May is Electrical Safety Month

A recent electrical accident at a partner national laboratory reminds us to follow safe electrical work practices at our own facilities. Photo: J.B. Dawson, ESH&Q

It is an unfortunate irony that Los Alamos National Laboratory experienced the most severe electrical accident in the recent history of the DOE laboratory complex just as Electrical Safety Month begins. One worker remains hospitalized in critical condition at the time of this writing. Our hearts go out to the workers and families whose lives have been affected by this event. Fermilab has offered to provide assistance to our associates at Los Alamos as they recover from the event and seek to prevent a recurrence.

Fermilab has no higher priority than for our employees, subcontractors and visitors to work safely so we can all return to our homes as healthy as we were when we arrived at work. The incident at Los Alamos is a stark reminder of the danger that electricity can pose and of the reason we carefully follow safe electrical work practices.

The Department of Energy has chosen to focus on electrical hazard recognition for this year’s Electrical Safety Month. With the possible exception of ionizing radiation, electricity is the most difficult of our common workplace hazards to readily identify.

Employees and subcontractors receive basic training in recognizing and avoiding electrical hazards through the orientation training they attend when first arriving at the laboratory. Further training on electrical hazard recognition and safe work practices are available through the Basic Electrical Safety and Electrical Safety in the Workplace (NFPA 70E) training.

The primary methods Fermilab uses to identify hazardous electrical conditions and actions for specific projects and tasks are the Hazard Analysis and the Electrical Hazard Analysis and Work Permit. If you will enter a Fermilab construction site, you are required to review, understand and sign the Hazard Analysis.

Fermilab’s policy on electrical work requires that all electrical work be performed de-energized unless it is not feasible to do so or if de-energizing would create greater hazards. The Electrical Hazard Analysis and Work Permit will identify how to minimize the hazards present when doing electrical work and what personal protective equipment is needed to protect the workers.

The Electrical Safety Subgroup of the Energy Facility Contractors Group, of which Fermilab is a member, has prepared a short presentation for each week of Electrical Safety Month. Each week’s materials may be found through the following links:

Week 1: Introduction to electrical hazard recognition

Week 2: Electrical hazard recognition techniques

Week 3: General electrical safety

Week 4: Hazard identification at home

The Electrical Safety Foundation International has also prepared an electrical safety magazine that focuses on residential electrical safety, called “Electrical Safety Illustrated: That Old House, This New Update,” which you can view online.

If you have any questions about electrical safety, please contact your area electrical coordinator.

Dave Mertz