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Electrical hazards exist in almost all workplaces, from offices to hospitals and construction sites. Each year throughout Australia there are numerous electrical accidents at work involving electric shock, many of which are fatal.
An electric shock is defined as the effect when an electrical circuit and the current flows through a person's body.
This article examines the dangers of electricity, prevention methods, and ways to identify electric hazards.
Note: there is a difference between electric shock and electrocution - the latter is death from electric shock.
There are many causes of electric shock and electrocution within the workplace the most common is contact with overhead wires. This occurs when people misjudge the height or distance between the ground and overhead wires when carrying equipment such as poles and ladders. Other frequent causes of electrical injuries include:
The Queensland Industrial Relations department warns that even if you survive an electric shock, there can be serious side effects, including:
Other side effects can include muscle spasms, respiratory arrest, cardiac arrest, and uncoordinated contractions of the heart.
According to SA WorkCover most electrical injuries can be avoided by a combination of factors such as:
The following is a list of practical steps employers and employees can take to prevent electrical injuries:
Identifying and assessing electric hazards are two key factors in preventing electrical injuries.
To identify electric hazards SA WorkCover recommends you:
Once the hazards in your workplace have been identified you need to assess the risk to workers. Consider how likely each risk is to occur, and how serious a danger it presents.
Two guides can be used to identify, assess and provide preventative solutions to workplace hazards in the office or on-site.
Hazard Profile: Identification Tool for Electrical Hazards on-site from NSW WorkCover is a tool to assist in the identification of OHS hazards in relation to electrical hazards on-site. The Hazard Profiles were developed following interviews with major contractors and subcontractors, they include general planning, excavation, roofing and more.
Office Electrical Safety from Comcare highlights electrical hazards in an office environment and offers possible solutions. Hazards listed include jams in photocopiers, liquid spillages, extension leads, and more.
When an assessment indicates that a worker could potentially be at risk from using electrical equipment then the use of a residual current device (RCD) should be considered.
A RCD or safety switch detects some, but not all, faults in an electrical system and quickly switches off the supply. SA WorkCover provides a list of generally identifiable risks that do require RCD protection:
Types of Electrical Equipment Requiring RCD Protection
It is recommended that RCDs be tested every 3 months in all workplace environments.
See the WA Safetyline guide for further information on protection and installation of RCDs.
Employers have a legal duty of care to all employees to ensure that they are safe from injury and risks to health in the workplace. This responsibility includes taking action to eliminate or minimise electrical hazards.
Please refer to your State authority for detail on individual legislation.