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Construction is considered the most dangerous industry for employees. Compared to any other business sector, recent government reports have stated that the number of fatalities and injuries attributed to construction are higher than any other. On average, there are 64,000 injuries within the industry. One of the three most common reasons for injury is poor electrical safety, with eight deaths due to electrical shock in 2016/17. Medtree, leading distributors of medical supplies and first aid kits, are sharing their guide to health and safety for electrical installations.
Working with electricity is highly dangerous, particularly on a construction site where equipment is more likely to suffer damage, and hazards are on a much larger scale. Often, lack of awareness and proper training leads to the most accidents. The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, as well as The Electricity at Work Regulations 1989, offer further detail on protecting your staff.
Risk assessments are a government requirement, ensuring the safety of your staff. A risk assessment will reduce the risk of incident by identifying any potential hazards, and working to rectify them. The risk assessment should include:
- Action and procedures to resolve any accidents
- Name the first aiders at the construction site (you must make them aware of their duties)
- Highlight any hazardous equipment or conditions for staff
- Reassess the unsafe conditions to check they are now resolved
Construction sites will likely have hazardous equipment and conditions - it’s part of the industry. However, by ensuring all employees are aware of the dangers, and putting first aid procedures in place, you are fulfilling your duty of care to your staff.
A detailed risk assessment will highlight the electrical hazards of the construction site, and you must inform your staff of the risks to their life. Electrical dangers will vary, depending on the construction site and the installation project. However, there are some hazards that are common within the industry, such as:
According to HSE, contact with overhead lines causes fatalities each year. It’s not only contact, but even close approach to live conductors may allow a ‘flashover’, with voltage as low as 230V proving potentially fatal. If your machinery or vehicles get too close to the overhead power lines, electricity can travel through the equipment. You should always assume the power lines are live and never be complacent. Consult the local electricity company about the lines and how to proceed safely, while enquiring if they can be switched off.
Underground power cables prove an even greater risk to your staff than overhead power lines, as you cannot see whether they are live when covered. With that in mind, you must always assume they are live, and that power cables may be present before undertaking work for your electrical installation project. Contact the local electricity company, the council and highways authority for maps and plans of buried services, and practice safe digger regulations - including excavating alongside the service rather than above it. Before you can even start the job, the underground cables must be located, identified and marked.
As a requirement of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998, electrical equipment must be operated by fully competent and trained staff. The machinery chosen for the installation project must be properly installed and go through necessary checks. There are guidelines available for construction and testing electrical installations at BS 7671:2001 Requirements for electrical installations and IEE Wiring Regulations.
For your electrical installation project, you must take a visual inspection of the site, reduce supply voltage if possible, ensure isolation devices are working and attempt to use residual devices. Similarly, turn off equipment when not in use and, if the machinery, shows signs of damage, immediately isolate and rectify.
As an employer, you have a duty of care to your team as part of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. You must:
- Construct electrical systems to prevent danger
- Maintain electrical systems
- Risk Assessments: Before work begins on your electrical installation project, you are required, by law, to carry out a risk assessment.
- Electrical Services Maps: Your site operator should obtain up-to-date maps from the local council, highlighting where potential hazards, wires and cables are located, or near.
- Proper Planning: Equipment, machinery and staff must be fully prepared for the project. This may include additional work, such as decontamination. You must also isolate and release all sources of energy, so that energy cannot be re-introduced to the equipment. Extra care must be taken when repairing machinery in a potentially explosive atmosphere.
- Maintenance: Always be aware of any signs of damage to any electrical equipment, and isolate immediately. Ensure all equipment is also switched off when not in use.
- Comply with government requirements
- Highlight live, energized circuits
- Provide personal protective equipment
- Install guardrails on high surfaces to avoid falls
- Keep the specific area free of debris
- Shield welding areas
- Put in place the relevant fire extinguishers
- Do not let temporary electrics overload