When it comes to electrical safety, it is important to take a multi-pronged approach to minimize the risk to people in the area. Personal protection equipment, or PPE, for electrical safety may be seen as the last line of defense, but it is still one of the most important things you can do. Having the right PPE will make it much safer for anyone who works with or around high voltage equipment.
Learning about what types of PPE should be available, when it should be worn, and other details about this subject, will help you to make the right choices when creating an electrical safety plan. While you can’t ignore things like maintaining your equipment, physically preventing access to electrical circuits, and other safety steps, a good PPE plan of action will go a long way toward keeping your employees protected.
Why Electrical Safety is So Important
Anyone who has spent any time trying to improve the safety of a facility knows that electrical safety gets more attention than just about anything else. Even though there are other more common hazards out there, electricity is often seen as the priority for a number of reasons, including the following:
- Extremely Deadly – Exposure to an electrical current can cause serious burns and death very quickly. Electricity can also kill you in multiple different ways. While electricity is an essential part of modern life, it is extremely dangerous and needs to be treated with care.
- Impossible to Predict – It is typically impossible to predict when and where an electrical accident will occur. Since nobody knows if or when an electrical shock will occur, it is a good idea to wear PPE anytime someone is working around electrical equipment.
- Happens in an Instant – Another thing about electrical hazards that make them so dangerous is that they happen in an instant. There is no way for someone to get out of the way or take precautions once it starts. The only way that someone can protect themselves is by putting on the PPE prior to ending an area with high voltage equipment.
- Can Cause Other Hazards – While the main worry with electrical hazards is the electrocution, it can cause other dangers as well. For example, if an arc flash occurs it can cause a fire in the area. It can also cause an explosion that can blast debris in all directions.
So, while it is not accurate to say that electrical safety is the most important focus for every facility, it is clear that it should be a priority.
Improve Electrical Safety in the Workplace
There are many things that you can do to help improve electrical safety in the workplace. Making a comprehensive plan on how to respond to various hazards will help you to reduce the risk of an electrical event from occurring in the first place. This is by far the best course of action that you can take to help keep your facility as safe as possible.
Once you have taken all the necessary safety steps to keep your facility safe from electrical problems, you will want to create a plan for personal protection equipment. The following are key things to keep in mind.
Make PPE Readily Available
Employers must provide employees, contractors, visitors, and anyone else in the area with personal protection equipment if they are entering an area where a hazard may be. Purchasing the right type of PPE for a given situation is critical.
You will also want to make the PPE that you purchased readily available in the areas where it will be worn. For example, if you have a high voltage equipment area, you should put the personal protection equipment just outside of that area so that people will be able to access it immediately prior to entering the dangerous area.
Put Up Reminder Signs & Labels
Using safety signs and labels will also help to remind your employees that they need to wear the PPE in specific areas. You can print off custom labels and place them on the doors that go into high voltage areas, for example.
Anywhere that requires PPE should have a safety sign or label put up to help remind people not to enter the area without first putting on their PPE. This is a simple and affordable way to make sure people do not forget this essential type of equipment.
Set Policy Requiring Use of PPE
Finally, the best thing you can do is create a policy for your entire facility regarding the use of PPE for electrical safety. Make it clear that if someone does not wear the proper PPE in the areas where it is needed, they will face disciplinary action that could include losing their job.
This will help to illustrate the importance of this type of safety equipment. It will also make it something people are less likely to overlook. While this may seem like an over reaction to some, the fact is that this type of policy can save lives, which is the most important thing.
Types of Personal Protection Equipment for Electrical Safety
There are a number of different pieces of personal protection equipment that can used to help improve electrical safety. In addition, each piece of PPE can come in multiple different levels. Choosing the right equipment is critical for providing the needed protection for everyone in your facility.
When looking at the different categories, you will want to look into arc flash PPE. Arc flashes are the most dangerous type of electrical hazard, so having PPE designed to protect people from them is critical. The various categories for arc flash protection are as follows.
Category 1 Arc Flash Protection
This is the lowest level of protection. At this level an employee will typically wear a hard hat, safety goggles, a face shield, hearing protection, a long-sleeved shirt (rated for arc flashes), leather gloves, leather footwear, and pants that are rated for arc flash protection.
Each piece of this gear should have an arc-rating of 4 cal/cm squared. This will provide sufficient protection from most basic types of arc flashes. Anyone working with electrical equipment should at least start with this type of protective equipment.
Category 2 Arc Flash Protection
At category 2 the level of protection needs to be increased to at least 8 cal/cm squared. In addition, an arc-rated jacket should be worn for an added layer of protection. This is on top of the long-sleeved shirt. Instead of a simple face mask, the person should be wearing a balaclava that is rated for arc flash protection.
This change in gear and protection level will make it safer for areas that are either higher voltage or have a higher risk of shocks occurring. At this level there is very little exposed skin so the risk of an electrical shock is dramatically reduced.
Category 3 Arc Flash Protection
At category three the level of protection is increased significantly to a minimum of 25 cal/cm squared. In addition, this category includes an arc-rated flash suit that will include a hood. This provides complete coverage to the person who is working with high voltage equipment. The arc-rated jacket and hood will be in addition to all the other items identified in the previous categories.
Category 4 Arc Flash Protection
Category 4 is the highest category and requires at least 40 cal/cm squared of protection. The only difference between category 3 and category 4 is the level of protection. People working with electrical equipment will need the same items available to ware.
Providing Training on PPE for Electrical Safety
Unlike many types of personal protection equipment, the items used for electrical safety are not always as obvious for when they are needed. This is why providing your employees with the proper training on when each type of PPE is needed, and how to use it properly is so important.
You can create your own training classes based on the type of equipment and the type of PPE that you have in your facility. Making sure that everyone who works with or around electrical equipment gets the training they need will help to keep them safe.
Even people who do not directly work on electrical equipment should know when PPE is necessary. For example, if someone performs a job that is near an electrical panel, it may be a good idea for them to have category 1 personal protection equipment.
Keeping Everyone Safe
Safety should always be a top priority in any facility. Having a good plan of action in place for electrical safety and the usage of personal protection equipment is essential. Fortunately, once you have a good plan in place and you have all the PPE that is needed, you shouldn’t need to make changes very often. Simply providing new employees with the training and refreshing existing employees on a regular basis will keep everyone up to date with this area of safety in your facility.
While this may take some work up front, it has been repeatedly shown that a safe workplace operates more efficiently and is able to remain more profitable over the long term.
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- What are engineering controls?– whatisengineering.org
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- What are GHS Physical Hazards?– ghsforum.com