Brett Smyth, General Manager of Ideal Industries EMEA, discusses the essential role safe isolation kits can play in electricians’ safety on site and the opportunity for electrical wholesalers to generate sales by offering this simple safety product.
If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that life is precious. The pandemic has highlighted that we all have a responsibility to safeguard our own wellbeing and that of those around us. Hopefully, that shared responsibility for ensuring everyone stays safe will remain a part of how we live and work from here on in.
In the electrical sector, as in all aspects of the construction sector, health and safety is already a priority. However, those who work with known hazards all the time can become complacent about the real dangers and overlook the need for basic safety measures to protect themselves and others. In the electrical sector, one step that is often overlooked is safe isolation of the electrical network.
What’s the issue with safe isolations?
According to the latest statistics from Electrical Safety First, there are 379 injuries or fatalities per year in England from electrical distribution. It’s an alarming statistic, particularly when we consider that many of these incidents are entirely preventable.
More alarming still is a parallel statistic: only one in five electricians carries a safe isolation lock out/tag out kit to ensure that the isolated distribution network is not accidentally switched to live while they are still working. As a result, professionals who routinely work with live current and know how potentially fatal can be, are often failing to protect themselves and their colleagues from accidents that could cause serious injury or death.
For electrical wholesalers, the opportunity is clear: safe isolation kits are an important piece of equipment for professional electricians and 80% of customers still need to purchase one. This is a chance not only to generate sales, but potentially also to save lives and build customer relationships.
Where does the responsibility lie?
Fundamentally, the issue of electric shocks caused by unsafe isolations results from poor safety behaviours on site.
Part of this is due to workplace cultures. Young electricians entering the profession have been trained in safe isolations and anticipate using best practice on site but, in a busy commercial environment, under time pressure, experienced colleagues don’t always prioritise locking out and tagging isolations to ensure they’re safe. As a result, poor safety behaviours are being perpetuated and electricians continue to put themselves, their colleagues, and others on site at risk.
There is another element to the problem, however. While it’s the employer’s responsibility to ensure that each operative remains safe on site and enforce good safety behaviours, few contractors supply safe isolation kits in the same way they would expect to provide PPE. Nor do they make carrying a safe isolation kit a mandatory requirement across their team. As a result, the practice of locking out and tagging isolations on site is often not monitored by those in senior site-based roles and the message about the importance of safe isolations is not, therefore, endorsed.
For electrical wholesalers, this means that the potential customer base for safe isolation kits ranges across the board. From young electricians who have recently trained and see safe isolation as a routine element of their work, to more experienced professionals who have a duty of care to their junior colleagues, right up to companies with corporate responsibility for keeping their employees safe.
Kits for All Customers
The need for increased vigilance and improved safety behaviours when it comes to safe isolations has prompted Ideal Industries, as a leading electrical manufacturer, to call for improved regulation and compliance on safe isolation of live electrical services to drive safety best practice and save lives.
There is HSE guidance in place to encourage safe isolation best practice, but this needs to be reinforced by a mandatory requirement to prevent accidents by locking out every isolation.
Accidental contact with part of the network that has inadvertently been switched back to live is, after all, an easily avoidable hazard. Ideal Industries has a wide range of safe isolation products that enable electricians to lock out isolations, including padlocks, hasps and lockout devices, along with re-useable tags. A range of Ideal Industries Safe Isolation kits are also available, including kits specifically designed for domestic installations, commercial jobs and electrical students/apprentices. All electricians, no matter how experienced, should carry a full safe isolation lock out/tag out kit on every job.
For additional protection against any residual current or accidental contact with live electrical supplies, we also suggest that electrical contractors use IDEAL’s range of insulated tools. Ultimately, IDEAL has a range of electrical testing equipment which should also be used as part of a safe isolation process to verify isolation of the required area and check that there is no potentially dangerous residual current.
Let’s take action
Hopefully, at some point, use of lock out and tag out kits will become mandatory. Until then, let’s save lives and prevent injury by actively encouraging electricians to use the equipment available to make isolations safer.