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Short-cuts lead to short circuits

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28It’s an electrician’s job to do more than install a product or provide a service –part of the role is to ensure the electrical safety of our customers and colleagues. In this article Clipsal by Schneider Electric’s brand ambassador and qualified electrician Bec Sparky discusses why education around electrical safety should be top of mind for contractors and electricians.

Electrical safety is one of the most fundamental aspects of what we do.

Indeed, from the very beginning when we commence our apprenticeships, we are taught about rudimentary dos and don’ts and hear repeated lectures on the risk of working with electrical systems. Simple lessons around the dangers of mixing electricity with water, isolating circuits and de-energising equipment before carrying out work may seem obvious but they help build the foundations of our knowledge and understanding of workplace safety.

This understanding isn’t something that can be acquired and moved on from, it’s an ongoing process of constant learning and reminding yourself of strategies to minimise these risks in the workplace.

We may be the experts when it comes to the electrical world– but even professionals make mistakes and forget things from time to time.

When you’re time poor and under the pump, it can be easy to let safety fall by the wayside and the temptation to take short cuts can be difficult to resist! The truth is, slipping up on safety is no laughing matter and can result in electric shocks and even death. Within the industry we are all too often hearing about the passing of electricians in horror accidents in the news. Who could forget the heartbreaking death of a 20 year old, father-of-one from Cairns, who was electrocuted four years ago while installing data cables at a local school. More recently, in March this year, an electrician in his 30s was found dead in the roof of a suburban Perth apartment. In fact, in Western Australia, for example, workplace fatalities make up approximately 46 percent of all deaths and almost half of these deaths are electrical workers.

While we all like to think we have a thorough approach to ensuring workplace safety, every time we hear of these tragic deaths we are reminded how important it is to take extra care. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if we didn’t need these reminders to spark a self-assessment of our safety habits?

One thing that I always try to remember when I’m out in the field is that safety cannot be viewed as assumed knowledge. Learning about something on paper or in a classroom is completely different to knowing how to identify risks in a practical, real-life situation.

As skilled electrical professionals, we have a moral responsibility to adopt a ‘safety first’ attitude across all aspects of our work, whether in domestic or commercial work environments, large or small.

Apprentices look up to us as role models and we are instrumental in shaping the type of tradesperson they will become. They watch how we operate and mimic our behaviours – we are, after all, the experts! It is in these early stages of their careers that they are most impressionable and taking the time to explain and test them on even the most basic of electrical safety procedures is vital, not only to their development but to their safety and yours.

I hammer this point home because young apprentices are most vulnerable to electrical accidents and the statistics speak for themselves. According to Safe Work Australia, workers aged between 15 and 24 are injured at work more frequently than any other age group with 48.8 injuries occurring for every million hours worked. Any injury or death that occurs is, in my opinion, always one too many and the significance of this figure demonstrates the need for fully qualified electricians or contractors to ensure the next generation of electricians is properly trained.

Another aspect of electrical safety that many of us are often guilty of neglecting is the need to wear appropriate protective clothing. Apprentices starting out in the industry are often educated about and equipped with many of these items but their diligence in using them can start to wane as the years go on, especially when more senior apprentices or tradespeople don’t seem to use protective gear!

Like in most industries, wearing safety gear such as helmets and glasses can be seen as uncool. This mentality is in some ways cultural and requires all of us to play a role in generating positive, industry-wide change.

Some of the most important protective gear that often gets overlooked includes:

  • Safety helmets: to protect workers from overhead wires, electrical parts or falling objects
  • Safety glasses: to protect workers from flying objects and electric arcing
  • Non-conductive footwear: to protect workers from electrical shock
  • Insulating gloves: to protect workers from electric shock
  • Hearing protection: to protect workers from industrial deafness and hearing loss

While ensuring these items are always on hand is a must, regularly maintaining safety gear and replacing them if they are worn is just as important. Protective gear that is faulty or damaged is just as harmful as having no gear at all.

For those of us who work in a variety of environments and often find ourselves away from fixed RCD protection, portable protection is another way we can better protect ourselves and others while we’re on site. If battery powered tools aren’t an option, it’s important to use portable power outlets that have in-built safety switches. Again, this may seem like an obvious word of advice but it’s the basics that need to be emphasised and re-emphasised again to susceptible apprentices. Encouraging apprentices to invest their tool allowance in portable protective equipment they need like outlets, plug adaptors, cable reels and heavy duty cord sets will ensure they always have the right gear to perform their job safely when it comes to going out on their own.

Ultimately as contractors and teachers we should lead by example. By setting good habits for our apprentices from the get go we are ensuring the safety of our future electricians. They need to know the protection of our health and wellbeing is not something that can be compromised no matter how busy or tired we are.

About Rebecca Mair

Rebecca Mair

Rebecca 'Bec Sparky' Mair is a qualified electrician and renovation expert. Bec currently works as a Consumer Brand Ambassador at Clipsal by Schneider Electric where she is helping to demystify the electrical industry and share important tips on safety, energy saving and products.

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