All electricians consider safety a part of their daily life. It simply must be a priority, since they work in hazardous and sometimes unpredictable environments. To observe Electrical Safety Month, we’ll delve into the tools and protocols that help ensure that we all get home safely—in addition to doing the job right.
Electrical infrastructure inevitably needs to be serviced. Even if everything is in proper operation, new safety guidelines and scheduled maintenance checks are necessary. This requires the de-energizing of the associated electrical circuits.
However, it’s not just enough to “shut them off” for servicing. OSHA guidelines stipulate that all electrical circuits need to have disconnects that can be locked out and tagged out. This means that the energized circuit is now isolated from the power source, preventing serious accidental injury.
The most obvious reason why lockout/tagout is so important is because it helps to keep people safe in the workplace. Energized circuits are critical for normal operation of equipment and businesses as a whole.
While human life is the primary concern of LO/TO procedure, incidents can cause serious damage to the equipment being worked on. In addition to being possibly very expensive to replace or repair, proper practices can maximize uptime and efficiency.
OSHA is the authority on lockout/tagout protocols, and requires them to be properly illustrated and followed in all workplaces. With a federal standard 1910.147 put in place in 1989, these guidelines are part of an effort to combat the potential of serious accidents that could occur. Lockout/Tagout practices became a necessary measure to ensure a proactive safety mindset, further preventing injuries and fatalities as well as potential losses in production times and profits.
That’s why it is more important than ever to generate awareness for Lockout/Tagout practices, and educate a broad audience about procedures, best safety practices, and the wide range of LO/TO products available. Generalized Lockout/Tagout regulations protect employees who work around any energized circuit.
Typically, LO/TO practices involve six critical steps:
Prepare for the environment
Control the source of energy
Isolate energized equipment
Attach lockout/tagout devices
Control any potentially stored energy
Verify that any energy is completely dissipated
When observed properly, LO/TO procedures help cultivate a safe and productive environment, and promote mutual respect for everyone on the job site.
Insulated tools aren’t simply regular tools with a twist or an extra coat of plastic. They’re specifically engineered and purpose-built to not only prevent users against the hazards of electricity, but to also protect the equipment that is being worked on. They’re also required for anyone who works on—or even near—energized circuits. This includes:
Troubleshooting circuit breakers in live electrical panels
Connecting and breaking high-voltage electrical disconnects
Cutting energized conductors
Battery service, storage, and DC infrastructure maintenance
Testing potentially energized circuits
Insulated hand tools must be used not only in situations when the tool is making contact with an energized circuit, but also when the worker is entering the proximity of exposed energized conductors. This means any electrician who works in the proximity of energized equipment should own a high-quality set of insulated tools.
With a variety of brands and products to choose from, insulated tools can vary greatly in performance, so it’s critical to choose the highest quality tools. A high-quality insulated tool will continue to retain their insulative properties even after tough usage and can even give you indications when it’s time to replace them.
One or two deaths still occur each day in the United States from arc flash accidents, and thousands of workers are treated each year for burns from arc flash incidents. Now, safety mandates like OSHA 1910.335 require hand tools to be insulated in potentially hazardous environments.
That’s why to maximize tool life while ensuring protection for users, it’s important to:
Follow all manufacturer’s guidelines for usage
Keep all tools clean, dry, and rust-free
Inspect that all insulation is intact prior to each use
Periodically have a qualified professional inspect and re-certify tools for safe use
If the tool becomes compromised in any capacity, destroy it or have it re-tested
Use other PPE as necessary
With so much attention devoted to safe work practices like lockout/tagout and the use of PPE and specialized insulated tools, test and measurement equipment sometimes goes unmentioned. T&M products and their proper usage are a cornerstone in preventing potentially catastrophic events.
Identifying the proper instruments for the job and using them correctly is fundamentally important. Non-contact voltage testers, multimeters, and resistance testers are all used in different cases, and it’s necessary to differentiate which should be used.
Every electrician has a need for a capable and accurate test and measurement tool. Installs, maintenance, troubleshooting, verifying circuits, voltage measurements, or basic diagnostics are all part of their daily work. The tools that we use to collect and verify information must not only be accurate but consistent, in addition to being durable enough for daily use.
It's every electrician’s responsibility to comply with industry standards and regulations, so it’s imperative that they select and utilize the correct instruments for their application. These questions can help each electrician choose the right tool for the job:
Possibly the most important distinction an electrician can make is choosing the right meter for their work environment. All meters, test leads, and probes must have an adequate category (CAT) safety rating. Quite often, the only thing standing between an electrical worker and an unexpected spike is the meter in their hands and the associated test leads. Using the wrong equipment in the wrong environment puts the user in harm’s way. Meters are rated to four different categories:
This typically covers electronic equipment. Signal level for telecommunications, electronic equipment and low-energy equipment.
Single-phase loads, typically connected to receptacles. This includes everything from lighting to appliances to office equipment.
Three-phase distribution, including single-phase commercial lighting. Distribution level-fixed primary feeders or branch circuits.
Three-phase at utility connection, any outdoor conductors or primary supply level. This category covers the highest and most dangerous level of transient overvoltage you are likely to encounter.
All T&M equipment must be:
Rated for the circuits and equipment in which they’ll be utilized
Designed for the environment in which they’ll be exposed
Visually inspected for external defects and damage before each use
Removed from service if there is evidence of damage that might expose the user to harm
It's also important to minimize risk by using PPE along with any T&M equipment. Industry best practices require properly rated electrical gloves, eye protection, and T&M equipment insulation. Electricians should also adhere to the manufacturer’s recommendations and instructions for the tools they are using.
In environments where testing equipment is used to test the absence of voltage, the operation of the device must be able to:
Verify a known voltage source
Test for the absence of voltage on the de-energized conductor or circuit part
Verified again on a known voltage source after an absence of voltage test is performed
Redundancy matters, since a zero reading might mean that no voltage is present during the testing—or it could mean that the instrument has failed. The latter could have disastrous consequences if the tool is used.
IDEAL is called the Electrician’s Champion™ for a reason. We’re obsessed with protecting you on the job site, and we remain an industry leader in personal safety for professional electricians. From Lockout/Tagout kits to multimeters, insulated screwdrivers to 1000V rated linesman pliers—we’ve got you covered. Think Blue.