Safety alert on working near live electrical equipment

Wednesday, 08 April, 2009

WorkCover NSW has released a safety alert following the recent death of an electrician who was electrocuted while installing cables into an energised switchboard. It warns electrical contractors and electricians about the risks of serious or fatal electric shock when carrying out electrical work in close proximity to energised (live) electrical equipment on an electrical installation.

The Occupational Health and Safety Regulation 2001 requires employers to ensure electrical work on electrical installations at places of work be carried out using a safe system of work, ensuring that such work isn’t carried out while that part of an installation being worked upon is energised.

Generally, live electrical work cannot be justified. The only exception is when the electrical work is necessary in the interests of safety and the risk of harm would be greater if the circuits and apparatus were de-energised before the work commenced. In this situation, the work must be carried out in accordance with a list of mandatory safety measures, which includes a safety observer who is competent in performing the particular task and is competent in electrical rescue and CPR.

The safety alert lists a number of risk controls that involve assessing the risks associated with the electrical work — including the presence of adjacent energised circuits and apparatus — and using the following control measures to ensure the work is carried out safely:

  • Identify circuits and apparatus to be worked on and appropriate sources of power supply;
  • De-energise circuits and apparatus and isolate them from all sources of supply;
  • Ensure supply remains isolated by locking off and/or tagging isolator;
  • Test before touching — prove supply is de-energised by using appropriate test methods and approved test instruments;
  • Insulate or segregate any part of installation that remains energised, to eliminate or control the risk of inadvertent contact or flashovers;
  • Use appropriate clothing and personal protective equipment;
  • Provide workers with adequate information, instruction, training and supervision regarding risk control measures;
  • Use a competent safety observer when:
    – the electrical work is necessary in the interests of safety and the risk of harm would be greater if circuits and apparatus were de-energised before work commenced
    – a risk assessment undertaken before electrical testing confirms that a safety observer is required
  • When leaving unfinished work, ensure it does not present a hazard to others at the workplace.
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