s shirt and wonders how serious this guy really is. Then she thinks to herself, you should give people the benefit of the doubt you know. So, she goes to the end of the counter and grabs a binder off the shelf marked fitness program and hands it to Bob. “That’ll be $237 please”.

Bob reaches into his pocket, pulls out his credit card and 45 minutes later is back at home watching TV with his newly purchased fitness program tucked away neatly on the top shelf of his bookcase.

The fitness program remains on the shelf for the next 2 years before Bob’s wife throws it in the garbage during a spring cleaning session. Bob never lifted a finger the entire time.

Let me explain...

Now, I haven’t explained what an electrical safety program is, but there are a few fundamental lessons we can learn from Bob’s story that will help us understand.

The first thing is an electrical safety program is not a document which sits on your shelf. It is documented, but you can’t pick up the program in one hand and say “this is my program”, there are other pieces which all need to fit together to make up the program. Just like there are other things that Bob needed to be doing for his fitness program.

Let’s look at what Bob does have, what the missing pieces are, and how it all relates to an electrical safety program.

What Bob has is a plan

What Bob has in his possession is a blueprint that describes what he needs to be doing to attain his goals for improved health and overall fitness level.

It describes what Bob should eat, how much sleep he needs, how often he needs to work out, what his routines are composed of, how often he should go for a run, bike or swim.

The plan has all the necessary sheets he needs to track his progress and some data tables to determine how he stacks up against other men who are his age.

It describes how often he must check in with his fitness instructor, his swimming coach, and his doctor. It describes what tests he is going to take when he visits the doctor and how often they are going to check his weight. What Bob has is a plan.

When it comes to electrical safety this is often the step that people start with and unfortunately fail at. As I mentioned earlier most people assigned to develop the electrical safety program are technical people, not safety professionals or management.

So, by nature, they focus on the technical aspects of electrical safety. Calculating arc flash and determining the PPE that needs to be worn but they totally miss the planning portion!

While those things are important they do not make up a complete plan or program. There are other fundamental things that are required to ensure the success of the program.

When you choose to take on something like this you are changing the way people think about how they do their jobs… and this is often very challenging. The plan needs to describe how you are going to roll the program out.

Decide on hazard identification method early

One of the best things about electrical safety programs is that there is one very simple way to identify the hazards.

An arc flash & shock hazard analysis.

Now don't confuse this with a hazard assessment you would do just as you were walking onto the floor or into a work zone. This is an engineering exercise that is done up front and will calculate hazard levels for all of your arc flash and shock hazards present.

A lot of people skip this step or don't see the value in spending all those engineering dollars... but after doing this for so long now I'm convinced there is no easier way to simplify your electrical safety program then by calculating all the hazards.

Have the analysis completed and thank me later.

Documentation

When it comes to safety there is a saying that I've heard time and time again... if you didn't document it then it didn't happen.

This is a great advice if all you are worried about is proving due diligence and covering your butt, but there is another benefit to documentation that is not talked about so much.

The power of documentation

When you write something down statistics show that you are far more likely to accomplish whatever it is you wrote down than if you simply thought about it or discussed it with someone.

I'm not sure of the exact number, but it hovers somewhere around 20% to 40% better chances of success if written down. Truly it doesn't matter what the number is when it comes to safety any increase is beneficial.

The meat and potatoes

So what documents are most important to have?

First thing, I'm not talking about your electrical safety program as a whole. What I'm referring to are the most important documents that an electrician, supervisor, foreman or safety representative are going to use on a daily basis.

These documents are the meat and potatoes of an electrical safety program.

Completing these documents in a thoughtful and timely way will increase safety and awareness, increase your knowledge and also (believe it or not) make things more efficient.

Pre-job arc flash & shock risk assessment

Sometimes referred to as a job briefing, the purpose of this document is to get the juices flowing in your brain before you decide to work on a piece of equipment.

You are going to go through the process of identifying any hazards you are up against, the likelihood of anything bad happening, how you are going to deal with the risk, and what you are going to do if the worse happens.

Energized work permit

Energized work is by far the most hazardous work an electrician can do, and in most cases, it doesn't need to happen.

A lot of work that electricians have traditionally done energized is no longer acceptable.

There are a few things like testing and troubleshooting that you can't do any other way but for everything else, before you work on it energized you'd better have a really good reason why.

That reason or "justification" needs to go down on an energized work permit and someone with authority should be signing off on the work.

Safe work plan (Switching sequence)

Safe work permits are a great tool to have in your electrical safety program toolbox. It probably goes by many different names but essentially, it is a procedure that you write on the spot.

You only bring it out under special circumstances but it comes in handy when you are up against something you have never been trained to do, or the job is very complex and requires multiple switches to be activated or temporary protective grounds to be installed.

Chances are you know you are going to need one before you get to the job site but as long as you are doing your pre-job arc flash & shock risk assessment you'll always pick up on those jobs that are a little more complicated.

So, what are we going to do now?

Glad you asked.

Now that you have a written document which outlines the plan, processes and procedures you are going to use to protect the workers from electrical hazards you need to start doing them.

Seems simple enough but it's amazing how many companies and organizations do not even get to this phase in effectively rolling out an electrical safety program.

It's like they have analysis paralysis, or they are just constantly planning and calculating but never take that first step to initiate anything.

Electrical safety is about keeping people safe, so people need to do something in order to make it happen.

A great place to start doing is with workshops and training sessions.

Workshops

The best way to get your program off the ground is to educate the workforce about some of the new policies in place, what the expectations are going to be, and any other requirements of the program that were not part of their regular duties before the program was initiated.

Workshops are a great way to bring your management team and supervision up to speed quickly and consistently.

