The Ultimate Guide to Electrical Safety Programs (2023)
Are you struggling to wrap your head around what an electrical safety program (ESP) is? What do you need to do to create one? And how you are possibly going to implement and manage it?
Well, look no further.
In this ultimate guide, I’m going to go over everything you need to do to create, implement and manage your very own.
I will also be periodically checking back in on this article adding links to resources and updating my ideas as time goes on (latest update March 25, 2020).
- Chapter #1: Elements of your ESP
- Chapter #2. Overall guidance & structure
- Chapter #3. Practical applications
- Step 1: Create a job planning method
- Step 2: Make hazard identification easy for workers
- Step 3: Train your workers to understand the risks
- Step 4: Implement proper mitigation techniques
- Step 5: Develop safe work practices
- Step 6: Continually check the process
- Chapter #4. Conclusion
What hazards are we talking about?
Just to make sure you’re in the right place... this guide will focus on the two primary electrical hazards:
- Arc flash
- Electrical shock
As well as other auxiliary hazards:
- Electrical fires
- Arc blast
Who will this guide help?
You are probably going to fall under one of these categories if you’ve read this far.
- Electrical Foreman/Supervisor – You can really feel the heat. You know that the people reporting to you are relying on sound judgement and good guidance in order to keep them safe. The people you report to though are more interested in up-time and productivity (which is important, don’t get me wrong).
- Safety Professional – You work for a medium-to-large size industrial corporation and this has been on your bucket list for years. You have extensive experience in operations but when it comes to high voltage electrical systems you could use some guidance.
- Electrical Engineer/Technologist – Due to your technical background you have been asked to champion the initiative. Trouble is you have little practical knowledge of influencing a safety culture and the company’s complex organizational structure only adds to the challenge.
- Manager or Owner – Thank you! If you are reading this, I’m so happy. You must understand that a safety program takes leadership, authority and access to resources to be effective and you as a manager have the ability to access all three.
Intro: The story of Bob (please read it… it will help)
Imagine a guy named Bob.
Bob is interested in improving his health and decides he needs a fitness program in order to attain his goals.
Bob goes to his favorite exercise facility, walks up to the lady behind the counter and says, “I would like to purchase one fitness program please”.
The lady looks at the pizza stains on Bob’s shirt and wonders how serious this guy really is. Then she thinks to herself, you should give people the benefit of the doubt you know. So, she goes to the end of the counter and grabs a binder off the shelf marked fitness program and hands it to Bob. “That’ll be $237 please”.
Bob reaches into his pocket, pulls out his credit card and 45 minutes later is back at home watching TV with his newly purchased fitness program tucked away neatly on the top shelf of his bookcase.
The fitness program remains on the shelf for the next 2 years before Bob’s wife throws it in the garbage during a spring-cleaning session. Bob never lifted a finger the entire time.
Let me explain...
Now, I haven’t explained what an electrical safety program is, but there are a few fundamental lessons we can learn from Bob’s story that will help us understand.
The first thing is that it’s not a document which sits on your shelf. It is documented, but you can’t pick up the program in one hand and say, “this is my program”, there are other pieces which all need to fit together to make up the program. Just like there are other things that Bob needed to be doing for his fitness program.
Let’s look at what Bob does have, what the missing pieces are, and how it all relates to your program.
What Bob has in his possession is a blueprint that describes what he needs to be doing to attain his goals for improved health and overall fitness level.
It describes what Bob should eat, how much sleep he needs, how often he needs to work out, what his routines are composed of, how often he should go for a run, bike or swim.
The plan has all the necessary sheets he needs to track his progress and some data tables to determine how he stacks up against other men who are his age.
It describes how often he must check in with his fitness instructor, his swimming coach, and his doctor. It describes what tests he is going to take when he visits the doctor and how often they are going to check his weight.
What Bob has is a plan.
When it comes to electrical safety this is often the step that people start with and unfortunately fail at. As I mentioned earlier most people assigned to develop the program are technical people, not safety professionals or management.
So, by nature, they focus on the technical aspects like calculating arc flash and determining the PPE that needs to be worn but they totally miss the planning portion!
While those things are very important, they do not make up a complete plan or program. There are other fundamental things that are required to ensure success.
When you choose to take on something like this you are changing the way people think about how they do their jobs… and this is often very challenging.
The plan needs to describe all of the day-to-day things someone needs to do but also how you are going to manage the overall program itself.
