Knowing something and being aware of something are very different. Knowing something means the information is filed away somewhere in the brain’s hard drive, but we might not remember exactly where it is filed. Being aware of something means the information is foremost in our mind and the file is open.
Let me encourage you to put the Electricity is Dangerous file on your brain’s hard drive, so it is always accessible and you are always aware of it.
To help us apply this concept in avoiding electrical hazards, NFPA 70E 2015 included The Hierarchy of Risk Controls, which should be the cornerstone of your risk evaluation whenever you engage in electrical work. The HRC provides us with a 5-point guide of controls, beginning with the most effective control and ending with the least effective control. The guide is designed to reduce the risk associated with electrical work. Memorize this HRC and it will always be available on your brain’s hard drive.
Elimination is the most effective risk control because it completely eliminates the risk by ‘turning it off’. When the circuit is placed in an electrically safe work condition (ESWC) and LOTO practices are applied, the hazard goes away and the worker does not need PPE.
Substitution occurs at the design phase by including equipment that will isolate the worker from electrical parts while still allowing the worker to perform the job. The list below includes some of the most common examples:
• Infrared windows allow IR Scan without the need to remove covers.
• Hinged panelboards reduce hazard by allowing access to electrical components without the risk involved with handling heavy and awkward covers.
• Touch-proof voltage points allow use of measuring devices without opening doors.
• Voltmeters and ammeters mounted on the outside of equipment allow workers to read voltage and amps without interacting with the equipment.
Like substitution, engineering controls largely happen at the design phase. These controls involve isolating the worker from the hazards, which can be achieved with these methods:
• Insulating blankets
• Portable arc shields
Administratively, the best way to control risk is to have a comprehensive Electrical Safety Program. To be effective, an ESP should contain policies and procedures that apply to all electrical work. The program should include training requirements, training frequency, and a PPE policy that is stringent enough to be effective and simple enough to be followed.
PPE is considered the least effective risk control method and should only be applied when all other controls have been considered. It is true that electrical PPE is amazing in the level of protection it provides. PPE does significantly reduce the risk of injury or death to the worker. However, PPE does not make a worker invincible.
The first three risk controls—elimination, substitution, and engineering controls—are the most effective methods because these controls are applied at the source and are less likely to involve human error. Administrative controls and PPE are at greater risk for human error.
As discussed in previous articles, a risk assessment is required whenever a worker engages in electrical work. The Hierarchy of Risk Controls is the cornerstone of this assessment.
Too often, I see a risk assessment that simply consists of the worker using the arc flash label and PPE charts as the entire risk assessment. This inadequate assessment does not eliminate the risk or reduce it at the source. All other controls, including ‘turning it off’, should be the primary objective every time a worker is tasked with electrical work. It bears repeating: “Working in and around live electrical equipment is dangerous!” Let’s treat it that way.