Electrical Safety, A Continuous Objective

May is National Electrical Safety Month, the time when we stress electrical safety to the public; but electrical safety is a continuous objective to those of us in the industry. That silent, unseen force works miraculously every time we turn on the TV, electrical range, or the light switch; and it is usually there waiting for the command to begin work. However, if the system that contains and controls that unseen power is not maintained or is abused, then a catastrophe can happen. Yet sometimes in our normal day-to-day living, the maintenance of the electrical system is occasionally overlooked and, just like our automobiles, as time and use go on things wear out.

The National Electrical Safety Foundation (NESF) and IAEI have joined to promote electrical safety in the workplace, homes, and schools. A major emphasis this year is wiring in older homes. As buildings age, mechanical systems age along with it, water pipes and plumbing fixtures leak, heating and air conditioning systems lose efficiency or break down more often. The same thing can happen to wiring within the wall, but the aging (wire insulation becoming brittle and cracking) is not as noticeable until the TV doesn’t come on or a fire starts.

Safety check for the home

A homeowner can and should do several things to assure that his home’s electrical system is safe.

  • Checking the outlets, cords, extension cords, an plugs for loose connections, broken or frayed wires, and signs of overheating should be done regularly.
  • Just as important as checking the batteries in a smoke detector is checking the operation of GFCIs by pressing the test button once a month. A special tester is not required to make sure that GFCIs are operational and wired properly. A simple test is to plug a night light into an outlet that is GFCI-protected and then push the test button on the GFCI — the light should go off. Push the reset button and the light should go on. If the light does not go out or come back on, a qualified electrician should be contacted to inspect and, if necessary, replace the unit.
  • Luminaries (light fixtures) should be examined for the proper size lamps. Using a lamp that is too large, i.e., using a 100-watt lamp in a fixture that is only designed for a 60-watt lamp, can cause the fixture to overheat and start a fire.
  • Outdoor electrical appliances and cords should be examined periodically for frayed cords and broken parts. Standing on damp or wet ground while holding a frayed cord can lead to a shocking experience!

Safety check for the workplace

Electrical safety in the workplace not only encompasses installing a system that meets the safety code, but also using electricity safely and working on the system safely.

  • Making sure that the proper safety equipment and clothing are used while working on energized or de-energized systems is a safety emphasis that has come to the forefront recently.
  • Working on or near energized equipment requires that one be properly trained and qualified for the job.
  • Identifying electrical shock and arc-flash hazard must be considered.
  • Use the proper personal protection equipment (PPE) as a last line of defense if something goes wrong.
  • Of course one should work electrical equipment and conductors de-energized unless it increases hazards or is unfeasible due to equipment design or operational limitations.
  • Flexible cords and cables should be checked for cut, broken, or cracked insulation.
  • Extension cords are for temporary use; if used as a permanent wiring method, they should be removed and permanent wiring installed.
  • Verify that all three wire tools and equipment are properly grounded.
  • Replace the plug if the ground pin is missing.

One of IAEI’s prime objectives is safety. We provide educational opportunities on codes and standards to ensure that electrical systems are installed according to those codes and standards. A qualified and certified electrical inspector can provide another level of safety and oftentimes is the last check to assure that the electrical system is safe and meets the Code. If the electrical system is not installed to meet the recognized safety standards, problems show up more often with disastrous results. Remember, “Anyone Can Be An Electrical Inspector.” It is important that not only the installer be qualified, but also the inspector.

Additional electrical safety information can be found on National Electrical Safety Foundation’s web site,www.nesf.org, and on the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s web site,www.cpsc.org.

One of our own members, Richard Owen, who serves on the NESF board of directors, has written a safety article in this issue: “Near Misses Are Too Risky.” Good and safe reading.

James W. Carpenter
Former IAEI CEO and Executive Director, and Editor-in-Chief for the IAEI News, James Carpenter was previously the chief electrical engineer, state electrical inspector for the Engineering Division of the Office of State Fire Marshal, North Carolina Department of Insurance. He had been with the department for twenty years, with twenty years electrical experience prior to coming to the state. He was a member of CMP-2 from 1987 to 2002 and was chairman for the last three cycles. He has been a member of IAEI since 1972. He was also a member of NFPA and is serving as the TCC chair and on the Standards Council. He was on the UL Electrical Council.