CHAPTER #1: ELEMENTS OF YOUR ESP
There are two elements of your ESP that need to be considered in order for it to be a success.
The first is how the program works as a whole, who is responsible for managing it, what are all the components that it is made up of, and how will it grow and evolve over time.
The second element is the details, or better yet the technical stuff... it answers the questions “what does this look like on a day-today basis?” and “what are my electrical safe work procedures?”.
You want to make sure that these items are practical and can be easily implemented.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these elements.
Element 1: Overall guidance & structure
A safety program that works well not only has practical information for the workforce to follow but also is one that is easily maintained and managed.
To feel good about having a program that is firing on all cylinders you should be able to answer these questions with a yes.
- Is it clear who needs to follow the program?
- Is it clear who is responsible for managing and implementing each part?
- Does the company have participation from all levels of the organization?
- Is it documented?
- Is there a process that ensures it’s being followed?
- Is there a process that ensures it’s being updated?
Once you can answer all these, you know that the program itself is working… but you still need the second component in order for complete success.
Element 2: Practical applications
Let’s imagine for a minute that you’ve created and successfully implemented your program…
at that point, you should feel 100% confident that every electrical job would go something like this.
- Worker’s put together a plan
- The hazards are properly identified
- The likelihood of occurrence (chances that something bad will happen) is properly estimated
- Mitigation techniques are decided upon (what PPE do I need?)
- The work is done in a safe manner following proper procedures
- The entire process was documented and checked.
Your program has to have all the components to enable each one of these steps to be very easy for the workforce to implement.
The rest of the guide is going to go through each of these components and let you in on what you actually need to do to achieve them.
CHAPTER #2: OVERALL GUIDANCE & STRUCTURE
Who needs to follow the program?
The easy answer to this is everybody.
It’s not just the qualified electrician that this applies to.
Operators need to perform lockout tagout, other employees will need to use extension cords and therefore need to understand how to use a ground fault circuit interrupter, and people using heavy machinery will need to understand the dangers of overhead lines.
The majority of the program will focus on the things required by the qualified electrical worker... but make sure we are clear that it has to cover everyone.
Who is responsible for the program?
This one is up to you... or your organization.
It really depends on how you are set up and the size of your company.
Early in the development process, you will want to decide who is responsible for at least these tasks:
- Implementation of the ESP
- Budgets and funding set aside
- Training and orientation are completed
- Audits are completed
- PPE is purchased
- Proper tools are purchased
- Incident reporting is effective
- Engineering studies are completed (arc flash study)
Participation from everyone
One of the biggest challenges you will have is getting buy-in to the program.
If the program is developed in the “ivory tower” and then dispersed to the rest of the organization, you can pretty much consider it a flop.
Who doesn’t love walking into work one day and having someone drop off a new 132-page document and saying “here is our new electrical safety program from head office”... I’m kidding.
So... you need participation.
Think about having a group of people dedicated to building your program and getting these people from all over the organization.
The ideal group would probably look like this:
- Safety manager/coordinator
- Lead hand electrician
- E&I supervisor
- Maintenance superintendent; and
- Electrical engineer
Or something along those lines.
You just want to make sure you’re getting buy-in at all levels of the organization as early as possible in the process.
Writing your ESP Document
Now... there is more than one way to skin a cat.
In the end, it really doesn’t matter how this is laid out so much as if you are actually doing all of these things.
But like anything else, if it’s documented and structured properly it will be that much easier to follow.
Personally, I like to use this template for building any safety policies.
Table of contents
- Legal requirements
- Roles and responsibilities
- Electrical safe work practices (this is the biggest section)
- PPE, Tools & Equipment
- Training & competency
- Procurement & contracting
- Evaluation & corrective action
- Incident analysis
Stay current with industry best practices
About every 3 years the electrical safety landscape seems to go through significant change. Or at least that’s been the case for the last 10-15 years.
You’ll need to account for these changes over time, so you’ll need a plan in place to make sure this doesn’t fall through the cracks.
Typically, this is as simple as designating someone as your electrical safety person and assigning them this responsibility in your roles and responsibility section.
This person would then need to stay up on industry news, read the latest articles from our blog (wink, wink), and maybe even get the chance to attend a conference (such as the IEEE ESW).
Use management workshops to build momentum
The best way to get your program off the ground is to educate the workforce about some of the new policies in place, what the expectations are going to be, and any other requirements of the program that were not part of their regular duties before the program was initiated.
