There are many potentially fatal and severe risks involved when working with electricity, including electric shocks, burns, fires, and explosions. These risks can stem from negligence, ignorance and complacency, or come about due to unforeseen equipment failures.
The employer's responsibility is to ensure that their employees' health and safety are protected in the workplace under Australian WHS law. However, as an electrical engineer yourself, you also have to play a proactive role in ensuring your own safety on the job.
Below are some smart safety tips you can take to manage electrical risks in the workplace, which may be familiar to some of you who have been in the industry for a long time but unforeseen to those newer to the profession.
1. Familiarise yourself with the company's safety practices
Safety practices vary by workplace, so ensure you familiarise yourself with your workplace environment and adhere to the client's specific safety rules and regulations. You may be required to complete an induction as part of your pre-employment or attend client-specific training before you commence work. Depending on your workplace requirements, you may also have to undergo safety training. If you use any machinery, tools, or other specialised equipment, attend certified training on using the equipment safely first. In some cases, engineers may need an appropriate license or verification of competency (VOC) to work in certain conditions and handle specific equipment.
2. Don't Take Shortcuts
Companies often have strict procedures for ensuring employee health and safety. While some people may believe that their way is better or safer than the company's rules and procedures, not following established procedures can lead to severe or potentially life-threatening injuries. During a risk assessment process, always abide by the rules or consult with more experienced colleagues to avoid hazardous situations later on.
Never compromise on safety when performing a job because a particular task seems simple – accidents can happen even when you are doing something repetitive or redundant. In addition, always report faulty and damaged equipment to the appropriate person, and ensure the equipment is clearly labelled 'out of service' to notify other personnel of the issue and prevent potential injury.
3. Wear the right protective gear
Wear it; you hear it time and time again. As an electrical engineer, you will either perform or be in the vicinity of electrical works to assist with the testing, maintenance or repair of electrical equipment, so protective gear is required for most jobs. Administrative Protection requirements include Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as safety glasses, hard hats, gloves/LV gloves, steel cap boots, and fire retardant (FR rated) clothing, to name a few. And remember: inspect all your protective gear before every use and make sure they are in good condition. Keep up with manufacturer recommendations and testing regimes, and repair/dispose of equipment when faulty.
4. Follow isolation procedures
To safely work on electrical equipment or any equipment with stored energy, you must follow an isolation procedure. The correct isolation procedure goes a long way to ensure that the equipment being operated on is appropriately de-energised. The basic principles of isolation are to lock, tag and prevent the release of the electrical energy source.
Before work commences, take precautions to identify potential electrical hazards and controls for each risk. If you are the authorised person working on the equipment, ensure that you have the isolation device under your sole custody/control all of the time. Remember to communicate to the control room that you are about to perform work in the specific area and lock on to the correct isolation point. If more than one person is working on the same equipment, they must attach their personal lock and danger tag to the right isolation point. An isolation point should indicate the disrupted energy source and allow at least six personal padlocks to be attached. Using the correct isolation information tag and isolation point will prevent accidental start-up during your work task. Lockable devices also provide additional protection from tampering fy other parties or animals.
After the equipment has been shut down, locked out, and tagged, a 'test for dead' should be done to ensure effective isolation is in place. More information on the isolation of plants can be found here.
5. Pay attention to your surroundings
You might think you have sufficient safety measures in place, but the best way to stay safe is to pay attention to your work environment and conditions. Practice simple habits like knowing where you are standing and being aware of possible hazards that may be present on site. Ensure any electrical equipment is not plugged in or switched on when not being used. Be mindful of the nearest exits in case of emergency and what areas are off-limits. Besides that, always ensure your work area is clean and organised to avoid tripping hazards and easily access your tools when needed. Keep an eye for any potentially dangerous situations and communicate with other colleagues in the vicinity.
When in doubt, ask for help! If you have any questions about ensuring your own safety while working with electricity, don't hesitate to reach out for a helping hand from your colleagues. Understanding the risks and hazards is essential in addition to asking questions if uncertainty exists.