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August 4, 2009

Safety

Electrical Safety Coalition campaign focuses on ‘work live’ hazards

There are alternatives to asking electricians to do “work live” and the Electrical Safety Coalition’s aim is to empower contractors so they can secure their safety.

“What we have been hearing over the years is that contractors are still finding themselves being put in high-risk situations to “work live” when there are alternatives,” explains Bob O’Donnell, Greater Toronto Electrical Contractors Association executive vice-president.

The coalition consists of the Electrical Contractors Association of Ontario, Electrical Safety Authority, Electrical and Utilities Safety Association, IAPA (Industrial Accident Prevention Association) and the IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers). The coalition’s recent campaign called “Just Don’t Ask” hopes to suppress the demand from clients for “live work” on energized electrical equipment.

Situations of concern for electricians include changing breakers, repair work on live equipment or panel work. Attempting to do any such work instead of having planned shutdowns, locking out or tagging out unnecessarily endangers lives, notes the coalition.

“We always hear about electrician fatalities, but you never hear about all the near misses,” notes O’Donnell.

“Working live” by electricians accounted for 50 per cent of all occupational injuries and deaths due to contact with electrical equipment, according to 2006 Ministry of Labour statistics. Electrocutions also play a part, to a degree, in overall construction industry worker deaths. Of the 19 construction worker deaths in 2008, one was a journeyman electrician electrocuted during a clinic renovation. Of the seven construction industry deaths this year, one was a roofer who was electrocuted.

To help with “working live” requests, contractors and associations over the years have developed authorization letters for clients to sign off on. The coalition has now developed a standardized authorization letter, which should reach all contractors in the province, since it will be distributed by the various coalition partners.

Among the items the letter requires a client to ensure in their request for live work are:

Written confirmation from a manufacturer that work on equipment can be performed safely without disconnecting it.

A hazard analysis with respect to the proposed work has been done and a copy can be provided.

Confirmation that the client is aware of their obligation under the Occupational Health and Safety Act and that they have an existing, written electrical safety program.

Acknowledgment in writing that the organization will assume all risks of property damage associated with working live request if an inadvertent shutdown occurs

“The authorization letter is basically a sober second thought and it puts the onus on the client to really look at the work they are asking to have done and assure it can be done live,” adds O’Donnell.

Visit the Electrical Safety Coalition's website for more information on the coalition or to print off a copy of the authorization letter.

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