The simplest and most straightforward rule of electrical work is also the most critical: don’t work live.
This is the most important rule for electricians, who are obviously a highest-risk group for 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, and keep living 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!”
Injuries at work affect everyone involved, not just the injured worker. Clients accrue damages, other people may be injured, and everyone involved is left with a nagging guilty feeling that they could have done something to prevent the incident.
“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 is a positive trend in many organisations, though this is often as a result of a workplace injury. Sometimes, it takes something dramatic to be a catalyst for safer change.
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.