Electrical safety: The shocking facts

By Don Winningham, ANAD Safety OfficeMay 19, 2016

Electrical safety: The shocking facts
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

ANNISTON ARMY DEPOT, Ala. -- We rely on electrical power to keep our workplaces and homes operating day and night.

Electricity provides heat, light and energy, but, as useful as electricity is, we must never forget it is also dangerous.

Almost any kind of job you can think of today involves using electricity. That is why it is important for everyone to understand how to avoid electrical shock and electrical arcs.

Electricity exposes us to three primary hazards -- shocks, arc flashes and arc blasts.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, a shock hazard is a dangerous condition associated with the possible release of energy caused by contact or approach to live parts.

The NFPA defines an arc flash hazard as a dangerous condition associated with the release of energy caused by an electric arc.

An arc blast is best defined as the rapid buildup of pressure which causes an explosion. Nearby material, such as copper, is melted, vaporized and thrown into the air, which is also superheated.

Each of these hazards can be deadly.

There are many different kinds of electrical hazards, depending on where you work.

Whether the electrical shock comes from an overhead transmission line or an incorrectly grounded power tool, the results can be equally fatal.

In addition to the electrical shock hazard resulting from direct contact of live conductors with body parts, there exists a possibility of electric arcs.

An electric arc, or an arcing fault, is a flashover of electric current through air in electrical equipment from one exposed live conductor to another or to ground.

Arc flash hazard is the danger of excessive heat exposure and serious burn injury due to arcing faults in electrical power systems.

Electric arcs produce intense heat, sound blast and pressure waves. They have extremely high temperatures, radiate intense heat, can ignite clothes and cause severe burns that can be fatal.

Electric arcs produce some of the highest temperatures known to occur on earth -- up to 35,000 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the NFPA. This is four times the surface temperature of the sun.

Electrocution remains the fourth highest cause of industrial fatalities, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. The top three causes are traffic accidents, homicide and construction accidents.

Of those killed while working on voltages below 600 volts, almost half were working on energized equipment.

Most of these injuries and deaths, over 75 percent, could have been avoided according to the NIOSH.

Over 30,000 non-fatal electrical shock accidents occur each year; 600 to 1000 persons die each year from electrocution.

The extreme danger of working around electricity is this: There is no room for minimizing the effect once contact has been made. And the effect is instantaneous.

All it takes is one slip of the hand, a slight wrong move, or careless disregard for one seemingly small safety measure.


• Drilling and cutting through cables

• Using defective tools, cables and equipment

• Failure to maintain clearance distances

• Failure to de-energize circuits and follow lockout/tagout procedures

• Failure to guard live parts from accidental worker contact

• Unqualified personnel working with electricity

• Improper installation/use of temporary electrical systems and equipment

• By-passing electrical protective devices


The U.S. Army's Electrical Safety Regulation is 385-26. It prescribes Army guidelines for protecting Army personnel, facilities and equipment from electrical hazards. It applies to all Department of the Army personnel, including military, civilian and contractors for safeguarding against the hazards associated with electrical energy.


• Know where the hazards are

• Properly maintain equipment

• No exposed parts or energized surfaces

• Use barriers and devices where appropriate

• No conductors to walk on or trip on

• No jewelry or other metal objects around electricity

• Never use plugs or receptacles that can alter polarity

• Properly plug all connecting plug-ins

• Install and use protective devices

• Stay away from all unguarded conductors

• Never overload a circuit or a conductor

• Inspect cords before each use

• Be sure plug and receptacle have proper mating configuration

• To unplug, never pull on the cord, pull on the plug

• Don't use nails, staples, screws, etc. to attach or fasten a cord or plug

• Two conductor cords are illegal

• Damaged cords should never be used

• Ensure enough slack to prevent strain on plug or receptacle

• A plug-receptacle should have at least eight ounces of contact tension

• Cords should be kept clean and free of kinks and insulation breaks

• Cords crossing vehicular or personnel passageways should be protected, sign posted and used temporarily or in an emergency

• Cords should be of continuous length and without Splices

• Only approved equipment may be used in wet or damp areas. Always use ground fault circuit interrupters

• Never energize equipment when shields or Guards have been removed

• Always honor lockout/tagout situations