Skip to main content
Risk Management Bulletin


By May 1, 2008No Comments

Because electricity is so familiar a force, your employees may think they know all its mysteries. Not so! What they don’t know can hurt – or kill — them. Not long ago, much of the state of Florida went dark. Lights went out. Traffic signals quit, causing huge backups. People were trapped in elevators. It turned out that a worker doing equipment checks at a substation had disabled two protective devices on the system. Much was said about the vulnerability of the system.

However, the worker was just as vulnerable: perhaps more so. Electricity, when freed from its bounds by equipment defect — or more often, lapses in safety procedure — is the nation’s fifth-largest workplace killer, causing more than 400 fatalities a year in a recent 12-year span . Many more workers suffered burns and damage to internal organs, often in a fraction of a second. All too many of these accidents resulted from employee ignorance:

Among the leading misconceptions by workers:

  • Normal household/workplace current can cause only a mild shock. Not so! Even 110-120 volts can be deadly. It depends largely on what resistance the person’s body has to the current, the body part in contact, the duration of the exposure, and other conditions, such as the presence of moisture. Resistance is measured in ohms. A person’s body might have a natural resistance of 100,000 ohms. But on a damp day, this resistance can drop to just 1,000 ohms, says Total Training Resource: Electrical Safety.
  • All individuals are similarly affected by contact with electrical current. Again, not so! Different people may react differently to the same exposure. Especially at risk are those with heart problems. Even a mild shock can cause a heart attack, often fatal.
  • “If I don’t touch it, I can’t be hurt by it.” Another dangerous misconception! Electricity can jump across an air space, in what’s called an arc flash, with a temperature three times that at the surface of the sun. Scientists and safety experts are studying the arc flash phenomenon and what makes it happen in some cases and not others. Much is unknown.
  • “A disconnected circuit is safe to work on.” This isn’t the case if the circuit includes batteries or capacitors that store electricity and can release it suddenly even if the “plug” is no longer in the wall. This is the reason that TV sets and similar devices carry “Do not open” warnings on their cases. Even junked sets can be dangerous.

Our risk management professionals would be happy to work with you in developing and implementing a comprehensive workplace electrical safety program. Just give us a call.