Meet the Challenge of Electrical Safety in Industrial Areas

Stay Informed

Risks are inherent in industrial plants and other settings where workers come into contact with heavy equipment and processes combining metal surfaces, electrical machinery and power systems. GFCI-compliance and watertight connections are critical wherever power components contact moisture, chemicals, weather and other harsh environmental conditions. Industrial operations are at risk anytime unprotected electrical connections are exposed to moisture, metals and harsh conditions.

The improper use of wiring and electrical equipment can cause any number of problems, ranging from nuisance tripping or short circuits. These hazards can cause interruptions in power flow to major malfunctions that pose significant risk of injury and death due to electrocution or fire.

Here are some reasons why electrical accidents happen and how to minimize the risk of those accidents by adhering to NEC and OSHA standards.

Protect Workers in High-Risk Environments

According to statistics from the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI), food and beverage, construction, transportation, utilities and mining are among industries with the highest percentages of accidental electrical fatalities in the workplace. Each year, hundreds of U.S. workers die as a result of accidental contact with electrical current. Thousands more suffer shocks, burns and other injuries resulting from electrical hazards while on the job. Accidents take a toll on the victims and their families often in devastating ways, and employers in terms of medical and disability issues and lost productivity.

The most high-risk environments for electrical hazards include:

  • Food, beverage and chemical processing facilities
  • Oil and gas refineries, mines and quarries 
  • Water treatment plants, utilities and power distribution plants 
  • Commercial construction and transportation sites 
  • Automated agricultural plants and processes
  • Indoor and outdoor event venues such as stadiums, convention centers and festivals

Why Electrical Accidents Occur

Human error and lack of knowledge or training are significant contributors to electrical mishaps and accidents in the workplace. Under pressure to meet a production schedule, some workers may attempt to justify overriding rules in order to complete an assigned task more quickly. Taking shortcuts can pose potentially lethal risks for those working around industrial power equipment.

Another common culprit is the improper use of plugs, receptacles and other power components that are neither designed nor rated for wet and damp areas. Safety depends on choosing and deploying the right technologies for the job.

Prevent Accidents by Following the NEC and OSHA

Creating safer workplaces requires that employers follow electrical safety codes such as those set forth in the National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) NEC ‒ National Electrical Code. This code includes advisory guidelines published to safeguard persons and property from electrical hazards. OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) is a U.S. federal agency regulating overall workplace safety and health. Industrial companies are bound by law to follow OSHA regulations and many local authorities with jurisdiction have also adopted NEC standards for safety and best practices.

In defining proper electrical safety practices, NEC and OSHA concur that electrical equipment must be free from hazards likely to result in dangerous conditions, injuries or fatalities. Worker protection must be provided in wet locations and those working in proximity to live equipment. Power devices must incorporate ground fault protection and be suitable for harsh conditions to provide adequate protection against dust and moisture ingress.

Get Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters Up to Code

An essential component of any safety program, ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI) are designed to disconnect a circuit whenever it detects that the electrical current is not balanced between the energized conductor and the return neutral conductor. An imbalance can indicate current leakage through the body of a grounded person who accidentally contacts the energized part of the circuit. GFCI devices disconnect quickly enough to prevent injury.

Among the industrial standards for GFCI components, NFPA’s NEC guidelines and OSHA regulations call for extension cords used with portable electric tools or temporary and portable lights to be 3-wire and rated hard or extra-hard usage cable. These rugged cords are constructed of heavier gauge wire and better insulated than light-duty cords commonly used in residential and office settings.

In order to protect workers from accidental contact with live conductors, both NEC and OSHA require adequate strain relief for cables entering junction boxes, cabinets or fittings. Additionally, any openings through which conductors enter must be closed and sealed when not in use.

All electrical components exposed to moisture, weather or harsh environments, whether indoors or outdoors, require a watertight connection to eliminate or reduce the risk of electrical shocks, short circuits and electrical fires. NEMA and IP designations apply to prevent moisture and water accumulation. They also outline protective standards for locations exposed to gasses, fumes, vapors, liquids or other agents which can have a deteriorating effect on power conductors and equipment.

Make Safety a Top Priority

Improper control of hazardous energy and problems associated with electrical, wiring methods, components and equipment were among the top 10 most frequently cited OSHA standards violations last year. Electrical safety must always be a top priority in the workplace. GFCI-compliant devices and a trusted supplier that adheres to industry standards are integral to equipment installations and maintenance.

Proper utilization of the right technologies designed for the job can help prevent the causes of many electrical-related accidents and injuries.

The opinions expressed in this piece are solely Molex's. They do not necessarily represent WESCO’s views.

Need more information? Contact WESCO today.