Electrical Safety in the Workplace
We use electricity every day. From the home to the workplace, and even in public spaces, electricity is all around us, providing us with the energy that we need. Unfortunately, it can also be extremely dangerous. Electricity offers some substantial risks to our safety. Issues with the supply, installation, maintenance, and use of power can all cause dangers. That is why there are so many guidelines and standards governing the use of power and equipment. For workplaces, electricity needs to be safe, secure, and well-maintained. Failing to do so can be catastrophic.
The Risks of Electricity
There are a variety of risks involved when it comes to electricity. These depend on where it’s being used and how it’s being used. The dangers of electricity will be substantially greater if it is being used in a workplace that is:
- Outdoors, or in damp areas. In these environments, electrical equipment can become wet, and that can lead to higher chances of damage or physical danger.
- A cramped space that contains earthed metalwork. This is often seen in a workplace that involves tanks or large bins. That’s because instances where there is an electrical fault, it may be harder to avoid receiving an electrical shock.
The risks of electricity in the workplace are also more likely depending on the types of equipment being used. There are higher risks of danger if:
- A workplace makes use of portable electrical equipment. Plug sockets, electrical connections, and the portable nature of the cables involved all make personal injury a real risk that will require ongoing vigilance to keep maintained.
- Extension leads are relied on. This risk rises if the extension leads are being used to power electrical equipment that is always being moved.
Electricity is dangerous. Electric shocks or electrocution can cause injury or even death. That’s why regulations in Australia require all cases of electrical shock in the workplace to be logged and reported. There needs to be a clear process for investigating the causes of the shock so that repairs can be made. For workers who use electricity and electrical devices, there are also national laws that require them to trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
Workplace Health and Safety
For people conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs), they must ensure that all electrical risks are managed. The intention is to eliminate risks as much as feasibly possible. The goal is to ensure that electrical machinery is safe and that employees have the training needed to work machinery and tools safely. In terms of health and safety, electricity in the workplace needs prioritising due to its dangerous nature. Depending on the type of workplace and the electrical equipment being used, there may be additional health and safety regulations to be followed as well. That includes:
- Regular testing of all electrical equipment being used
- The use of RCDs (residual current devices)
Workplaces with high risks tend to be those where operating conditions are more likely to cause damage to equipment or reduce its lifespan. Electricity increases in risk in certain conditions, especially in workplaces that are exposed to moisture, dust, vibration, heat, corrosive chemicals, and heat. That’s why PCBUs need to pay particular attention to electrical devices, machines and equipment if the workplace is:
- Uses corrosive substances
Kitchens are particularly high risk due to the combination of potentially dangerous conditions, as are industrial factories and manufacturing environments.
Powerpoints are used everywhere, but they need to be looked after if they are to remain safe. There are some clear guidelines and regulations for the care, use, and maintenance of powerpoints in the workplace. These include:
- Making sure that all powerpoints have an earth leakage circuit breaker (ELCB) or safety switches fitted and correctly labelled. That makes it easier to identify what kind of protection is in place, and clearly marking which powerpoint is connected where.
- Regular testing of residual current devices and safety switch outlets.
- Making certain that all plug pins are pushed full into all sockets in order to minimise exposure to grounded pins.
- Reporting powerpoints that have signs of damage in order to ensure that repairs are carried out as quickly as possible.
- Switching off all powerpoints before appliances are plugged or unplugged.
- Removing appliances from plug sockets and powerpoints by pulling from the plug itself, rather than the cord.
As one of the high-risk elements of electrical equipment, care, installation, and maintenance of extension leads is essential. Ideally, they should never be relied on as a permanent electrical feature, and should only be considered as a temporary arrangement for power. Extension leads need to be run around walls and the back of desks as opposed to across workspaces to reduce the risk of accidents. For outdoor workspaces, heavy-duty extension cords need to be used instead of domestic version, and all wet/damp areas need to be avoided. If your regular checks of electrical equipment reveal that there is damage or wear to an extension lead, then it must be replaced as soon as possible.
Lighting and Heating
There are some key areas to be aware of when it comes to basic heat and lighting in the workplace. One of the riskiest lighting types that are commonly found in workplaces is halogen lamps. These should be replaced with safer options. You should also ensure that:
- Fluorescent lighting is ventilated to prevent overheating
- There should be no exposed wiring
- A qualified electrician should repair damaged wiring
- Heating appliances should never be left to run when the workplace is unattended
Inspections and Checks
It is the responsibility of the PCBU to ensure that there are regular inspections and testing of all electrical equipment. This can save lives, as it will help to identify any damages, wear, or emerging electrical faults. Often, this can be done with nothing more than a visual check. However, testing will also need to be carried out on a regular basis in order to aid the detection of faults and deterioration that may not be visible.
For a safer workplace that minimises electrical risks to employees and customers, residual current devices must be used, as these will immediately switch off when currents are dangerous. For businesses with overhead or underground electricity lines, the risks of each must be assessed and planned, so that approach distances, heights, and loads are not considered dangerous. Staff training must be given to every single employee who works with electrical appliances, and that training should include recognising dangers and how to react in an emergency.
Electricity is vital, but risks will need to be evaluated on a very regular basis. The more aware that you are of electricity in the workplace, the easier it will be to ensure that threats and dangers are kept to a minimum, and you can focus on the task of running your business safely and profitably.
Adrian Faull is the founder of Fix Electrical Contractors. He is proud to lead a team of qualified electricians and support team that are experts in the field, who will work with you to ensure you’re getting the best electrical solution for your needs.