Safety for Electrical Inspectors, is it Really that Different?
According to Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFi), there were 126 electrical fatalities in 2020, which is down 24 percent over 2019 numbers. Electrical fatality rates reflected 0.9 fatalities per 100,000 workers, of which 0.6 fatalities per 100,000 workers were in the construction industry. Private industry accounted for 118 of the 126 fatalities. These numbers, while better than previous years are still too high. A group that is susceptible to these electrical safety risks, one that may not always seem so clear, is electrical inspectors. While many electrical inspectors are not installing electrical systems any longer, they are, still, frequent visitors to active construction sites looking at electrical installations completed by others. So it isn’t unreasonable to believe they may be exposed to similar hazards as the other construction workers, such as:
- frayed extension cords
- exposed temporary wiring
- energized electrical equipment
- ·open trenches
- moving construction equipment
- loud noise
Electrical inspectors often are former construction workers themselves and may be somewhat familiar with these listed hazards, but that doesn’t mean they were properly trained and able to readily recognize them. Not all inspections an electrical inspector performs are on new construction, or even on commercial construction sites. Residential electrical inspections, to both new and existing homes, can also present electrical hazards. With the variety of inspections performed, always being able to clearly identify electrical safety hazards can be challenging. Especially with newer technology installations such as solar photovoltaic and energy storage systems (ESS); installations that an inspector may not be aware of because they have never inspected, or personally installed, these systems before.
Statistics raise awareness about a specific topic, in this case fatalities connected to an encounter with electricity. A goal of raising awareness is often an increased focus on keeping workers safe. Injuries affect more than the victim, it impacts their families, employers, and fellow employees. So how do we reduce the fatalities and the resulting impact?
One way is assessing risk by utilizing The Hierarchy of Risk Control (HoRC) Method, as stated in 120.5(H)(3) of NFPA 70E®, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace®:
- Elimination. Physically remove the hazard.
- Substitution. Replace the hazard, potentially by reducing energy levels.
- Engineering Controls. Isolate people from the hazard.
- Awareness. Signs Alerting of potential presence of hazards.
- Administrative Controls. Change the way people work or conduct inspections by having procedures and job planning tools.
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Protect the worker and inspector with the correct gear.
Now you are probably wondering how these methods can apply to an electrical inspector’s job. Although not a listed part of the HoRC, every inspector should review the jobsite safety policy and compare it to their employer’s policy and utilize the more stringent of the two. Due to time constraints I know this doesn’t happen often, but it should. The start of the HoRC is by eliminating risks to the inspection like not opening electrical equipment without first placing it into an electrically safe working condition (ESWC) as described in Article 120 of NFPA 70E. Maybe it isn’t convenient to have an ESWC during normal hours, so a substitute option would be to conduct the inspection outside of normal working hours, which may make facilitating an ESWC easier. An afterhours inspection may also help to isolate more people from the hazard. Frequently there are warning signs placed on or around electrical equipment that are not always a requirement of the NEC but do provide valuable information to aid in keeping inspectors safe if we are paying attention. Check in with superintendents or facility managers to see if they have procedures set in place for conducting inspections. As a last resort, PPE can be used if none of the other items remove the risk. While PPE, like a fall arrest system or arc rated face shield may be used as needed, there are other types that should be a part of your daily wear, like:
- arc-rated clothing
- safety vest
- hard hat
- safety glasses
- safety boots
This high-level overview of safety tips will hopefully help electrical inspectors, and others, to think more about safety in their daily tasks as they conduct them. A safe electrical inspector is a valuable inspector. Remember, safety is everybody’s responsibility and needs to become a part of everyone’s workplace culture. We need to hold each other accountable for our actions, in order to work toward getting fatality numbers to finally reach zero.
For more information and related resources, visit the NFPA electrical inspection webpage at nfpa.org/electricalinspection.