What are electrical hazards
An electrical hazard is a dangerous condition where a worker can or does make electrical contact with energized equipment or a conductor. From that contact, the person may sustain an injury from shock, and there is a potential for the worker to receive an arc flash (electrical explosion) burn, thermal burn or blast injury.
Electricity can either be "static" or "dynamic". Dynamic electricity is the uniform motion of electrons through condition (electric current). Static electricity is the accumulation of charge on surfaces as a result of contact and friction with another surface.
According to the Electrical Safety Authority (ESA) there were 83¹ electrocutions in Ontario from 2001 through 2010. According to ESA, the most common cause of occupational electrocution is using an improper procedure (60%)².
What the law says
Employers need to develop and implement a written health and safety program that supports the control of electrical hazards in the workplace and follow the regulations that apply to electrical hazards in the workplace. For example, the Construction Regulation (Ontario Regulation 213/91 Section 182) is very specific about who can work on electrical equipment e.g. an electrician certified under the Trades Qualification and Apprenticeship Act.
Guidelines for working on or near electrical equipment and conductors are found in several documents, including:
Construction Regulation (Ontario Regulation 213/91)
Ontario Electrical Safety Code
Ontario Regulation 213/07 (2007)
Fire Code Part 4, Subsection 4.1.8 (Handling Flammable and Combustible Liquids)
Ontario Regulation 851, Regulation for Industrial Establishments, Section 22, Subsection 4
NPFA 70E Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace
CSA Z462 Workplace Electrical Safety
CSA Z460-05 Control of Hazardous Energy - Lockout and Other Methods
How having an electrical hazards program can help your business
Thirty thousand (30,000) electrical shock incidents occur every year. Since 1998, according to the Ministry of Labour, 69 people were killed, 263 were critically injured and 844 workers received more than minor injuries as a result of exposure to electrical hazards.
Nearly half of these incidents involved people working on electrical equipment while it was energized, including 28 workers who were killed and 255 who received serious burns from an arc flash. Other causes of injury involved malfunctioning meters, faulty equipment and the use of equipment in close proximity to live electricity.
The most common type of work to result in an electrocution is routine work involving repair and maintenance. Ensure lockout procedures are followed and that circuits are tested to ensure that they are de-energized. The main dangers of electrical hazards are electrical shock and/or fire. In the past decade, 21 per cent of electrical-related fatalities have involved workers in an electrical trade such as electricians. However, the other 79 per cent involved workers in other occupations such as maintenance workers, millwrights, apprentices, labourers, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) technicians, equipment operators, supervisors, and drivers.
The impact of an electrical injury or fatality can be devastating for the workers involved and crippling in terms of production downtime, legal fees and associated costs.
What you can do
Employers need to identify potential electrical hazards in the workplace, create the necessary policies and programs, provide personal protective equipment as appropriate, and provide training on how to safely work with or near electrical hazards.
¹ 2010 Ontario Electrical Safety Report , Electrical Safety Authority, p.11;
² ibid, 16