An Effective Electrical Safety Program Includes GFCI Protection
OSHA estimates that 350 electrical-related fatalities occur each year. That is almost 1 person a day who will no longer be in the lives of their friends, parents, siblings, or children. While the number is not large from a statistical perspective, it is too large from a human perspective. If we commit to creating, implementing, and enforcing an electrical safety program at work, we work towards reducing that number to zero.
An important component of an electrical safety program is ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) protection. This simple and relatively inexpensive device protects our workers from electrical injuries and fatalities. They are available as receptacles that can be hard-wired into the site. They also come in portable and pig-tail types that can be taken to temporary job-sites and used with generators.
If cords get damaged, or wires become exposed, the electricity running through the cord may lose contact with the ground wire, or find a path with less resistance. If a person contacts that exposed wire, they become the new path for that electricity. Our bodies can’t handle the amount of electricity running through most electrical circuits. That electricity can cause a minor shock, burns, internal injuries, or even electrocution.
What Do GFCIs Do?
They protect workers when there is a ground-fault in the grounding path from a tool or electrical system. GFCIs monitor the current going to and returning from the equipment that it is connected to. If it detects a difference of 0.005 amps (5 milliamperes) or more, the GFCI quickly blocks the current from traveling to the tool. What does this mean for our workers? It means that the GFCI stops dangerous amounts of current from injuring and killing the worker using the equipment.
Part of what makes electrical current dangerous is that it can cause our muscles to lock up. This prevents us from being able to let go when we are in contact with an electrical current, and become stuck in place while even more current flows into and through the body. Because the GFCI disrupts the current so quickly (less than 1/40 of a second), the effects are usually limited to a small shock. The worker then can let go of the equipment and step away from what otherwise might have been a fatal incident. That is a significant return for such a small investment.
Aren’t Circuit Breakers Enough?
No. Circuit breakers protect equipment, not people. They detect a current overload – when it exceeds a certain threshold. For example, a 15-amp circuit breaker only trips if the current exceeds 15 amps. If 10 amps of current had been running through the line, and then suddenly spiked to 14 amps, the circuit breaker wouldn’t trip. If that current spiked to 15.5 amps, then the breaker would trip. For comparison, it only takes 0.006 amps to make a person lose control of their muscles. Currents of 0.017 amps can lead to respiratory arrest, and potentially fatal injuries. At 0.1 amps, a fatal incident is very likely. Or to put it shortly, a person could be killed without a circuit breaker ever tripping. Contrast that with a GFCI that interrupts the current after detecting a 0.005-amp change. The GFCI clearly does much more to protect the safety and lives of our workers.
The Importance Of GFCI Protection To Your Electrical Safety Program
Now that the benefits of GFCI protection are clear, there should be no reason to question the need for GFCI protection in your electrical safety program. It is also vital to maintaining compliance with OSHA standards, and so has the added benefit of reducing potential citations during an inspection.
As part of your electrical safety program, make sure that you train your employees to use GFCI protection. Provide GFCI protection to your workers based on the work that they do, including hard-wired receptacles and portable protection for use on ever changing job-sites. Employees also need to be trained to inspect cords and tools before they are used. While GFCI protection provides a great deal of protection, the best protection is to find and remove damaged equipment and cords so that an incident doesn’t happen. After all, injuries and fatalities don’t happen when there isn’t an incident to begin with.
Develop And Implement An Effective Electrical Safety Program
Optimum Safety Management helps employers protect workers with comprehensive safety programs, implementation, and training. Contact us for an analysis of your current electrical safety program and to learn more about what your company can do to prevent serious and fatal workplace injuries.