Workshops are a great way to bring your management team and supervision up to speed quickly and consistently.
The reason I'm referring to this as a workshop is that it is a bit more involved than a training session. It will involve round-table discussions and problem-solving exercises for the challenges the group is currently having.
You may want to hold several workshops until the program is completely rolled out.
It might seem like a lot, but you will need to take one to two days with the entire group and go through the program step by step.
In the end, though, this will pay off because the leadership in your organization is coming from this group of individuals and when rolling out a new initiative good leadership is vital.
Develop a process to monitor day-to-day activities
Another important thing you will want to consider is evaluation and corrective action.
Evaluation and corrective action are things that can be done every day and are on a smaller scale.
A supervisor observing an electrical job and then giving feedback to the workers on how to improve their safety while doing the job would be a good example of this.
Develop a process for auditing the program as a whole
Audit is a word that typically sends chills down people’s spines, but I think that comes from the insurance world… a safety audit should bring a positive feeling.
At least that’s the feeling it brings me.
An audit is a chance to look at your entire program up to this point and then see where you could improve.
Audits can be done internally or by an outside source and both carry their own benefits.
I usually recommend getting an initial 3rd party audit or assessment done upfront to give you a baseline for where you are today and where you need to go.
Then for the next 2 to 3 years work away at implementing your program and doing self-checks and internal audits.
CHAPTER #3: PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS
Once you’ve got all the administrative things out of the way it’s time to get down to the real important stuff.
These are the things that are going to affect your workers on a day-to-day basis.
Most of these items will end up in your “electrical safe work practices” section of your document.
Here we are going to focus on why you need to have them and what other things you’ll need to support it.
Remember we are ultimately trying to accomplish these steps on every job:
- Worker’s put together a plan
- The hazards are properly identified
- The likelihood of occurrence (risk) is properly estimated
- Mitigation techniques are decided upon
- The work is done in a safe manner following proper procedures
- The entire process was documented and checked.
Step 1: Create a job planning method
When it comes to safety there is a saying that I've heard time and time again... if you didn't document it then it didn't happen.
This is great advice if all you are worried about is proving due diligence and covering your butt, but there is another benefit to documentation that is not talked about so much.
The power of documentation
When you write something down on paper, statistics show that you are far more likely to accomplish whatever it is you wrote down than if you simply thought about it or discussed it with someone.
I'm not sure of the exact number, but it hovers somewhere around 20% to 40% better chances of success if written down. Truly it doesn't matter what the number is when it comes to safety as any increase is beneficial.
Job safety plan
So, we are going to write everything down on some kind of job safety plan.
It doesn’t matter what you call it (JSA, JSHA, work permit, safe work plan, etc.), just as long as it covers the basics of an electrical job plan:
- What task are we doing?
- Who is doing the work?
- What are the hazards?
- What PPE, tools and equipment are required?
- Do I need lockout tagout?
- Do I need an energized work permit?
- Do I need authorization?
- Are there any special procedures?
The next thing that’s required is prior to starting the work the worker in charge (which could anyone really, you, me, a supervisor... just whoever is taking charge of the particular job) needs to have a discussion with all those involved in the job.
Something you might call a pre-job arc flash & shock risk assessment discussion... or a PJAFASRAD for short… I’m just kidding, that would be ridiculous.
Let’s just call it a job briefing.
The purpose is to get the juices flowing in your brain before you decide to work on a piece of equipment.
Step 2: Make hazard identification easy for workers
Complete an arc flash study
One of the best things about arc flash and electric shock hazards is that there is a very simple way to identify the hazards.
By performing an incident energy & shock hazard analysis... or more popularly named an arc flash study.
Now don't confuse this with a hazard assessment you would do just as you were walking onto the floor or into a work zone. This is an engineering exercise that is done upfront and will calculate hazard levels for all of your arc flash and shock hazards present.
A lot of people skip this step or don't see the value in spending money on engineering... but after doing this for so long now, I'm convinced there is no easier way to simplify your electrical safety program than by calculating all the hazards.
Once you have the study done all your equipment will be labelled... the electrician simply reads the info off the label and step 2 is complete.
Have the analysis completed and thank me later.
Quick Lesson: How to read the AF labels
Just in case you’re curious about how to read the labels I’ve included a link to this article which describes the process in detail.
