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Anatomy of an Electrical Accident

May 9, 2023
Examining why electrical accidents continue to happen despite stringent safety protocols and technology advancements

Kicking off this month with Construction Safety Week, it seems only fitting that we dedicate this issue to the topic of electrical safety. Taking this week as an opportunity to recommit to safe work practices, it’s a time for electrical professionals to break old habits and strive to improve safety cultures for themselves and their teams — with the ultimate goal of sending every worker home safely each and every day.

When selecting content for this issue, I always include the Top 10 OSHA violations from the previous year. Revealed at the National Safety Council Safety Congress and Expo in September, if you review the historic data, it’s not surprising this list remains relatively unchanged from year to year. But when you really think about it, the whole thing does have a Groundhog Day feel to it. How is it possible that the same category (fall protection) remains the top citation for the 12th year in a row? Sure, the numbers go up and down slightly from year to year, but there it is again. Obviously, there may be more to this than meets the eye. For one thing, the sheer number of people working at height in the skilled trades is obviously high, creating a more likely scenario that could end in a fall injury or fatality from a ladder, roof, scaffold, aerial work platform, etc. It’s also a fairly easy and straightforward violation for an OSHA inspector to identify and cite. Although fall protection did see a decrease of 11 citations from 2021, approximately one-fourth of the total violations (5,260) originate from this category!

Lockout/tagout is another repeat offender (No. 6). Holding the same spot as last year, this category saw an increase in violations from 1,670 in 2021 to 1,977 in 2022. Longtime Electrical Consultant Mark Lamendola recently wrote an excellent piece on lockout/tagout (LOTO) principles that demonstrates why this task is not as simple as it may seem. In the article, he explains how, in its “simplest (and perhaps least effective) form,” LOTO consists of the following three steps: 1) Identify the breaker (or fuse) that supplies power to your equipment; 2) Open the breaker; 3) Hang your lock, and tag on that breaker. However, a particular task could easily involve four or five times as many steps, according to Lamendola. Read through the entire article, in which he explains why there is no “one-sequence-fits-all methodology” when it comes to this type of work and walks readers through NFPA 70E’s eight principles of LOTO.

Mark’s article reminded me of a piece of advice from Randy Barnett, electrical codes program manager for NTT Training and subject matter expert for EC&M’s Tech Talk videos as well as EC&M Asks Q&As. In the cover story, Barnett describes why he believes so many of the same types of electrical accidents continue to happen. Despite advancements in safety standards and compliance, fatalities/injuries continue to occur — as evidenced by the familiar Top 10 OSHA list — it’s often the human factor (or human behavior) involved with electrical work that leads to disaster. Informative Annex Q from NFPA 70E, which designates human performance as a prerequisite for performing electrical work, outlines risk control methods electrical professionals can put into practice to identify and help reduce behavioral hazards to improve safety.

Flip or scroll through this entire issue for a fantastic lineup of safety-related content, including topics on reducing electric shock, what makes a qualified electrical worker, arc flash prevention vs. protection, arc flash risk management considerations, and safety product showcase. Considering the fact that the total number of OSHA citations did increase by more than 1,100 from 2021 to 2022, education will continue to be key in the crusade to improve safety and ensure better outcomes. There’s always more we can do.

About the Author

Ellen Parson | Editor-in-Chief - EC&M

Ellen Parson is the Editor-in-Chief for EC&M. She has a journalism degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia. She's been a business-to-business writer and editor for more than 25 years, most of which have been covering the construction and electrical industries. Contact her at [email protected].

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