The reason I'm referring to this as a workshop is that it is a bit more involved than a training session. It will involve roundtable discussions and problem-solving exercises for the challenges the group is currently having. You may want to hold several workshops until the program is completely rolled out.

It might seem like a lot, but you will need to take one to two days with the entire group and go through the program step by step. In the end, though, this will pay off because the leadership in your organization is coming from this group of individuals and when rolling out a new initiative good leadership is vital.

Training Sessions

Training sessions are required to increase the knowledge level of the workforce. They need to learn about the hazards, mitigation techniques, PPE, tools, and equipment as well as the relevant procedures and policies that impact their jobs.

Typically, a company will have a need for two types of training. One that is specifically designed for electricians, electrical engineers, and electrical technologists and another for operators, mechanics and other trades who are sometimes exposed to electrical hazards in the workplace.

The training can either be a live training session with an instructor, on-the-job training with a qualified worker or lead hand, or online. All types of training are valuable and in my opinion, you should use a blend of the three.

Start with an in-class instructor lead session to roll out the program and introduce the topics, follow up with on-the-job training to ensure that the practical side of the training is completed, then use online training to get a refresher of the information and verify competency.

PPE, Tools & Equipment

Go shopping and get equipped and then use the gear that you buy!

I'm sure you've heard that PPE is the last line of defence before but until we eliminate electricity we are going to have to wear the PPE.

It's important that you find the PPE, tools, and equipment that is properly specified for the job but it's almost equally important that you understand how to use it properly, how to check for defects, and when it is safe not to use it (this last one is important because some of the PPE is very uncomfortable and may cause other issues when worn).

Most facilities that operate at 480 or 600 volts are going to require a very basic set of PPE. Here is what I recommend every qualified electrical worker has:

  • 1000 volt rubber insulated gloves with leather protectors

  • Arc rated face shield with a balaclava (12 cal/cm2)

  • Arc rated coveralls (12 cal/cm2)

  • Leather boots

  • Safety glasses

  • Earplugs

I also recommend having at least one 40+cal/cm2 (depending on your arc flash analysis) arc flash suit & hood to be used when the incident energy is above 12 cal/cm2.

For tools, there is nothing that beats a CATIV-600V CATIII-1000V digital multimeter from a trusted brand... not one you picked up at the local hardware store for $25.

Again, every place is different, so take the time to figure out the right mix for your needs. Invest in quality and make sure that there is a healthy appreciation for using the PPE, tools and equipment.

Key procedures

The written program document should consist of policies, procedures and safe work practices that will decrease the likelihood of getting a shock or creating an arc flash.

There are a few "key procedures" when it comes to electrical safety, such as establishing an electrically safe work condition, pre-job shock & arc flash risk assessment, and the use of energized work permits, that you should have already built into your program.

Now it's time to put them to use.

Keep it evergreen

Now that you've got the basics down it's time to think about keeping the program evergreen.

You’ve got a plan, you’ve developed the processes and procedures, you’ve got the tools and equipment and you’ve decided on how you are going to record your progress and compliance.

Now you need data collection, monitoring, and consistent improvement.

Did the astronauts fly straight to the moon?

If you picture the course that the astronauts took to the moon, you may envision a beautiful arc leaving planet earth and touching down softly on it’s largest satellite.

In reality, this course looked more like path a snake might take to escape a raging mongoose.

The astronauts were actually off the direct path more than they were on it, but with the help of constant feedback and corrective action, they were able to get the space shuttle all the way to the moon.

What should we measure?

When trying to implement a change the most important aspect to focus on is the people. Everything else we’ve talked about up to this point is really just the framework for creating, implementing and managing an electrical safety program.

The real magic is with your people.

I’m going to assume you have an organizational structure made up of at least a manager or owner, department lead or supervisor and skilled tradespeople.

There are two key interfaces when it comes to communication. Manager to supervisor and supervisor to an electrician.

How should it work?

Earlier, we talked about the concept of using key procedures in your electrical safety program to drive home a concept or bring more light to a certain focus area. What I like to see in an organization is that supervisors are held responsible for the success of implementing those key procedures.

There are two things we want to measure quality and interaction… how well are the pre-job assessments being completed?

Are they effective in determining the risks involved? Are they simply a “ticking the box” exercise? How many times in a day, week or month is the supervisor interacting with the skilled tradesperson in a meaningful way with regards to the key procedure chosen?

For an example, I’ll pretend I’m an electrical general foreman at a mine site in Northern Canada. I have two supervisors who each have 15 electricians reporting to them.

The site manager chose pre-job shock & arc flash risk assessment as the key procedure she is most concerned with right now in implementing.

Every Friday I’ve laid out the expectation that each of my supervisors has taken the time to stop, review and discuss the pre-job shock & arc flash assessment procedures that their electricians have been competing.

The supervisor should also be checking to make sure there is an acceptable level of understanding with the pre-job assessment process and the results of the process.

What should we audit?

Another important thing you will want to consider is auditing.

The audit is a word that typically sends chills down people’s spines but I think that comes from the insurance world… a safety audit should bring a positive feeling. At least that’s the feeling it brings me.

An audit is a chance to look at your entire program up to this point and then see where you could improve.

Audits can be done internally or by an outside source and both carry their own benefits. I suggest that in the early stages of creating and implementing your electrical safety program you do an internal audit (just a small one) at 6 months and 12 months.

Then once you feel things are running at an acceptable level you can think about bringing someone in to look at your entire process and give you a good idea how your program compares to other companies in your industry and location.



That’s all folks!

Well, I say that lightly because, in reality, it’s just the beginning. But if you have read this entire post you should at least have a good idea of the things you need to consider. 

I hope you found this article useful and if you did please share it using the social media buttons at the bottom of the post! Also if you would like some help with your electrical safety program, feel free to contact me anytime.