Step 3: Train your workers to understand the risks
Training sessions are required to increase the knowledge level of the workforce.
They need to learn about the hazards, mitigation techniques, PPE, tools, and equipment as well as the relevant procedures and policies that impact their jobs.
Most importantly they need to learn how to estimate the likelihood of an arc flash or shock hazard happening.
In my opinion, this is the biggest confusion in the entire industry and if your workers can figure this out it is going to save you a lot of headache.
Types of training needed
Typically, a company will have a need for two types of training.
One that is specifically designed for electricians, electrical engineers, and electrical technologists and another for operators, mechanics and other trades who are sometimes exposed to electrical hazards in the workplace.
The training can either be a live training session with an instructor, on-the-job training with a qualified worker or lead hand, or online.
All types of training are valuable, and, in my opinion, you should use a blend of the three.
Start with an in-class instructor lead session to roll out the program and introduce the topics, follow up with on-the-job training to ensure that the practical side of the training is completed, then use online training to get a refresher of the information and verify competency.
The first one is what I would refer to as Qualified Electrical Worker (QEW) Training. The most important factor in this training is that is focused on both the technical aspects of electrical safety as well as the practical and hands-on aspects.
Electrical hazard awareness training
The second type is more of a hazard awareness course.
Basically, this is an arc flash, this is a shock hazard, these are the jobs you might be doing that could expose you... so don’t touch.
Electrical Contractor Training
As part of your written electrical safety program, you also want to make sure that the electrical contractors at your site are properly trained and briefed on what the hazards are.
When selecting an electrical contractor, request a list of their training qualifications and completion dates, then reference that with your own internal training systems to ensure it meets your electrical safety program standards.
Once selected explain that once they get to site they will go through a safety briefing where your site representative will ensure that you provide a proper overview of your electrical safety program and procedures.
Step 4: Implement proper mitigation techniques
PPE, Tools & Equipment
Go shopping and get equipped and then use the gear that you buy!
I'm sure you've heard that PPE is the last line of defence before but until we eliminate electricity altogether, we are going to have to wear the PPE.
It's important that you find the PPE, tools, and equipment that is properly specified for the job but it's almost equally important that you understand how to use it properly, how to check for defects, and when it is safe not to use it (this last one is important because some of the PPE is very uncomfortable and may cause other issues when worn).
Most facilities that operate at 480 or 600 volts are going to require a very basic set of PPE. Here is what I recommend every qualified electrical worker has:
- Rubber insulated gloves with leather protectors (1000 volt)
- Arc rated face shield with a balaclava (12 cal/cm2)
- Arc rated coveralls (12 cal/cm2)
- Leather boots
- Safety glasses
I also recommend having at least one 40+cal/cm2 (depending on your arc flash analysis) arc flash suit & hood to be used when the incident energy is above 12 cal/cm2.
For tools, there is nothing that beats a CATIV-600V CATIII-1000V digital multimeter from a trusted brand... not one you picked up at the local hardware store for $25.
Again, every place is different, so take the time to figure out the right mix for your needs.
Invest in quality and make sure that there is a healthy appreciation for using the PPE, tools and equipment.
Setting up the safe work zone
Another mitigation technique that is very valuable with arc flash and shock hazards is distance.
Yup... plain old distance. Keep people back and away.
Every time an electrical worker is performing a task when electrical circuits have been exposed, they need to be setting up a safe work zone.
You can do this any way you choose.
Barricades, yellow tape, red tape, standby attendants, you name it... just make sure that you’re accounting for it in your program.
In order to set the zone up in the right place, you’ll need two numbers (and guess where they come from... your arc flash study).
- Arc flash boundary
- Limited approach boundary
The arc flash boundary is the distance you can stand from an arc flash, with no PPE and still survive... notice I said to survive and not get burned... even at the boundary arc flashes are so dangerous you could still get injured.
The limited approach boundary is the safe distance that an unqualified worker can stand without the risk of getting a shock.
All you need to do is figure out which number is greater and set up your work zone at this distance (or a bit further for good measure).
Step 5: Develop safe work practices
The written program document should consist of policies, procedures and safe work practices that will decrease the likelihood of getting a shock or creating an arc flash.
There are a few "key procedures" when it comes to electrical safety, such as establishing an electrically safe work condition, pre-job shock & arc flash risk assessment, and the use of energized work permits, that you should have built into your program.
