Does your company have a system in place for monitoring lone workers who are dealing with electrical equipment, and for aiding them immediately if they suffer an electrical accident? If not, it is time to put such a system in place, as it could save lives. When working alone, electrical maintenance personnel are exposed to a risk not only of electrocution but also to an enhanced risk of preventable death or debilitating injuries due to not receiving help on time. A typical electrical maintenance worker could be completing a task by themselves for up to an hour, which gives ample time for an accident to occur. If they slip, trip, or suffer an electric shock, help may not arrive until the following day, particularly if they are working in the plant or at an external site after hours. In this article, we explain what the hazards associated with lone electrical maintenance workers are, and provide a couple of recent case studies to illustrate this. We also provide a link to our free, convenient and useful guide to using remote monitoring and communication systems to ensure the safety of lone electrical maintenance personnel.
Issues Affecting Lone Workers Dealing with Electricity
Though all lone workers who are engaging with electricity will need to be highly trained to deal with wiring safely, and thus to avoid dangers such as electric fires and electric shocks, risk assessment teams should always formulate a robust contingency plan for dealing with these types of emergencies. When compared to workers in pairs or in groups, lone workers are at particular risk from death or serious bodily harm in the event of an electrical accident. Official health and safety guidance (see here: http://www.safetyfirstaid.co.uk/blog/Life_saving_tips/electric-shock-information/) makes it clear that death or serious injury resulting from an electric shock can be avoided if the source of electricity is switched off promptly, the emergency services are called immediately, and (if necessary) the affected worker is given CPR to restore their breathing and heartbeat. Another person with the correct training is needed to perform these actions, however this additional human presence is precisely what is lacking when the victim of an electrical accident is a lone worker. The next section provides some real-life examples of how devastating these accidents can be to lone workers if adequate remote warning and monitoring systems are not in place.
Recent Case Study Relating to Lone Worker Safety and Electricity
In general, the dangers of a particular task can be analysed using the PET framework. This framework is as follows:
- People: Will they be in contact with other members of the public and what threat do they pose? If working alone, how will they alert colleagues if they have an accident or are rendered unconscious?
- Environment: how safe is the space in which the worker will be completing the task? For example, maintenance workers dealing with maintenance issues on wind farms are in a potentially very hazardous environment as sudden changes in the weather can make the conditions unsafe to work in, especially high on top of a wind turbine.
- Task: what activity will they undertaking? Are they working at height or on under heavy equipment? Is there risk of being electrocuted? Are they having to deliver bad news to someone that has a history of violent behaviour?
It is clear that lone electrical maintenance workers face significant hazards when we perform a PET analysis. Several recent cases have, unfortunately, highlighted the dangers of working alone with electricity. For example, it was reported on the Lincolnshire local news (the full story can be seen here: http://www.lincolnshirelive.co.uk/news/local-news/too-many-people-dying-farmers-215360.amp) that in 2017 there were 27 workplace fatalities in the farming community, and a similar number (29) in the previous year. Like electrical maintenance workers, farmers often deal with very high voltages (much farm machinery requires around 6000 volts to operate), and so it is unsurprising that a large proportion of these fatalities were due to electric shocks. In one case, as the news article just cited reports, a worker who was just 18 died as a result of being electrocuted when the trailer that he was driving came into contact with a high voltage electrical cable.
Farming is not the only industry affected by these hazards: all types of lone electrical maintenance work involve a similar litany of unfortunate events each year. Moreover, though this is an acute problem in the UK, the hazards associated with lone electrical maintenance workers' tasks can be found internationally. Another key example from a different country is that of Kashmir, where employees from the region's PDD (Power Development Department) suffer electrocution all too frequently. The most recent case was in July 2017 and occurred when an employee was working alone to repair a transformer in a remote village. He was electrocuted and burned to death (the full story can be found in the local news here: https://kashmirmonitor.in/Details/128625/yet-another-pdd-employee-electrocuted).
What will help your workers to stay safe when performing Lone Electrical Maintenance tasks?
As well as providing adequate training for spotting and neutralising electrical hazards, your company can provide a remote communication and monitoring system to stay connected to your lone workers. These systems enable you to:
- Check in with lone workers on a regular basis to ensure everything is going smoothly
- Raise alerts the moment something goes wrong even if the user is rendered unconscious.
- Call the emergency services to assist lone workers in difficulty.
- Provide advice and moral support to lone workers as they complete their tasks.
- Check that the workers return home safely at the end of the day.
Looking for a comprehensive solution to ensuring the safety of your lone workers? Simply take a look at our informative free guide to managing lone worker safety.