Section 7: Electrical Safety

The major hazards associated with electricity are electrical shock and fire. Electrical shock occurs when the body becomes part of the electric circuit, either when an individual comes in contact with both wires of an electrical circuit, one wire of an energized circuit and the ground, or a metallic part that has become energized by contact with an electrical conductor.

Electrical Hazards

The severity and effects of an electrical shock depend on a number of factors, such as the pathway through the body, the amount of current, the length of time of the exposure, and whether the skin is wet or dry. Water is a great conductor of electricity, allowing current to flow more easily in wet conditions and through wet skin. The effect of the shock may range from a slight tingle to severe burns to cardiac arrest. The chart below shows the general relationship between the degree of injury and amount of current for a 60-cycle hand-to-foot path of one second's duration of shock. While reading this chart, keep in mind that most electrical circuits can provide, under normal conditions, up to 20,000 milliamperes of current flow.

1 Milliampere Perception level
5 Milliamperes Slight shock felt; not painful but disturbing
6-30 Milliamperes Painful shock; “let-go” range
50-150 Milliamperes Extreme pain, respiratory arrest, severe muscular contraction
1,000-4,300 Milliamperes Ventricular fibrillation
10,000+ Milliamperes Cardiac arrest, severe burns and probable death

Preventing Electrical Hazards

There are various ways of protecting people from the hazards caused by electricity, including insulation, guarding, grounding, and electrical protective devices. Workers can significantly reduce electrical hazards by following some basic precautions:

  • Inspect wiring of equipment before each use. Replace damaged or frayed electrical cords immediately.
  • Use safe work practices every time electrical equipment is used.
  • Know the location and how to operate shut-off switches and/or circuit breaker panels. Use these devices to shut off equipment in the event of a fire or electrocution.
  • Limit the use of extension cords. Use only for temporary operations.
  • Use only multi-plug adapters equipped with circuit breakers or fuses.
  • Minimize the potential for water or chemical spills on or near electrical equipment.


All electrical cords should have sufficient insulation to prevent direct contact with wires. It is particularly important to check all cords before each use, since corrosive chemicals or solvent vapors may erode the insulation.

Damaged cords should be repaired or taken out of service immediately, especially in wet environments.



Only equipment with three-prong plugs should be used. The third prong provides a path to ground that helps prevent the buildup of voltages that may result in an electrical shock or spark. This does not guarantee that no one will receive a shock, be injured, or be killed. It will, however, substantially reduce the possibility of such accidents, especially when used in combination with other safety measures.

Circuit Protection Devices

Circuit Protection Devices

Circuit protection devices are designed to automatically limit or shut off the flow of electricity in the event of a ground-fault, overload, or short circuit in the wiring system. Fuses, circuit breakers, and ground-fault circuit interrupters are three well-known examples of such devices.

Fuses and circuit breakers prevent over-heating of wires and components that might otherwise create hazards for operators. They disconnect the

circuit when it becomes overloaded.

The ground-fault circuit interrupter, or GFCI, is designed to shutoff electric power if a ground fault is detected. The GFCI is particularly useful near sinks and wet locations.

Safe Work Practices

The following practices may reduce risk of injury or fire when working with electrical equipment:

  • When it is necessary to handle equipment that is plugged in, be sure hands are dry. If it is not unsafe to do so, work with only one hand, keeping the other hand at your side or in your pocket, away from all conductive material.
  • If water or a chemical is spilled onto equipment, shut off power at the main switch or circuit breaker and unplug the equipment.
  • If an individual comes in contact with a live electrical conductor, do not touch the equipment, cord or person. Disconnect the power source from the circuit breaker or pull out the plug using a leather belt

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