Electrical Safety Awareness for Non-Electrical Contractors

By Brad McElroy

Electrical safety awareness isn’t just for electricians. Believe it or not, non-electrical workers actually run the largest exposure to electrical hazards. Without the electrical training that licensed electrical professionals receive, one careless mistake can turn into a big accident – or worse. 

By paying attention to the small details, you can avoid the biggest accidents, like shocks, arc flashes, and arc blasts.

From obeying lockout/tagout kits to replacing damaged extension cords, here are eight of the most common electrical hazards on the job site today, and what you can do to keep yourself and your trade partners safe and accident-free.  

Never Play the LOTO

LOTO is short for lockout/tagout. When an electrician works on a circuit, they’ll de-energize the power source, and then they’ll also lock the device and include the reason why it’s de-energized.

It’s important to never remove the tag or the lock. De-energizing equipment is one of the safest ways an electrician can work. If power were to switch on in the middle of a task, it could easily harm or even kill the electrician or other qualified worker. 

If power needs to be restored, find the person named on the tag, and they’ll be able to safely restore power. 

Inspect Your Extension Cords
Who here hasn’t seen an extension cord missing a grounding prong? Chances are you probably have one in your home or in a work vehicle. Do yourself a favor and replace it immediately. 

Brian Andringa is a District Manager in Los Angeles for City Electric Supply (CES), an international electrical supplier with over 500-plus locations in the U.S. Here, he covers just a few of the dangers of using damaged cords. 

“There’s the real possibility you can hurt someone,” Andringa said. “Damaged extension cords can shock employees, damage your equipment, and get overheated and cause a fire. Plus, you can get fined by OSHA if you’re using an unsafe cord.” 

And checking for missing grounding prongs simply isn’t enough. Extension cords can take a beating from job site to job site, so it’s important to always inspect it before everyday use. 

Here are a few things to keep in mind during your inspection and the next time you use your cord.

  • Inspect for damage, exposed wiring, or insulation breaks.
  • Never use an extension cord that has been spliced together.
  • If an extension cord gets hot, it’s under too much load. Use a bigger gauge or reduce the load. 
  • Unplug extension cords from the socket – don’t pull them loose.  
  • Don’t use nails, staples, or screws to secure a cord. 
  • Leave some slack on the cord to prevent strain. 

“When in doubt, just replace your extension cord. You can always find reliable extension cords like this one at affordable prices from your electrical supplier,” said Andringa.

Always Use a GFCI

On any construction site, power tools and equipment should be plugged into a GFCI, especially when working in wet, damp, or exterior locations.  

Ground fault-circuit interrupters monitor the balance of electricity flow and can detect minor imbalances and trip automatically, reducing the risk of electric shock. 

If you can’t find a GFCI to plug into, temporary or portable GFCIs are available specifically for construction settings and can be used to power electrical tools and other devices. 

Watch Where You Drill

Sometimes it’s what you don’t see that’s the biggest danger.

Every day, non-electrical workers drill into walls, anchor into floors, bore into concrete, and nail into wood frames. What most would consider simple jobs can actually lead to serious electrical hazards. 

Potential exposure includes: 

  • Penetrating into metal- or wood-framed drywall-covered walls and ceilings. 
  • Saw-cutting and core-boring concrete walls and floors.
  • Seismic anchoring into walls and floors.
  • Suspended ceiling areas where exposed electrical hazards are still present, including exposed electrical boxes, missing covers, and abandoned circuits that are still energized. 

Take extra caution when working anywhere near hidden wires or exposed devices. Not only can you harm yourself and your tools, but you might also endanger the life of someone else in the future should an electrical failure occur from a penetrated wire. 

Know What’s Above and Below You 

Overhead and buried power lines are extremely hazardous because they carry very high voltages. Any time you’re working near an overhead power line, it’s important to maintain a distance of at least 10 feet and to always use fiberglass ladders.

If you do not see any power lines in the area, don’t forget that they could be buried. Always call the electric utility company before you dig to prevent an electrical hazard. 

As an added precaution, you can also de-energize and ground power lines simply by calling the local utility company for help. If they can’t disconnect power, they can at least add insulation to make your job site safer while you work. 

However, knowing what’s above you is also about more than just checking for power lines. 

“Falling objects are a part of the ‘fatal four’ injuries most common on construction job sites,” Andringa said. “Always wear electrical-rated head protection near potential electrical hazards like power lines and falling objects. Never forget you can protect yourself simply by checking your surroundings and remaining vigilant.” 

Always Pay Attention to Warning or Caution Signs

Two of the most obvious safety precautions on construction job sites are barriers and warning signs. 

From high-voltage warnings to arc flash labels, these electrical warning signs are there for one reason: to keep you safe. While many warnings on job sites are ignored, it’s never a good idea to ignore electrical warnings.

“Paying attention to warning signs is one of the most important things everyone on a job site can do to work safely,” Andringa said. “Just like non-electrical contractors should always obey LOTO procedure, they should always take caution near safety signs. Careless mistakes happen every day on construction sites, and this is one of them.”

You can save your own life simply by paying attention and obeying the signs at your workplace. 

See Something, Say Something

Nobody goes to work thinking they won’t go home safe at the end of the day, but lives can be saved if we all look out for each other. Just because you may not be trained to fix an electrical hazard doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to identify an electrical hazard. If you see a potentially dangerous area, alert your management of the need for barriers or other signage to create a safer work environment. 

After all, electrical safety awareness requires being aware of it in the first place. While you may be hesitant to alert a supervisor, open communication and accident prevention are two of the best ways to practice electrical safety awareness. Listening to employee concerns is also the most practical choice and leading general contractors will thank you. 

By taking the appropriate protective measures to prevent accidents, companies not only protect workers, but they can also protect themselves from injury claims, liability, and lost time. They can also save lives.

Everyone Needs Electrical PPE

If you think that non-electrical workers don’t need electrical-specific PPE gear, you’d be wrong. 

Non-electrical contractors could be exposed to electrical hazards every day on the job site. Even though you may not be working on electrical systems, you might still be working near an electrician who is. If they’re wearing appropriate PPE gear, it’s important that you should be, too. 

This material appears in the August 2021 issues of the ACP Magazines:

California Builder & EngineerConstructionConstruction DigestConstruction NewsConstructioneer,Dixie ContractorMichigan Contractor & BuilderMidwest ContractorNew England ConstructionPacific Builder & EngineerRocky Mountain ConstructionTexas ContractorWestern Builder