Electrical Safety Best Practices
Are you one of the 1/3 of electricians who recent reported that they weren’t using testing tools accurately in a recent industry survey? If you were, you not only may be affecting the quality of your work, but you are also placing yourself and your crew at a higher risk of injury or death.
It’s easy to take things for granted when projects go smoothly. But when working with electricity, you must be on top of your game.
Take time to reacquaint yourself with new tools, regulation updates, and safety best practices to reduce risks on electrical projects.
Voltage testers are an electrician’s most important safety tool. These instruments will indicate if the wires or circuit that you’re about to work on are energized or not.
There are three basic types of testers:
- Non-contact single purpose testers
- Clamp testers
Match your choice to the task at hand. Avoid less expensive units that may not have certified safety ratings from UL, VDE, TUV, or CSA. These are codes (like Ingress Protection codes – or IP codes) and ratings (like CAT ratings). The two-digit IP code indicates the level of resistance to dust and water your meter can withstand. It details the dust particle size to keep out, and at what depth your multimeter can be submerged and still work.
When you purchase or use a new voltage meter always read and understand your meter and tester instructions. Even if you’re familiar with a meter or tester brand, new models may have updated instructions that are critical to its performance.
Electricians use other common testing instruments. Multimeters, GFCI testers, and circuit breaker finders offer specific measurements that can help assess the safety of the work area. Understand and know how to use these parameters to keep yourself and your team safe. Each instrument usually has different test lead connections for different measurement functions.
White Cap has a wide range of tools available from the top brands in the industry, and our deeply knowledgeable associates can help you pick the rights tools for your job.
When Taking an Instrument Out of the Tool Box:
- Check all voltage detectors and multimeters to make sure none are damaged.
- Check the batteries. They may be drained from either extended use or storage. During a large job, it’s best to have spare batteries to ensure fast and accurate measurements.
- If you’re using a meter or tester with fuses, make sure they adhere to current ratings and are not blown.
- Discard any instruments, probes, or cords that are damaged. Electrical tape is not a solution for damaged test lead insulation.
- Do a visual inspection on your meter, test probes, and accessories. Make sure plugs fit properly. Look for any cracks in the casing. Never use a damaged meter.
- Test your meter on a known good circuit before use.
General Electrical Safety Best Practices
- Always be aware of your environment and others around you. Make sure that there are no hazards near you such as flammable dust, vapor, or liquids. Do not take measurements in humid or damp environments.
- Always wear the correct Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) on every project. For electrical jobs, select specific PPE designed to insulate you from stray currents such as gloves, safety goggles, headwear, boots, and switch board mats which are required when working on or near energized and exposed electrical circuits greater than 50V.
- When working in live electrical situations, insulated tools provide personal safety protection against electrical shock and arc faults
- Besides wearing insulated gloves and using insulated hand tools, always be sure to de-energize electrical equipment first. Follow proper lockout/tagout procedures to reduce any hazard. And most importantly, check after the lockout/tagout procedure is completed.
- For best results, always hold your instrument by its body, keeping your fingers away from the detector’s head.
- For the most accurate measurements, never exceed the maximum voltage rating of meters and testers. Make sure the meter is set for the proper measurement setting (ohms, DC or AC voltage, resistance, etc.).
- Solenoid testers draw current from the load. These testers must only be connected to power for a short period of time (get the voltage reading and disconnect right away). The solenoid tester manual will explain how long it can safely be connected to power.
- Always watch your multimeter for visual warnings of danger. Your multimeter can alert you of irregularities such as unsafe voltages (30V or greater) at the test probes.
- Capacitive voltage detectors have limitations. Accurate measurements depend upon the capacitance between the detector’s barrel and the ground. If this path is broken, the detector won’t work.
Checking Temporary Power Compliance and Safety
- Electricians play an important role on a jobsite. Prior to plugging in that first power tool, you should perform a complete check for grounding. It takes only 5 mA (0.005 A) of current leakage from a hot wire to the ground to cause a GFCI to trip. Make sure that long circuits don’t have too many splices. If possible, keep GFCI circuits less than 100 feet long.
- In addition to these guidelines, OSHA routinely updates their provisions. The last update was in 2020 with these regulations and guidelines:
- OSHA 29 CFR 1926 404 (b) (ii) and (iii) define two means of preventing ground fault electrical shocks on jobsites — the provision of ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) and an assured equipment grounding conductor program.
- The OSHA standard for ground fault protection on construction sites requires the provision of approved GFCIs for all 120V, single-phase, 15A and 20A receptacle outlets that aren't part of a building or structure's permanent wiring and are in use by employees.
- For grounded equipment on a jobsite, the OSHA standard requires that the GFCI must operate when the leakage current exceeds 5mA 11mA within .25 ms to ensure that any possibility of electrocution is eliminated.
By following general safety procedures, using updated tools and meters, matching your instrument for the task, employing the proper electrical safety PPE, you’ll be more productive and effective.
Our White Cap team is ready to help.