142 workers succumbed to death over 2003 to 2015 after coming into contact with electricity. This roughly translates into 11 deaths per year. 123 of these deaths, which is a whopping 87%, occurred during installation of electrical fixtures.
The major risks facing electricians are injury and death due to electricity. The location of electricity is a major determinant of the possibility of risks. For example, electrical connections installed outdoors pose greater risk. This is because outdoor electrical installations can become damp or damaged, increasing the risk of contact.
It helps you as an electrician be aware of the potential hazards facing you to protect yourself with appropriate safety measures.
- Electric Shock
- Exposure to Electric Fire or Explosion
- Portable Electric Equipment
- High-Risk Operating Environments
- Exposure to Asbestos
- Exposure to Freezing Temperatures
- Threat of Confined Spaces
Electric shock occurs when you come into contact with exposed electric components. Exposed leads, for example, can cause shocks when touched inadvertently.
Shocks also ensue when such leads or other electric components come into contact with conductors. A metal roof, flooring, or other metal surface, for example, becomes dangerous, when it comes into contact with open leads.
Faulty appliances, frayed cords, faulty or damaged wiring, downed electricity lines, lightening, and wet appliances, pose a greater risk of shocks. The risk of shock is higher in narrow spaces that contain earthed metalwork. For example, interiors of a tank or bin can become unsafe when an electrical fault occurs.
Electric shock can lead to serious burns. The burn spots are usually the spots from where electricity entered and exited the body. A shock can cause:
· A weak or irregular pulse. Sometimes, there may be no pulse at all.
· Difficulty in breathing, or lack of breathing
· Sudden cardiac arrest
It is imperative that the victim is taken to a hospital immediately.
Exposure to Electric Fire or Explosion
Electricity can ignite flammable substances and lead to fire or even an explosion. Faulty appliances and damaged outlets can also cause fires.
Faults in switches, receptacles and appliance cords, are some common reasons of electric fires. Heat from the faulty electric source catches onto combustible elements in the vicinity such as curtains and rugs, which leads to flames.
Outdated wiring is another reason for electric fires. Such wiring is worn out and incapable of supporting the power needs of modern appliances such as ovens, computers and ACs. The wiring system gets overloaded as a result, which causes a fire.
Use of incorrect light wattage on fixtures can lead to fires. Prolonged use of extension cords for appliances can also cause electric fires.
Portable Electric Equipment
Portable electric equipment such as sockets and plugs, and electrical cables, are prone to damage. Extension cords are also at a risk of damage as they are frequently moved. Such damage can increase the chances of electric shocks and fires.
Portable appliances such as space heaters pose a great electrical risk. These appliances are moved frequently as they are portable. When they are placed in the proximity of combustible materials, they cause fires.
Coil space heaters, in particular, are a huge risk. These appliances become extremely hot. When they are positioned near any combustible materials such as clothing, couches, rugs and beds, they can cause ignite immediately and cause fires.
Solar power systems are another example of high-risk equipment. These systems can be powered by sunlight or battery energy even after power supply from the mains is stopped.
Installation of solar panels on roofs is another risk-enhancing factor. If you are working in the vicinity of a solar system in the ways given below, then your risk of exposure to electrical hazards is increased manifold:
· Near overhead electrical wiring or equipment
· At higher elevations such as roof falls or ceiling spaces
By working in the above way, you are exposing yourself to energized electrical installations (the solar power system), which can lead to electrical accidents.
High-Risk Operating Environments
Also called “hostile operating environments”, high-risk environments are any space that either damage electrical equipment or reduce its lifespan. These environments usually have vibration, moisture, heat, dust, and corrosive chemicals.
Some examples of such areas include wet environments, dusty areas, outdoors, commercial, manufacturing facilities and commercial kitchens.
Electrical equipment used in such environments need to be inspected regularly (once a year at least) by a qualified technician.
Exposure to Asbestos
Though banned in 2003 in Australia, asbestos may still be present in some settings. If you work in such environments, then you face the risk of exposure to asbestos.
Asbestos is estimated to be present in materials in approximately one-third of homes in Australia.
Exposure to asbestos can be harmful to health. Inhaling dust containing asbestos can cause lung cancer and asbestosis.
Exposure to Freezing Temperatures
The human body is designed to function at a specific temperature. Going below a minimum temperature can put the body at great risk.
Icy temperatures can increase the risk of contracting hypothermia. The body gets dangerously over-cooled in this condition. Nausea, dizziness, fatigue, severe shivering and euphoria are some symptoms of this condition.
Cold temperatures can also cause frostbite. This condition freezes the exposed extremities such as fingers, ear lobes, toes and nose.
Threat of Confined Spaces
As an electrician, you may sometimes have to work in confined spaces such as tunnels, tanks, silos, vaults, subcellars and cold storage. Work in confined places can lead to:
· Inadequate breathing air –
Confined spaces may not have the amount of oxygen essential for occupants to breathe. This can to unconsciousness.
If the atmosphere contains any toxic substance in addition, you can become ill.
· Asphyxiant Exposure –
Carbon monoxide, argon, and nitrogen are some examples of asphyxiants. These gases can become so intense in confined places that they displace oxygen, causing a substantial decrease in the life-giving gas.
As oxygen becomes low, you may experience rapid breathing and heart rate, fatigue, emotional distress and clumsiness. Increased unavailability of oxygen can lead to convulsions, vomiting, coma and even death.
· Exposure to Biological Hazards –
Exposure to, or contact with, sludge, mould, and fecal matter can risk the contraction of viruses and bacteria.
· Risk of Fire –
Presence of any combustible or flammable materials such as gases, liquids, can cause explosion when ignited.
In addition to protecting yourself from safety hazards, it is also important to safeguard yourself from business hazards. A comprehensive public liability insurance package is the best way to protect your business and finances. A comprehensive insurance can cover you during risks such as lawsuits, theft, damage and loss of income.
1) Staff, Fact Sheet, Electrical risks at the workplace: Fact Sheet, viewed December 14, 2020, https://www.safework.nsw.gov.au/resource-library/construction/electrical-services/electrical-risks-at-the-workplace-fact-sheet
2) Staff, Electrical Safety, viewed December 14, 2020, https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/electrical-safety
3) Staff, August 2014, Electric Shock, viewed December 14, 2020, https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/electric-shock#:~:text=Causes%20of%20electric%20shock,-Some%20of%20the&text=Damaged%20or%20frayed%20cords%20or,Downed%20powerlines
4) Rachel Engel, July 24, 2020, 5 common causes of electrical fires, viewed December 14, 2020, https://www.firerescue1.com/fire-products/firefightingtools/articles/5-common-causes-of-electrical-fires-olFt6TUMOsWg7re2/#:~:text=Most%20electrical%20fires%20are%20caused,appliance%20cords%2C%20receptacles%20and%20switches.&text=Removing%20the%20grounding%20plug%20from,can%20also%20cause%20a%20fire.
5) Staff, December 14, 2020, OSH Answers Fact Sheets Electrician, viewed December 14, 2020, https://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/occup_workplace/electrician.html
6) Staff, Dangers of Asbestos, viewed December 14, 2020, https://asbestosawareness.com.au/dangers-of-asbestos-nsw/
7) Staff, October 3, 2017, OSH Answers Fact Sheets Confined Space – Introduction, viewed December 14, 2020, https://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/hsprograms/confinedspace_intro.html
8) Staff, December 14, 2020, OSH Answers Fact Sheets Temperature Conditions – Cold, viewed December 14, 2020, https://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/phys_agents/hot_cold.html