September 24, 2015

One rule to avoid a shock

If you work on or near electricity, never work live.

This is the most important rule for electricians, those most at risk of electrical injuries.

In the past four years, six people died in NSW workplaces and eight were permanently disabled as a result of electrical work.

Eris McCarthy, a 30-year veteran of the electrical industry and managing director of ENN Electricians, says never working live is a basic rule to live by.

“The biggest hazards in our line of work are falls from heights, electrocution and arc faults,” Eris said.

“Many years ago a workmate was pressured by a client into fitting a circuit breaker while a board was still live.

“While fitting the breaker he slipped and created a short circuit, resulting in an arc flash that severely burnt his face and hands.

“He spent ages off work – and the client lost power for considerably longer than the 15 minutes it would have taken to isolate the circuit and complete the job.”

A close second for life-saving rules, Eris said, is test before you touch.

“You can de-energise what you believe should be the circuit you are to work on, but you need to test before you touch in case things are incorrectly labelled, which they often are.”

“I saw a case recently, only last year, when someone worked on a board and, after isolating the circuit, pulled the cable out believing it to be safe, only to find it was incorrectly labelled and live.

“It had been put in the wrong terminal, and this happens all the time!”

Eris said injuries at work affect everyone and lead to a heavy burden of guilt on workers and supervisors. They question themselves endlessly about how it happened and what they could have done to prevent it.

“I think electricians are very aware of the risks they face, but like anyone they can become complacent or fatigued under stress and time pressures.”

The growth of established safety cultures, however, is a positive trend in many organisations, often as a result of a workplace injury.

“After an injury attitudes change and everyone starts looking after each other.”

“In today’s workplace, safety is an integral part of the daily routine and getting the job done cost effectively. Safety management has become part of the workplace culture.”

Mr Tony Robinson, director of WorkCover’s specialist services, agrees that the single most important thing you can do is never work live.

“Start with the golden rule and then do a mental check you’ve covered the other basics,” Mr Robinson said.

When working with electricity:

  • never work live
  • identify all electrical sources before you start
  • assess the risks
  • isolate the supply
  • lock the switch
  • test before you touch
  • reassess if anything changes.

To see these tips in action, watch Electrical safety, or visit workcover.nsw.gov.au for more information.

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Workplace safety

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