OHS Canada Magazine

News

Electrical workers taking deadly safety risks: ESA

(Canadian OH&S News)


(Canadian OH&S News)

A new report from the Electrical Safety Authority (ESA), a delegated administrative authority working for the Ontario government, has offered good and bad news. On one hand, the rate of electricity-related deaths in the province has undergone a 38 per cent decrease over the past five years.

But the organization cautioned that too many Ontarians — especially electrical workers — have been dying from electrical accidents nonetheless. The report also stated that 29 per cent of victims of workplace fatalities between 2003 and 2012 were electrical tradespeople.

“Where we’re not so pleased is when we look at the electrical workers,” said Dr. Joel Moody, the author of the report. “They continue to get critically injured on the job, particularly when they’re working around energized panels or commercial lighting systems.

That number is not coming down like we’d like it.”

The study, the 12th edition of the Ontario Electrical Safety Report, found that there had been an overall rolling average of only 1.02 electricity-related deaths (including electrocutions, fires and burns) per population of 1 million from 2008 to 2012. This was a decrease of more than one-third from the 1.65 rate from 2003 to 2007. But of the 25 electricity-related deaths from 2008 to 2012, 15 (or 60 per cent) were occupational fatalities.

“The number of fatalities for the utility worker sector has increased,” the report read. “Due to small numbers, it is not possible to report this as a trend, but this is an area for increased surveillance.”

Injury, death rate remains high despite training

Scott Saint, ESA’s chief public safety officer, said that even though safety training and awareness programs are established throughout Ontario’s electrical sector, the rate of injuries and deaths remains high. “I think we really need to understand what’s driving that,” he said. “I think that the solution’s still out there. We’re still looking for it.”

The report included a graph that showed the ratio of non-critical injuries to fatalities in the electrical field as 20 to one, a relatively low ratio. Most tellingly, 62.5 per cent of Ontario’s occupational electrical-related deaths over the past decade had a probable cause of “improper procedure.”

Saint argued that the electrical trade is risky. “Therefore, following proper procedures is more paramount than ever,” he said. “In some cases, people say, ‘I have the training, I have the proper procedures, I just didn’t worry about them.’ And we just don’t know why yet,” Saint said.

Dr. Moody agreed that getting workers to follow established safety procedures is vital to dealing with the problem. Such procedures include avoidance of “working live,” or working with electrical equipment without shutting it down first.

“Do as you’re trained,” Dr. Moody advised. “De-energize the equipment; work on it de-energized. There’s really no rationale to working on a lighting system live. Generally speaking, lights can be turned out, right? If you’re working, you can turn the lights out and get your work done, then put them back on,” he said, adding that wearing personal protective equipment at all times is important as well.

The report is viewable online at http://www.esasafe.com/assets/files/esasafe/pdf/OESR/ESA-OESR-2012%20FINAL.PDF.