Electrocution is a very real danger on the worksite. Of the 874 fatalities that occurred on the job during 2014, 74 of those deaths involved electrocution. The presence of high-voltage overhead power lines and other energized circuits can make the use of metal scaffolding dangerous without the right set of precautions. The following explains how the risk of electrocution can be minimized for workers using scaffolds.
Survey the Worksite
Identifying any and all hazards that exist on the worksite can go a long way towards safeguarding workers against electrocution risks. Prior to the initial start of any job, managers and workers should perform an initial survey of the worksite, identifying any overhead power lines or energized circuits that could pose an electrocution hazard. After identifying the risks, managers can put into place measures to control and minimize electrocution hazards.
In addition to the initial survey, daily surveys should also be conducted to account for changes on the worksite. For example, changes in ground slope and elevation can alter clearance distances, creating new dangers for scaffolding users that weren't an issue the day before. Clearances between power lines and scaffolding should also be monitored on a regular basis to ensure worker safety.
Give Energized Power Sources Their Space
Electrocutions commonly occur as workers attempt to move or use scaffolding in close proximity to power lines and other energized circuits and conduits. In an effort to prevent this from happening, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) advises that scaffolds not be used within 2 feet of insulated power lines with less than 300 volts of energy and 10 feet for insulated power lines with 300 volts or more. Scaffolding should also be kept at least 10 feet away from uninsulated power lines.
Notify Utility Companies of the Potential Danger
There are times when scaffolding must be used in close proximity to power lines and other energized electrical sources. In cases like these, it's important to notify the utility company so that measures can be taken to accommodate workers.
In most cases, the utility company may be able to de-energize the power lines in question, making it safer for workers to erect and move scaffolding. If the power lines cannot be de-energized, insulating hoses or blankets may be placed around the power lines in an effort to prevent direct contact between the lines and any conductive material on the scaffolding.
Consider the Use of Non-Conductive Material
Given that metal scaffolding offers a highly conductive conduit for electricity, replacing this style of scaffolding with equipment that uses non-conductive materials can help minimize the risk of electrocution in areas where electrical hazards exist.
The vast majority of non-conductive scaffolding relies on fiberglass as a base material. Unlike steel or aluminum, fiberglass is incapable of conducting electricity, making it ideal for environments where accidental contact with an electrical conduit or powerline could be possible. While fiberglass is an ideal choice for non-conductive scaffolding, it usually carries a cost premium when compared to cheaper steel and aluminum scaffolding.
Pole scaffolds are another non-conductive and environmentally friendly choice for scaffolding. This type of scaffold is made entirely from wood, another non-conductive material. However, the amount of labor required to build pole scaffolds from scratch and their relative lack of reusability means they're seldom used on worksites.
Bamboo is another non-conductive and environmentally friendly choice for scaffolding. It's highly popular in parts of Southeast Asia, but it's seldom used in the United States due to the amount of labor and quality control needed throughout the erection and dismantling stages.
Considering the above information when dealing with scaffolding and power lines can help prevent workplace injuries and fatalities caused by electrocution. For help finding the safest scaffolding, work with your supplier, like Savage Scaffold & Equipment Co.