OSHA and the Independent Electrical Contractors Inc., a trade association for electrical and systems contractors that was founded in 1957, recently renewed their alliance to protect construction workers from electrical hazards. The alliance focuses on providing agency staff with 70E and arc flash training and offers contractors guidance on preventing worker exposure to electric shock and arc flash hazards.

It's a win/win for both parties, according to John Masarick, vice president of codes and safety for the Independent Electrical Contractors Inc. (IEP).

"The reason we formed the alliance was to share information about protecting workers from electrical and arc flash hazards," said Masarick. "It's about more than OSHA regulations and enforcement."

During the five-year agreement, the alliance primarily will focus on providing OSHA staff with 70E and arc flash training, and IEC members with tools – training, videos, PowerPoint presentations, toolbox talks and more – to help them prevent worker exposures to electric shock and arc flash hazards. Through the alliance, participants also will promote awareness of OSHA campaigns on preventing falls and heat illness, as well as promote a culture of safety through outreach, particularly to small businesses and workers with limited- and non-English speaking skills.

"For more than a decade, OSHA and IEC have had a productive partnership developing resources to protect thousands of workers in the electrical industry," said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels. "Our continued alliance will help ensure that employers and workers in this industry receive information and training that are essential to keeping their workplaces safe and healthful."

IEC has more than 50 chapters across the country and 3,000 members, said Masarick. Many of its members are active with the NFPA 70E review panel and in helping craft updates to the National Electrical Code (NEC). Both NFPA 70E and NEC are updated more frequently than OSHA standards, and IEC – as part of the alliance – keeps OSHA inspectors up to date on changes to those standards and codes and provides them with training to spot electrical hazards.

"With chapters and members all across the country, we're in a unique position to provide training for OSHA inspectors," Masarick noted.

IEC also provides training for some 8,000 apprentices per year. They learn basic safety training, as well as training specific to electrical and arc flash hazards and fall protection. The training serves to "get the message out" about best practices in the industry and lays a solid safety foundation for the workers entering the profession, said Masarick.

Injuries Devastate Workers, Families, Employers

Many of us remember Willy Coyote cartoons showing him get shocked and afterward, looking a little singed. In reality, electrical-related injuries are no joke. They are some of the most costly in terms of pain and suffering and actual financial outlay.

Significant burns probably are the most painful injuries a worker can suffer. In addition to the initial electrical burns, particles from exploding insulation and the copper wire used in electrical wiring can imbed in the skin, causing life-threatening infections.

Serious burns often result in years of operations, painful debriding sessions, skin grafts, medical care, rehabilitation and retraining. The injuries are devastating for both the injured worker and their loved ones, who must watch their family member suffer through treatment.

In addition to the horror of knowing an employee suffered a life-altering injury, employers can face bankruptcy in the aftermath of an arc flash or electrical injury incident.

"There was one company that had an employee who was burned in an arc flash incident. The cost of the workers' compensation claim (medical and wage replacement) was $8 million. They are extremely expensive claims and a single claim can put a company out of business," said Masarick.

The best way to "deal" with electrical injuries and hazards is to prevent them, he added, and the alliance has developed fact sheets, toolbox talks and guidance documents on updates to OSHA electrical standards; hazards involved in working on or near energized electrical conductors and circuit parts; general safety guidance to help prevent fall-related injuries; and safety considerations for using ladders.