The "Shocking" Truth About OSHA's Electrical Safety Standards

Posted on 8/1/2017 by Kim Folger

In the dog days of summer, we tend to find ourselves thinking about electricity: afternoon thunderstorms with lightning, fireflies at night, that huge electric bill from running the air conditioner all summer long. But you probably don’t think much about OSHA’s electrical standards, do you? While it may not be the first one we think of, electricity has been a serious workplace hazard for a very long time.
We may use some electricity puns in this post (we couldn't help it), but those should not distract from the very serious hazard electricity poses to many different workers in all kinds of industries.

Employers must make sure all employees are able to recognize and avoid unsafe conditions and that workers understand the regulations that apply to them in order to prevent injury or illness.

OSHA’s Current Electrical Standards

Currently, OSHA maintains a variety of standards designed to protect employees from electrical hazards, including electrocution, shocks, explosions, and fires. There are actually several electrical standards for each of the different types of industries recognized by OSHA. The lists below call out the subparts and standards for each of these groups. 

OSHA Electrical Standards for General Industry (29 CFR 1910)
  • Subpart I - Personal protective equipment (§1910.137, Electrical protective equipment)
  • Subpart R - Special industries (§1910.137, Electrical protective equipment)
  • Subpart S - Electrical
OSHA Electrical Standards for the Maritime Industry (29 CFR 1915, 1917, and 1918)
  • Subpart L - Electrical machinery (§1915.181, Electrical circuits and distribution boards)
  • Subpart G - Related terminal operations and equipment (§1917.157, Battery charging and changing)
OSHA Electrical Standards for the Construction Industry (29 CFR 1926)
  • Subpart K - Electrical
  • Subpart V - Electric Power Transmission and Distribution
Keep in mind, these are just the Federal OSHA requirements for your type of industry. In addition to the Federal rules you must know, twenty-eight US states maintain OSHA-approved State plans that may apply to you. State plans must be at least as effective as OSHA’s rules, but may include different and/or even more stringent requirements. 

Shocking OSHA Electical Safety Statistics           

In fiscal year 2016, 91 workers were electrocuted on the job. In the previous year, 90 were. The majority of these 181 electrocutions were fatal. What these statistics don’t show, however, are the burns, cuts, bruises, or other injuries and illnesses caused by explosions, by fires, or from the unexpected startup or release of electrical energy.

For over five years, the same three electrical standards have been included in OSHA’s top ten most frequently cited standards violated in general industry. The electrical standards are bolded in the list below.

Top 10 Most Frequently Cited Standards by Federal OSHA (FY 2016)

  1. Fall protection, construction (29 CFR 1926.501)
  2. Hazard communication standard, general industry (29 CFR 1910.1200
  3. Scaffolding, general requirements, construction (29 CFR 1926.451)
  4. Respiratory protection, general industry (29 CFR 1910.134)
  5. Control of hazardous energy (lockout/tagout), general industry (29 CFR 1910.147)
  6. Powered industrial trucks, general industry (29 CFR 1910.178)
  7. Ladders, construction (29 CFR 1926.1053)
  8. Machinery and Machine Guarding, general requirements (29 CFR 1910.212)
  9. Electrical, wiring methods, components and equipment, general industry (29 CFR 1910.305)
  10. Electrical systems design, general requirements, general industry (29 CFR 1910.303)

Take Charge of Your Safety Around Electrical Hazards      

Working with electricity can be dangerous. Many workers are unaware of the potential hazards present in their environment, which makes them more vulnerable.

Electrical hazards produce two main outcomes, a shock or an ignition source. Most people only associate electrical hazards with wires or electrified equipment, but static, lightning, and stored energy or items that have a retained charge can all be sources of electrical hazards. Recognizing electrical hazards is the first step in protecting oneself from them.
Some workers, such as engineers, linemen, and electricians, work with electricity directly, including overhead lines, cable harnesses, and circuit assemblies. Others, like sales and office personnel, work indirectly with electricity, but they may still be exposed to electrical hazards. Protecting oneself from electrical hazards is important regardless of one’s job.

Here are some things everyone can do to prevent electrifying results:         
  • Visually inspect electrical equipment before use and use it properly. 
  • Do NOT use unapproved or defective equipment, properly dispose of it or mark it out of service until it is repaired.
  • Ground all power supply systems, electrical circuits, and electrical equipment.
  • Avoid wet areas when using portable electrical power tools or near exposed wires.
  • Follow lockout/tagout procedures, especially grounding and de-energizing equipment or lines when working on or near them.
  • Use non-conductive wood or fiberglass materials and equipment, such as ladders when working near power lines.
  • NEVER remove ground prongs from equipment or extension cords.
  • Remove cords from receptacles by pulling on the plug, not the cord.

Powerful Resourceslockout-tagout.jpg

Along with these recommendations, the references below can help employers and employees understand and comply with OSHA’s electricity safety regulations, as well as recognize, control, and prevent exposures to electrical hazards:
  • Federal Register notices (rules and proposed rules)
  • Directives (e.g., instructions, manuals, publications, and guidelines)
  • Letters of interpretation (official letters interpreting the standards)
  • National consensus standards (e.g., National Fire Protection Association Electrical and Safety Codes, NFPA 70 and 70E)
  • Agency (OSHA, NIOSH, etc.) information (e.g., Fact Sheets, QuickCards™, Safety and Health Topics)

Enlightening Online OSHA Safety Training

Available 24/7, Lion’s interactive OSHA safety training courses help employees identify, mitigate, and avoid the hazards in your workplace. Employees who complete OSHA training at are ready to make on-the-job decisions that keep themselves and their co-workers safe. Our 10 Hour OSHA General Industry course focuses on hazard identification, avoidance, and control and prevention measures and includes several modules on electrical safety.

The New! Lockout/Tagout course provides the general safety requirements to be implemented under the Control of Hazardous Energy Program. The training is applicable to those who are covered by the standard as “authorized”, “affected”, or “other” employees.

Tags: 29, CFR, electricity, osha, safety

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