Establishing an electrically safe work condition
This is a really fancy way of saying “electrical lockout”.
I think that the writers of the standards didn’t want to confuse the issue, so they came up with this very long name for the procedure...
The nice things are you don’t need to reinvent the wheel here. This procedure is exactly the same in CSAZ462 and NFPA70E and in my opinion, is the most important procedure your workers need to follow.
It’s the only way to prove zero energy for electrical systems.
Here are the general steps (you can get more specific if you’d like):
- Determine all possible sources of electrical supply to the electrical equipment
- Open the disconnecting device
- Visually verify device has opened (if possible)
- Release or block stored energy
- Testing for absence of voltage (most important!!!)
- Apply temporary protective grounds (for high voltage)
If the electrical workers on your site are successfully completing these steps every time your incident rate is going to go way down.
Energized work permit
Energized work is by far the most hazardous work an electrician can do, and in most cases, it doesn't need to happen.
A lot of work that electricians have traditionally done energized is no longer acceptable.
There are a few things like testing and troubleshooting that you can't do any other way but for everything else, before you work on it energized, you'd better have a really good reason why.
That reason or "justification" needs to go down on an energized work permit and someone with authority should be signing off on the work.
Follow this link for more information on energized work permits and a template you can use.
Other electrical safe work procedures
Depending on the type of business you are in, whether or not you contract some or all of the electrical work out and what level of sophistication you are aiming for, there are a number of other safe work practices you will want to consider:
- How to read arc flash labels
- Testing for absence of voltage
- Working near overhead power lines & buried power lines
- How to properly use a ground fault circuit interrupter
- How to ensure the system is properly grounded
- Complex switching sequences
Step 6: Continually check the process
Key procedure audits
When trying to implement a change the most important aspect to focus on is the people. Everything else we’ve talked about up to this point is really just the framework for creating, implementing and managing an electrical safety program.
The real magic is with your people.
So, what I recommend is implementing what I call a key procedure audit (KPA) process.
I’m going to assume you have an organizational structure made up of at least a manager or owner, department lead or supervisor and skilled tradespeople.
There are two crucial interfaces when it comes to communication.
- Manager to supervisor; and
- Supervisor to an electrician.
How should a KPA work?
Earlier, we talked about the concept of using key procedures to drive home a concept or bring more light to a certain focus area. What I like to see in an organization is that supervisors are held responsible for the success of implementing those key procedures.
There are two things we want to measure quality and interaction…
Ask yourself how well are the pre-job assessments being completed?
Are they effective in determining the risks involved?
Are they simply a “ticking the box” exercise?
How many times in a day, week or month is the supervisor interacting with the skilled trades-person in a meaningful way with regards to the key procedure chosen?
Here is an example
Let’s imagine I’m an electrical general foreman at a mine site in Northern Canada. I have two supervisors who each have 15 electricians reporting to them.
The site manager chose to establish an electrically safe work condition (EESWC) as the key procedure she is most concerned with right now in implementing.
Every Friday I’ve laid out the expectation that each of my supervisors has taken the time to stop, review and discuss the procedures that their electricians have been completing making sure to focus on EESWC.
The supervisor should also be checking to make sure the electrical workers show an acceptable level of understanding in the work but also in the key procedure audit process.
So the electrician reports to the supervisor, the supervisor to me, and then I report to the manager. Necessary tweaks are made in the process or protocols and everyone adjusts appropriately.
CHAPTER #4: CONCLUSION
So, what are we going to do now?
Glad you asked.
Now that you have a written document which outlines the plan, processes and procedures you are going to use to protect the workers from electrical hazards you need to start doing them.
Seems simple enough but it's amazing how many companies and organizations do not even get to this phase in effectively rolling out the program.
It's like they have analysis paralysis, or they are just constantly planning and calculating but never take that first step to initiate anything.
It’s all about keeping people safe, so people need to do something in order to make it happen.
What I recommend is going back to the top of the chapter on Practical Applications and start working your way down. While you’re doing this be constantly updating your ESP document with whatever you decide from the practical side of things.
By the time you’ve worker your way through each step you will be in fantastic shape (electrically speaking... not like our friend Bob from earlier).
That’s all folks!
Well, I say that lightly because, in reality, it’s just the beginning. But if you have read this entire post you should at least have a good idea of the things you need to consider.
Do you know anyone else that would benefit from this blog? Use the share buttons below to share the content.
If you have any questions, you can always reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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