This article was published in Electrical Times in May 2020. To view the article in the magazine, please click here to access previous issues. Choose May and check out page 28.
According to the latest statistics from Electrical Safety First, there are 379 injuries or fatalities per year in England from electrical distribution. It’s an alarming statistic, particularly when we consider that many of these incidents are entirely preventable by using simple equipment and maintaining good safety behaviours on site.
More alarming still, is a parallel statistic: only one in five electricians carries a safe isolation lock out/tag out kit to ensure that the isolated distribution network is not accidentally switched to live while they are still working. As a result, professionals who routinely work with live current and know how potentially fatal it can be are failing to protect themselves and their colleagues from accidents that could cause serious injury or death.
Where does the responsibility lie?
Fundamentally, the issue of electric shocks caused by unsafe isolations results from poor safety behaviours on site. Electricians know that they need to make an isolation safe by locking it out and marking it clearly, and yet they are not only failing to do so but do not even carry the required equipment in their kit.
Part of this is due to workplace cultures. Young electricians entering the profession have been trained in safe isolations and anticipate using best practice on site but, in a busy commercial environment, under time pressure, experienced colleagues don’t always prioritise locking out and tagging isolations to ensure they’re safe. As a result, poor safety behaviours are being perpetuated and electricians continue to put themselves, their colleagues, and others on site at risk.
There is another element to the problem, however. While it’s the employer’s responsibility to ensure that each operative remains safe on site and enforce good safety behaviours, few contractors supply safe isolation kits in the same way they would expect to provide PPE. Nor do they make carrying a safe isolation kit a mandatory requirement across their team. As a result, the practice of locking out and tagging isolations on site is often not monitored by those in senior site-based roles and the message about the importance of safe isolations is not, therefore, endorsed.
Indeed, the common complacency about safe isolations is so embedded in the electrical sector that some electrical wholesalers don’t even stock safe isolation kits, due to lack of demand.
Getting kitted up
The need for increased vigilance and improved safety behaviours when it comes to safe isolations has prompted Ideal Industries, as a leading electrical manufacturer, to call for improved regulation and compliance on safe isolation of live electrical services to drive safety best practice and save lives.
There is HSE guidance in place to encourage safe isolation best practice, but this needs to be reinforced by a mandatory requirement to prevent accidents by locking out every isolation.
Accidental contact with part of the network that has inadvertently been switched back to live is, after all, an easily avoidable hazard. Ideal Industries has a wide range of safe isolation products that enable electricians to lock out isolations, including padlocks, hasps and lockout devices, along with re-useable tags. We recommend that all electricians carry a full safe isolation lock out/tag out kit on every job and have a range of safe isolation kits for both commercial and domestic installation environments.
For additional protection against any residual current or accidental contact with live electrical supplies, we also suggest that electrical contractors use IDEAL’s range of insulated tools. Ultimately, IDEAL has a range of electrical testing equipment which should also be used as part of a safe isolation process to verify isolation of the required area and check that there is no potentially dangerous residual current.
Let’s take action
Hopefully, at some point, use of lock out and tag out kits will become mandatory. Until then, let’s save lives and prevent injury by using the equipment available to make isolations safer.