Researchers from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) believe electrocution fatalities, burns, and other serious injuries from electricity can be prevented. This handout provides safety recommendations addressing electrocution issues at construction sites.

Metal Ladders – The use of portable metal ladders near energized overhead power lines is a major cause of electrocutions on jobsites. From 1992 through 1998, nearly four times as many construction workers were electrocuted in incidents involving ladders than in incidents involving scaffolds, NIOSH researchers report. Many electrocutions happen when workers set up or relocate ladders near overhead power lines. If non-conductive fiberglass ladders had been used instead, or if safe working clearances had been maintained, these deaths might have been prevented. Recommended actions include:

Employers and workers should comply with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulation prohibiting the use of portable metal or conductive ladders for electrical work or in locations where they may contact electrical conductors.

Employers should fully inform workers about the hazards of using portable metal (including aluminum) ladders near energized power lines.

To assure protection of anyone working near electrical power lines, employers should make arrangements with the power company to de-energize the lines or cover the lines with insulating line hoses or blankets.

Scaffolds – NIOSH suggests that employers ensure workers check the scaffold’s distance from overhead power lines, vertical clearance between the ground and any sagging power lines, scaffold height and weight, wheel condition, obstacles, ground slope, or changes in elevation that may alter clearance distance and other ground or floor conditions. Deaths have occurred when erecting, moving, or working from metal or conductive scaffolds near overhead power lines and while working from scaffolds while using conductive tools or materials near overhead lines. Recommended actions include:

Employers should comply with current OSHA regulations for working with scaffolds near energized power lines.

Employers should train workers in the hazards associated with scaffolds and power lines. Place special emphasis on avoiding inadvertent contact with energized power lines. Inform workers about the hazards of erecting, moving, or working from scaffolds near overhead power lines or other energized circuits. Emphasize that most overhead high voltage lines are not insulated – if there is any doubt, workers should not assume lines are insulated.

Employers should conduct daily hazard surveys at each jobsite before starting work, then implement appropriate control measures and training to address identified hazards.

Workers should not use electrically conductive tools or materials in situations where they may contact overhead power lines.

Employers should keep all unauthorized persons away from the area.

A worker should monitor the clearance between power lines and the scaffold. If a scaffold is to be moved in the vicinity of overhead power lines, a competent worker should be assigned to observe the clearance and warn others if the minimum clearance distance is not maintained.

Employers should establish emergency procedures in case a scaffold contacts a power line.

Cranes – According to NIOSH, an average of 15 electrocutions occur each year from contact between cranes, or similar boomed vehicles, and energized overhead power lines. Among those especially at risk are workers handling taglines or crane loads, workers who are in contact with the crane, and operators who leave the crane cab. NIOSH sources recommend that crane workers who are around power lines must be trained and reminded of regulations designed to keep them safe. Recommended actions include:

Workers must comply with applicable OSHA regulations, including those that require workers and employers to consider all overhead power lines to be energized until the owner of the lines or the electric utility indicates that they are not energized, and they have been visibly grounded.

Before beginning work near power lines, employers should notify the owners of the lines or their authorized representatives and tell them the type of equipment (including length of boom), and date, time, and type of work involved. Request their cooperation to de-energize and ground the lines or to help provide insulated barriers. Consider de-energizing the lines, whenever possible, as the primary means of preventing injury.

Workers should evaluate job sites before beginning work to determine the safest areas for material storage, the best placement for machinery during operations, and the size and type of machinery to be used.

Workers should know the location and voltage of all overhead power lines at the jobsite before operating or working with any crane.

Employers should designate workers to observe clearance during crane operation, and not give these workers any other duties or responsibilities.

Employers should evaluate other work methods that do not require the use of cranes.

Get Prompt Emergency Care – Regardless of how a worker comes into contact with high- or low-voltage electric energy, electrocution victims can be revived if immediate cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or defibrillation is provided within approximately four minutes of the electrocution, followed by advanced cardiac life support within approximately eight minutes. Recommended actions include:

Employers should ensure that no one who works with or around electric energy is working alone – use a buddy system and have both workers trained in CPR.

Employers should ensure that everyone who works with or around electrical energy is familiar with emergency procedures that should include knowing how to de-energize the electrical system before rescuing or beginning CPR on a worker who remains in contact with an electrical energy source.

Employers should ensure that CPR and first aid is immediately available at each jobsite so prompt care (within four minutes) can be provided.

Employers should work out provisions at each jobsite to provide advanced cardiac life support – within eight minutes, if possible – generally by calling an ambulance staffed by paramedics. Ensure that signs are posted giving the correct emergency number to call and that workers are educated regarding what information to relay once the call is made.

Co-workers should not attempt to rescue a victim until they are sure that the victim is not in contact with a source of electrical energy. To do otherwise merely results in rescuers becoming victims, too.

COPYRIGHT ©2006, ISO Services Properties, Inc.