8 common electrical hazards in the workplace
Posted by Tracy Seward
While your workplace may not seem a high-risk environment for electrical injuries, electrical safety should be considered by all businesses. Poorly maintained or incorrectly used electrical equipment can cause fires, electric shock or electrocution – resulting in life-changing injuries or death. This guide outlines the electrical hazards to look out for and how to manage them in the workplace.
For employers, maintaining a healthy and safe workplace is vital – and electrical safety is part of that.
Under the Electricity at Work Regulations (1989), employers must make sure all electrical equipment is safe. It should be checked, properly installed and regularly inspected and maintained by a qualified person.
Employers must carry out an electrical risk assessment of any electrical hazards. The assessment should detail who could be harmed by electrical hazards, how the level of risk has been established and the precautions that have been taken to control the risk. You must also provide staff with training on electrical safety in the workplace.
Employers are also required to report certain incidents and injuries to the Health and Safety Executive.
Employers risk fines for not complying with the regulations, so it’s essential to be aware of electrical hazards in the workplace.
The main injuries caused by electrical hazards are:
Many appliances and equipment in the workplace present an electrical hazard, but the most common hazards are:
Using damaged electrical equipment, such as construction power tools, can be very dangerous. Broken tools and equipment should not be used until they are fixed and certified by someone qualified to do so.
Electrical cords on equipment contain securely insulated live wires. If the cable becomes frayed or cracked, the live wire can be exposed and lead to electrical fires or electric shock. Damaged cables should be reported and repaired by a qualified person, and should not be temporarily fixed with tape.
Water can significantly increase the chance of electrocution so electrical equipment should not be used near a source of water or operated with wet hands. If the equipment does get wet, a qualified electrician should inspect it before it is used again.
The high voltage in overhead electrical lines can result in significant burns and electrocution. If you have workers working near overhead power lines, it is recommended that a minimum distance of 10 feet from the lines and nearby equipment is maintained. Do not store equipment or materials under overhead power lines, and use safety barriers and signs to warn others of the hazard.
If you’re fitting or replacing a fuse, you must use the right fuse for the appliance so that it doesn’t overheat. Check the manual or the label on the appliance to find out the wattage and the correct fuse required.
Many offices are full of computers and other equipment that all need plugging in, often with lots of extension leads and adapters that can result in a spaghetti of cables and plugs. Ideally, an individual power socket should provide electricity to a single item, such as a computer monitor or printer.
If you do need to power several appliances from a single socket, use a fused, multi-way bar extension lead with surge protection rather than relying on a basic block adapter when plugging in additional equipment.
Do not overload the extension lead by plugging in several appliances that exceed the maximum electrical current level stated for the extension lead. Never plug an extension lead into another extension lead.
A smell of hot plastic, sparks or smoke coming from plugs, appliances or sockets are signs of an electrical hazard so keep an eye out for these danger signs. Get help from a qualified person and turn off the electrical supply to any equipment that appears to develop an electrical fault.
All electrical equipment and devices must be earthed or grounded. If not, you’re at risk of electrocution. Make sure that electrical equipment is periodically checked and certified by a qualified person.
Engineers, electricians, engineers and overhead line workers are among the professions that are most exposed to electrical hazards. Installation, repairs, inspection and maintenance of electrical equipment are common activities that lead to accidents.
Agricultural workers are also at high risk because machinery or equipment can come into contact with overhead power lines on farmland.
On average, one farm worker dies this way each year, and in the five years to 2018, there were 1,140 near-miss incidents involving machinery and equipment contacting overhead electric power lines where serious injury or death was a possibility.
Most workplaces have some electrical hazards, though. The high volume of electrical equipment in most offices can expose workers to shocks, burns and fire.
Employers should make sure all employees are aware of electrical safety at work.
Staff should be encouraged to keep an eye out for any risks, and if they spot faulty equipment, it should be reported to a supervisor or whoever is in charge. The equipment should stop being used immediately and be checked by a qualified person.
Here are some precautions to take:
Need a helpful reminder of some of the common electrical hazards in the workplace? Our handy infographic can help – feel free to share it with others, or simply download and print it out.