Safety is job one. Put safety first. Safety is no accident. These are all slogans you've probably heard a hundred times before. Unfortunately, each and every one of us tends to become complacent over time, eventually putting ourselves in a potentially dangerous situation. Many times, we do so when no one else is in the immediate area or when working alone. This is where a bad situation can quickly take a turn for the worse. Let's review a few cases from our Forensic Casebook department as examples.

  • Situation: Upon his return, the supervisor notices the technician was not at the top of the pole. Soon thereafter, he hears moaning and quickly finds the victim at the bottom of the ladder in apparent distress. He calls 911, but the man dies at the scene. Result: Routine task of installing a temporary power system turns deadly for one unsuspecting field technician.

  • Situation: A victim is discovered lying unconscious and unresponsive, face down, on a wet surface by a co-worker. Result: Journeyman electrician is killed while performing maintenance on high-voltage transformer.

  • Situation: Two welders find an electrician unconscious in front of the transformer enclosure and are unable to revive him. Result: Switchgear malfunction results in an electrician's death.

    What do these unfortunate stories have in common? All three victims were working alone when they made contact with energized equipment and/or conductors. Would faster co-worker response or professional medical assistance have prevented any of these deaths? No one can say for sure, but they might have.

    Many of us have experienced near misses over the years and lived to tell about them. Others, like those mentioned above, have not been so fortunate. What these stories also teach us is that it doesn't matter how much experience you have working on electrical systems. If you put yourself in a bad situation, you could easily become the next statistic. Speaking of government stats, here are some important numbers to take note of, as compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

  • 586 (number of U.S. electrical workers electrocuted between 1992 and 2003).

  • 58% (percentage of those noted above due to direct or indirect contact with energized electrical wiring and equipment).

  • When the operating voltage was known, more than one-third of the electrical workers were working on 600V or less systems.

These statistics help broaden our view of just how dangerous performing electrical work on a regular basis can be. That's why you must work as hard as possible to never let your guard down when working on or near energized equipment. Although much of your own safety and well-being rests on your own shoulders, there are others out there working hard to help you stay safe. Taking a look at some other safety-related numbers can prove this to be true.

The latest revision cycle for NFPA 70E, “Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace,” with 579 proposals and 801 comments, is a good case in point. Addressing the safe work practices and personal protective equipment requirements to safeguard personnel from the hazards of electric shock, arc flash, and arc blast, the revised edition of NFPA 70E (8th edition) is scheduled for publication in 2009. For an in-depth look at the proposed changes, turn to the cover story (on page 34) for more details. If you're not already familiar with this standard or are currently not following its recommended safe work practices and procedures, you're selling yourself short on the safety front. Read up, so you don't become the next statistic.