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National Electrical Safety Month Reminds Us All to be Safer when Working with Electricity Around Emerging Technologies

Hindsight is always 20/20. Looking back over my 30 years as an electrician, there are certainly some things I should have done differently when it came to making choices around electrical safety. I like to use the phrase, “I could have been a statistic; I should have been a statistic,” when relaying some of those stories to others. Maybe it was because the customer didn’t want their power turned off, or maybe it was because I was trying to get something done in a hurry, that led me to making a choice not to be safe. Whatever the reason, there was plenty of opportunity for things to go wrong with the potential of leaving me seriously injured, or worse. While electrical professionals should consider electrical safety every day, National Electrical Safety Month serves as a great reminder that we need to do so. 

In May of every year, the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFi) sponsors National Electrical Safety Month as a way of educating key audiences by providing information to help reduce the number of electrically related injuries, fatalities, fire, and property loss. For 2022, the theme is “Energy Resilience,” focusing specifically on emerging technologies such as electric vehicles, photovoltaics, and energy storage systems. Though this topic may not jump out as being specifically related to electrical professionals, there are electrical safety issues that can be impacted by, and specifically expose, those who are responsible for the safe installation of these systems. The installation and maintenance of these electrical systems that are performed by electricians, have a direct impact on the safety of end-users. An improper installation, or inadequate maintenance, elevates the electrical injury exposure for all those who come in contact with the electrical system and its components. For example, an electric vehicle charger that is installed without the National Electrical Code® (NEC®) required ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) protection for the receptacle that powers it, exposes end-users to potential shock hazards.

 

Emerging technologies that are tied to energy resilience can also elevate the level of exposure of electrical safety risk to those who install or perform maintenance on these systems. One example is  solar panels, which are used in photovoltaic installations to create solar arrays. As electricians, we are used to finding a disconnect and shutting it off to perform work that isn’t live. How do you do that in the case of a solar panel that, in the daytime, is constantly generating power? There is no disconnect to turn off the sun. In this case, the additional exposure to electrical hazards requires that individuals know the hazard and how to mitigate the risk, before working on solar arrays.

 

A second example of a technology tied to energy resilience that can increase risk of electrical safety hazards are energy storage systems (ESS). Those who are installing or maintaining ESS should be extremely cautious when doing so. Not only are there electrical hazards that may be present, such as electrical shock and arc flash, but depending on the type of ESS, there may also be hazards associated with fires, explosions, chemicals, and stranded or stored energy. A recent NFPA fact sheet on ESS safety explains additional electrical hazards that can arise from overcharging battery storage type system. Proper education and training is an absolute necessity to work on ESS safely.

 

When it comes to electrical safety, as with most scenarios, you have two choices: you have a choice to be safe, or not to be safe. Education and training are key to making good choices. While National Electrical Safety Month is a great event that highlights the need for education and training, electrical safety must be the focus year-round to identify hazards and reduce the associated risk when working with electricity. As I previously stated: “I could have been a statistic; I should have been a statistic.” Hindsight tells me that I should have made better choices. When you look back, what will your hindsight tell you? The choice is yours.

 

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has many resources to help individuals be safer when working around electricity. For more information, please visit our “Electrical Safety Solutions” webpage. 

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Corey Hannahs
Senior Electrical Content Specialist

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