Stay safe when working with electricity

In observance of electrical safety month, which runs through May, we’d like to remind you of ways to stay safe around electricity. We should all be diligent when working around electricity both at work and at home.

At home, make sure electrical outlets in kitchens, bathrooms, garages, unfinished basements and outdoors are protected by ground fault circuit interrupters. Also make sure the circuit breaker is turned off before any work is done such as replacing an outlet. Use outlet covers to protect small children.

At work we are required to follow certain procedures when working around electrical equipment, and Fermilab maintains a comprehensive electrical safety training program. Electrical training at the laboratory includes courses on basic electrical safety, Lockout/Tagout, and electrical safety in the workplace. Fermilab’s ES&H Manual has 10 chapters that deal with electrical safety. The Electrical Safety Subcommittee is in the process of revising some of these guidelines for electrical workers to incorporate stricter personal protective equipment.

While it is important to prevent electrical shocks, another key objective of electrical safety is to prevent an arc flash. A metal tool that makes contact between an energized conductor and ground (or another energized conductor) can vaporize the metals involved. If the energized conductor is from a powerful-enough source, a sustained arc flash can evolve with extreme explosive force that could result in severe burning or even death.

During the last year the DOE complex has had 121 violations of Lockout/Tagout, a set of safety procedures designed to protect workers from electrical hazards. This is the highest number since 2005. There were some minor injuries and electrical shocks but no fatalities. The main reasons for these violations include poor planning, failure to follow LOTO procedures, and failure to adequately verify that there is zero energy present. The DOE’s theme for this May is “When in doubt, lock it out.”

Find more information on DOE’s electrical safety month online.

— Mike Utes, head of Fermilab’s Electrical Safety Subcommittee