Serious injuries and death can occur from using a power tool improperly, or by exposing yourself to unsafe electrical conditions on your jobsite. In order to avoid electrocution, it is important that you and your crew members understand the safety issues related to electricity.

Every year, an average of 300 fatalities occur due to contact with electrical current. The majority of these fatalities are attributed to contact with overhead power lines. It can happen to anyone — even the most qualified and competent individual.

Repair or replace frayed or faulty cords before using.
Repair or replace frayed or faulty cords before using.

Power Tools and Electrical Cords

Most workers don't realize that only a small amount of current is needed to electrocute someone and cause serious damage to a body.

  • Make sure your electrical equipment and power tools are double insulated.
  • Make sure your temporary power or the circuit you're using is protected by a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI). Properly installed and operating, these devices shut off or limit the flow of electricity in the event of an overload or short circuit.
  • Do not raise and lower power tools by their electrical cords.
  • Do not fasten electrical cords to a building with staples or otherwise hang them in such a way that the protective outer jacket or insulation could get damaged.
  • Visually inspect all electrical cords before use for external defects such as deformed or missing prongs, cut or damaged exterior insulation, and loose parts.
  • Never remove the grounding prong.
  • Make sure that your hands, cords, and receptacles are dry when plugging and unplugging power cords.

If you see a defect or evidence of damage to a power tool or electrical cord, notify your supervisor, remove it from service, and let your co-workers know. Do not try to repair defects unless you are authorized and qualified to do so. You could be putting yourself and your co-workers in danger of electric shock or electrocution.
Overhead Power Lines

The electric current that overhead power lines can carry ranges from as low as 120 volts to as high as 750,000 volts. Serious hazards exist when working around overhead power lines with extension ladders, backhoes, concrete pumps, dump trucks, and cranes. Always remember to keep your distance — at least 10 feet, according to the standards.

  • Have somebody watch out for dangerous situations and warn you when you are getting too close to the lines with ladders and equipment.
  • Call the utility company to de-energize and to visibly ground power lines.
  • Use a barrier protection such as an insulated sleeve.
  • Install warning lines made of non-conductive materials with flags.

There is also danger with underground power lines. Contractors should call their local power company before digging and have them mark the location. In most states, this type of service is free. —Raúl Cordova This story originally appeared in EL NUEVO CONSTRUCTOR, a sister publication of REMODELING.

Safety Reminders

Here are some important safety tips that can help you avoid electrocution.

  • Keep a minimum clearing distance of 10 feet from overhead power lines.
  • Use only power equipment with grounded plugs.
  • Use ladders with non-conductive rails.
  • Never use equipment on a different voltage than it was designed for.
  • Repair or replace frayed or faulty cords before using.
  • Do not unplug cords by pulling on the wire. The wire could pull out of the plug and shock you.
  • Do not operate electric tools while standing on, or touching, a wet surface.
Stay at least 10 feet away from overhead power lines.
Stay at least 10 feet away from overhead power lines.