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Electrical injuries can occur from the smallest voltage, but generally the risk of injury increases with higher voltages and can cause electric shocks, burns, loss of muscle control and even death. Reece Safety gives us some tips on how avoid these high voltage hazards.

Working in a high voltage (HV) environment should always be approached with the correct personal protective equipment (PPE) and necessary training required to work in or around the high voltage area. It is important to feel confident enough to work around electrical hazards safely, following on from thorough training. To make sure you’re as safe as possible when working in a high voltage environment, the following guidance should be remembered and practised at each HV occurrence. 

Safety assessment

Risk assessments are important as they form a key part of an occupational health and safety plan. The person or group responsible for the environment should undertake a safety assessment before any workers or visitors enter an electrical area to ensure that correct health and safety procedures are being followed and implemented to keep those in the area, such as workers, cleaners and visitors, as safe as possible. Risk assessments recognise the hazards throughout the environment, how they can harm people and what is being done to control the risks. This is an integral and essential part of creating a safe environment.

Signs and warnings

In many places of work, from construction sites to warehouses, safety signs are a necessary part of worker safety and awareness. They are in place help to prevent injury and ensure staff and visitors are fully equipped for any hazards ahead and in different areas of work. To have correctly displayed safety signs in the workplace is integral to meet health and safety standards which help in looking after employees and visitors, particularly in high voltage environments. Safety signs should be used at points of danger to indicate hazards that present themselves around the site, and in the instances of HV environments, should be present at each point of live electricity. Safety signs also alert people to the new hazards that have recently occurred from maintenance work or falling scaffolding.

The main types of safety signs in and around the workplace are: 

Red: These signs mean ‘prohibited’, e.g. ‘no smoking’ signs. They are present when an action is not allowed on the premises.

Yellow: These signs warn people of danger in the area; examples of yellow signs are ‘high voltage’ and ‘hazardous area’ signs.

Blue: Mandatory/site safety: Blue safety signs are usually outside of an industrial site to inform staff and visitors of what they need to know before entering an area, and let people know about site safety. Examples of these signs are ‘keep out’ and ‘fire door keep shut’.

Green: Health & safety: Health and safety signs inform people of where to go in an emergency. Green signs are often used to indicate the location of first aid, fire doors and emergency equipment

Lockout/tagout

‘Lockout tagout’ is the practice of safeguarding employees from an unexpected start-up of machinery or equipment to prevent harm. Electrical lockout is integral in performing a correct lockout tagout programme, as most equipment will require an electric energy source to be locked out as part of their isolation procedure. 

Examples of electrical lockouts are electrical plug lockouts, button lockouts and electrical panel lockouts that can be used to prevent unwanted electrical activity when work is finished to prevent access to switches and buttons. Electrical lockout prevents fires, burns, electric shocks and arc flashes, so it is an imperative part of staying safe in high voltage areas.

Correct PPE

The correct clothing and equipment can be lifesaving in dangerous circumstances and provides a buffer against any hazards that occur when you are working with electricity. Depending on the task at hand, PPE for the electric power industry includes:

  • Flame-resistant clothing
  • Insulating suits 
  • Face shields 
  • Safety glasses
  • Hard hats
  • Safety shoes
  • Rubber gloves 

Equipment for use in an electrical emergency, such as electrical safety hooks, are also important to have on-hand when working in an HV environment to retrieve victims of electric shock while protecting the rescuer from electric shock themselves, as the safety hook prevents back feed of electricity from harming the rescuer. 

Electrical injury can be prevented by using insulated tools and rubber matting to work on while wearing protective workwear that leaves no visible skin exposed to an electric spark. To ensure safety as much as possible, always follow the health and safety policies in place in the high voltage environment.