Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Electrical Safety Shouldn't Be an Accident

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Electrical Safety Shouldn't Be an Accident

Article excerpt

Between October 1995 and September 1996, total fines paid to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) by industrial plants, manufacturing facilities, construction sites and other venues exceeded $67.5 million. During this period, 15,355 federal OSHA inspections resulted in 73,108 total citations, at an average cost of $2,000 per citation.

Some of the most frequently cited violations center around electrical safety. OSHA regulations regarding electrical safety can be grouped into three key areas: general requirements, ground fault circuit interrupters, and confined and hazardous space lighting.

General Requirements

One of the most frequently cited regulations across all industries, OSHA's general requirements provision, 29 CFR 1910.303(b)(1)(vii), is basically a catch-all that allows inspectors to reference existing standards from outside sources, such as the National Electrical Code (NEC), the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). According to this standard, equipment safety shall be determined on the basis of "other factors which contribute to the practical safeguarding of employees using or likely to come into contact with the equipment."

Portable power is an example of a violation cited under the general safety requirement. OSHA inspectors often find metal outlet boxes, intended for permanent installation, rigged up for use in portable power applications. Violating facilities have outfitted metal outlet boxes with duplex receptacles and suspended the box from a portable cord. If the metal box is treated roughly, a conductor may come loose and energize the metal box, exposing employees to ungrounded electrical current.

To correct this situation, use an Underwriters Laboratories (UL) listed outlet box for pendant applications attached to a portable or flexible cord. Such a box is constructed of an insulated material such as rubber, with appropriate support for the cord. The outer walls of the box are completely closed with no knockouts or unused openings that can allow moisture in or expose workers to live conductors. NEC articles 370-15 (a), 370-18, 370-23 (b) and 370-23(g) cover installation and use of all boxes and conduit bodies used as outlet, junction or pole boxes.

Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters

Standard 29 CFR 1926.404(b)(1)(ii) states that "all 120-volt, single phase 15- and 20-ampere receptacle outlets on construction sites, which are not part of the permanent wiring of a building or structure and which are in use by employees, shall have approved groundfault circuit interrupters (GFCI) for personal protection...." A GFCI is a protective device which monitors whether electrical current is finding an alternate path to the ground, outside of the path it was designed to travel. If the amount of current returning to the GFCI is lower than the amount generated through it, the GFCI trips, or interrupts electricity flow.

Many people wrongly believe that any portable outlet box outfitted with one GFCI receptacle and a regular duplex receptacle complies with the OSHA regulation for GFCI protection. OSHA requires that all portable GFCI outlet boxes be listed as such by a third party such as UL or the Canadian Standards Association (CSA).

Although GFCI protection is particularly important in highly conductive and wet locations, the moisture present can cause nuisance tripping. Third party-endorsed water-resistant electrical devices with GFCI protection will reduce nuisance tripping by sealing all electrical contacts from moisture and protecting against electrical current leakage. …

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