Electricity. Ever since Benjamin Franklin flew his kite, humans have established a very intimate relationship with it.
The world runs on it. Industry runs on it. And as part of the workforce in an industry run on electricity, it is so important to know how important safety is around electricity!
Electricity will flow through anything that will conduct it. And, one of the best conductive substances is water…which happens to represent over 70% of the human body. But, it’s the other 30% of our body that causes the trouble with electricity. When the electricity runs into these obstructions, it causes the electricity to turn into heat, which then results in burns.
Electricity can also mimic or override the signals given off by our nerves as well, causing muscle contractions, making it harder to let go of whatever is delivering the current to your body. And this can happen even with low currents. As OSHA is quick to point out, low voltage does not equal low hazard.
How much electricity can you take?
Well, there is no answer to that question. How your body reacts to an electric shock is highly influenced by three independent factors.
- The rate the current flows through your body
If you are perspiring, standing in water, or have any presence of moisture, electricity has a better conductive substance overall. Conversely, if you are standing on a non-conductive surface, such as a rubber mat, you may not even feel the shock.
- The length of time the current is flowing through the body.
The longer the electrical contact, the greater the flow and the greater the shock to the body.
- The path of the electrical flow.
Electricity will always want to find the shortest way to the ground. So, if it enters your right hand, it will most likely travel through your heart on its way down to your right leg to exit the body. The most dangerous path is through any vital organs.
If the right precautions are not taken, electricity can be a killer.
Your actions can protect your safety.
OSHA provides some great tips on their website to prevent burns, shocks and electrocution.
- Assume that all overhead wires are energized at lethal voltages. Never assume that a wire is safe to touch even if it is down or appears to be insulated.
- Never touch a fallen overhead power line. Call the electric utility company to report fallen electrical lines.
- Stay at least 10 feet (3 meters) away from overhead wires during cleanup and other activities. If working at heights or handling long objects, survey the area before starting work for the presence of overhead wires.
- If an overhead wire falls across your vehicle while you are driving, stay inside the vehicle and continue to drive away from the line. If the engine stalls, do not leave your vehicle. Warn people not to touch the vehicle or the wire. Call or ask someone to call the local electric utility company and emergency services.
- Never operate electrical equipment while you are standing in water.
- Never repair electrical cords or equipment unless qualified and authorized.
- Have a qualified electrician inspect electrical equipment that has gotten wet before energizing it.
- If working in damp locations, inspect electric cords and equipment to ensure that they are in good condition and free of defects, and use a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI).
Always use caution when working near electricity. Even it it is low volatage!