Under the Health and Safety at Work Act employers in the UK must ensure the safety and health of their employees and members of the public who might be affected by their work activities, which includes Electrical Safety.
Electrical injuries can be caused by a range of voltages from those used for commercial power tools to the very high voltages used in power distribution. As a general rule, the higher the voltage, the greater risk there is for serious injury. The nature of injuries that can be sustained include:
Voltages as low as 50 volts applied between two parts of the human body can result in current flow that is capable of blocking electrical signals between the brain and muscles. The possible consequences of this include:
- Interrupting signals to the heart, preventing it from beating properly
- Hindering the ability to breathe
- Causing muscle spasms
The precise effect and its severity depend on a number of factors such as:
- How high the voltage
- Parts of the body affected
- Whether the person is wet or dry
- Length of time the current flows
Static electricity, such as is sometimes experienced when getting out of a car or walking across a carpet containing man-made fibre may be 10,000 volts or more. However, because the current flow is of such short duration it doesn't normally affect a person. However, if the environment is right, such as containing flammable fumes, static electricity can cause fire or explosion.
Electrical current passing through the human body can result in heating of the tissue, which, in severe cases, can result in deep burns that require major surgery. Burns are obviously more common with higher voltages but may occur from domestic electricity supplies if the current flows for more than a fraction of a second.
Loss of Muscle Control
Electric shock can result in painful muscle spasms. In some cases these may be strong enough to break bones or dislocate joints. Loss of muscle control often results in the person being unable to ‘let go’ or escape the source of electric shock. It can also result in involuntary acts that result in injury, for example, if a person is working at height they may fall or be thrown into nearby machinery.
Overloaded, faulty, incorrectly maintained or shorted electrical equipment can become very hot. Even in normal use some electrical equipment is designed to operate at high temperatures. Some low voltage equipment, such as a car battery can become hot and even explode if the terminals become shorted.
Anyone coming into contact with such equipment, particularly if they are unaware that it is faulty may suffer thermal burns. When operated in potentially explosive atmospheres, even a single cell battery as used in a torch can generate a small spark that is sufficient to cause an explosion.
Managing Electrical Safety
- Risk assessments should be carried out in all places and for all activities where electricity is present. This would normally be part of a wider ranging risk assessment exercise. Identify potential hazards. assess levels of risk and the potential severity.
- Identify controls already in place and decide if any additional controls are needed
- Although some safety precautions may be technically complex. most controls are common sense actions such as:
- Ensure the equipment in use is suitable for the task and conditions
- If available and suitable for the job, use low voltage equipment
- Where mains powered equipment is in use, install safety devices such as an RCD (Residual Current Device)
- Have a good inspection and maintenance regime for electrical equipment and installations
- Ensure people working with electricity are properly trained and competent to do the job safely
In most situations encountered in low risk organisations, a competent qualified electrician should be able to carry out this work.
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