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Young worker suffers electric shock

A worker suffered serious injuries after receiving an electric shock while at a residential construction site.

Initial enquiries indicated that the worker was assisting an electrical contractor with the installation of new electrical wiring, which involved being underneath the house in what appeared to be a possible ‘crawl space’.

While underneath the house the worker contacted an exposed energised cable resulting in a significant electric shock.

Investigations are continuing.

Safety issues

Electric shocks can cause muscular contractions, heart palpitations, nausea, cardiac arrest, breathing arrest, burns and cellular damage. They can also cause other injuries, especially if working from heights on roofs, ladders, scaffolding and elevated work platforms.

Common electrical risks include but are not limited to:

  • Electric shock by direct or indirect contact, ‘step-and-touch’ potentials, tracking through or across a medium, or by arcing, for example:
    • contacting a live terminal within energised electrical equipment (direct contact)
    • from the earthed enclosure of an air conditioning unit when an active earth fault occurs (indirect contact).
  • Fire, arcing or explosion causing burns and injury.
  • Toxic gases causing illness or death. Burning and arcing associated with electrical equipment may release various gases and contaminants.

There are also risks when working in crawl spaces or similar areas under houses. It’s important to understand and manage the risks before entering these areas.

Ways to manage health and safety

Taking steps to manage risks is a condition of doing business in Queensland. Effective risk management starts with a commitment to health and safety from those who manage the business. If an incident occurs, you'll need to show the regulator that you’ve used an effective risk management process. This responsibility is covered by your primary duty of care in the Electrical Safety Act 2002 and the Work Health and Safety Act 2011.

The Electrical Safety Act 2002 places duties on people to ensure electrical safety. People who have a duty include persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU), designers, manufacturers, importers, suppliers, installers, repairers, persons in control of electrical equipment, contractors, and workers.

Use the hierarchy of controls to help decide how to eliminate and reduce risks in your place of work. The hierarchy of controls ranks types of control methods from the highest level of protection and reliability to the lowest. It’s a step-by-step approach to eliminating or reducing risks. You must work through the hierarchy of controls when managing risks, with the aim of eliminating the hazard, which is the most effective control.

Possible control measures to prevent similar incidents

For employers or business owners, it’s your duty to manage the risks as outlined in the Work Health and Safety legislation. You also have responsibilities under the Electrical Safety Act 2002.

The best way to control this risk is to isolate and effectively lock out all circuits that are located within the space prior to entry. It is also very important to consider all circuits within the space as there can often be more than one source of electricity that may need to be isolated at the switchboard.

A risk assessment needs to be performed and controls put in place to ensure that you are safely managing the potential risk to yourself and others that might be affected by the work.

As a worker, you must take reasonable care for your own electrical safety and not adversely affect the electrical safety of others. You must comply with any reasonable instruction and cooperate with any reasonable policy relating to electrical safety at your place of work. If your employer provides you with equipment to do a job, you must use it in accordance with the information, instruction and training provided on its use.

Under section 16 of the Electrical Safety Regulation 2013, a PCBU must ensure that prior to electrical work being performed on electrical equipment, the electrical equipment has been de-energised and cannot be inadvertently re-energised while the work is being performed.

Effective control measures for working in crawl spaces or similar areas under houses or other similar structures involving electricity are often made up of a combination of controls. A safe system of work for managing the risk of working in these areas can include but not limited to the following.

Turning the power off

Before entering an area such as a ‘crawl space’ under a house:

  • Ensure the power is off at the main switchboard and ensure adequate isolation has been confirmed at the main switchboard. The isolation should be isolated in such a way as to prevent inadvertent re-energising until the electrical work has been completed.
  • Some electrical equipment such as hot water systems or stoves may have a separate switch. It’s safest to turn off all the switches and circuit breakers at the main switchboard.
  • Complete a pre-work risk assessment of the area by looking around the space to identify any hazards that may pose risks. These may include for example:
    • high temperatures - being aware heat and humidity may cause heat stress
    • asbestos
    • structural stability
    • accessibility to the work area (like cramped and awkward positions)
    • location of electrical cables, fittings and equipment, water or gas piping
    • possible presence of dangerous wildlife such as snakes
    • other objects or materials that could cause an injury (e.g. protruding nails, metal sheeting etc)
    • even with the power off, ensure contact with electrical cables and equipment is avoided as some cables, such as consumer service lines, may still be live. Also check for solar PV systems which may have DC supply cables that are live during daylight.

When performing work activities in areas under a house

Considerations to be made when carrying out work in crawl spaces or similar areas under houses include:

  • ensure someone is aware of where you are and contact with them is maintained until work is completed
  • have a rescue plan and ensuring a safety observer and/or other workers and supervisors are aware of it
  • have access to additional lighting where practicable, for example, a torch or headlamp
  • ensure fluid intake is sufficient to ensure you do not become dehydrated (consider doing that work during cooler times of the day).

Information training and instruction:

PCBU’s should:

  • develop safe work practices and procedures and ensuring they are followed. This includes appropriate instruction, information, and training on isolation procedures.
  • develop control measures in consultation with workers performing specific tasks and consider any training they require or already have. Formal or on-the-job training may be appropriate depending on the circumstances. Examples include:
    • induction training - to ensure new starters or workers new to a job are trained on safe systems of work and other relevant health and safety matters.
    • supervisor and management training – to ensure that safety issues are appropriately managed at the workplace.
    • work specific training - to ensure that workers carrying out particular work are trained on any electrical and other risks specific to the work, as appropriate. For example, always using a voltmeter or multi-meter to test and confirm the equipment you're working on is not energised.
    • emergency procedure training - to ensure workers know what to do in the event of an emergency, (e.g., procedures to follow if a person receives an electric shock).
    • first aid training —to ensure appropriate procedures are followed for administering first aid, (e.g., proper treatment for electric shock).

Any remaining risk must be minimised with suitable personal protective equipment. For example:

  • electrical insulating gloves which have been electrically tested in accordance with Australian Standards.
  • rubber soled boots.

Information about young workers

As an employer, you must ensure the work environment and the way workers carry out their work is healthy and safe, regardless of the type and terms of their employment. This includes protecting young workers from both physical and psychological workplace hazards.

Employers of young workers should:

  • understand young workers' risk profile
  • ensure a safe and healthy workplace
  • provide information, training, instruction and supervision
  • develop a positive workplace culture.

Consider the skills, abilities and experience of young workers. Supervisors and managers of young workers are encouraged to use the ‘Tell me, show me, watch me’ approach when undertaking task-specific inductions with young workers.

The controls that are put in place to ensure electrical safety must be reviewed regularly to make sure they are working effectively.

More Information

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