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Blitz Results: Electrical Hazards

  • Issued: April 2017
  • Content last reviewed: April 2017

Disclaimer: This resource has been prepared to help the workplace parties understand some of their obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and regulations. It is not legal advice. It is not intended to replace the OHSA or the regulations. For further information please see full disclaimer.

Incidents while performing electrical work can result in critical injuries and even death to workers at construction sites. These hazards can be prevented by following safe work practices and procedures.

Between November 1 and December 31, 2016, Ministry of Labour (MOL) inspectors conducted an enforcement blitz at construction sites across Ontario. They focused on electrical hazards as well as ergonomics-related hazards involving specific tasks that could lead to musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) or falls as a result of the unsafe use of ladders when doing electrical work.

The blitz was part of an overall strategy to eliminate injuries and fatalities while completing electrical work at construction projects.

The goals of the blitz were to:

  • raise awareness of safety hazards when working near live electrical power lines and electrical equipment and
  • ensure workplace parties were complying with the law and
  • prevent injuries that could arise from unsafe work practices.

Workers are at serious risk if they make contact with energized equipment or a conductor. The primary hazard to workers working on or near energized electrical equipment, installations and distribution systems is that of electric shock and or arc flash burn.

Ergonomics-related hazards can also result in injuries or fatalities to workers performing electrical work. MSDs can result from ongoing exposure to tasks such as repetitive work, forceful exertions, heavy lifting and carrying, and awkward postures. Injuries or fatalities can also occur due to falls as a result of the unsafe use of ladders that result in a worker not maintaining their balance.

During the blitz MOL inspectors checked specifically for hazards related to electrical work at construction projects and checked that employers were taking appropriate action to assess and address these hazards to protect workers’ safety. This included checking that employers, supervisors, and workers were complying with the:

Background

Workers can be at serious risk of injury or death if they make contact with or work in proximity to energized equipment or a conductor.  Incidents involving electrical hazards can be prevented by ensuring the risk of electrical shock and possible burns is identified and controlled in the workplace.

Under the OHSA, all workplace parties – including employers, supervisors and workers – must play a role to reduce the risk of electrical contact. This includes identifying the electrical hazard, complying with regulatory requirements, and establishing and following safe work procedures.

In particular, employers must:

  • take every reasonable precaution to prevent hazards to workers from energized electrical equipment, installations and conductors
  • ensure workers who work near energized electrical equipment and conductors maintain the prescribed minimum distances from energized electrical equipment and conductors to avoid contact
  • ensure work procedures are in place to prevent equipment, part of a vehicle or its load from making contact with energized conductors or encroaching on the minimum distance allowed

If it is not practical for a worker to maintain a safe distance, the employer must put in place controls to mitigate the risk of electrical hazards. The best measure is to de-energize an electrical system.

If de-energizing is not practical, employers must ensure workers:

  • wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • follow established safe work procedures
  • receive competent supervision to ensure they follow the safety requirements

When Working Live is Permitted

A major safety issue involves working on or near energized exposed parts of electrical equipment, installations or conductors. This type of work is only allowed under prescribed and controlled conditions outlined in Section 191 of the Regulations for Construction Projects. This includes:

  • when diagnostic testing needs to be carried out
  • when it is not reasonably possible to disconnect the equipment, installation or conductor from the power supply and
  • if disconnecting the power (600 volts or less) would create a greater hazard to a worker than proceeding without disconnecting it.

If it is not practical to disconnect an electrical system:

  • employers must first assess the potential for electric shock and arc flash to ensure the correct arc-flash rated PPE is selected for working on energized electrical equipment
  • workers must use this PPE, including approved rubber gloves, mats and shields, and insulated tools.

Powerline technicians may work on or near energized utility transmission and distribution systems and apparatus if they are:

  • authorized by electrical utility owners and
  • work in accordance with the Electrical Utility Safety (EUS) Rules or EUS rules in conjunction with provincial regulatory requirements.

Report summary

In November and December 2016, ministry inspectors conducted 1,108 field visits to 998 workplaces and issued 2,801 orders and 24 requirements[1].This included 173 stop work orders. Some of the workplaces were visited more than once.

In November and December 2016, ministry inspectors conducted 1,108 field visits to 998 workplaces and issued 2,801 orders and 24 requirements1].This included 173 stop work orders. Some of the workplaces were visited more than once.

The five most commonly issued orders were for violations involving:

  • PPE and clothing (other than fall protection): 240 orders (8.6 percent of total orders issued, 95 per cent of which were related to safety hats)
  • fall protection: 161 orders (5.7 percent of total orders issued)
  • lack of emergency procedures: 75 orders (2.7 percent of total orders)
  • Notices of Project: 73 orders (2.6 percent of total orders issued)
  • electrical hazards: 72 orders (2.6 percent of total orders issued)

Full Report

Inspection blitzes are part of the province’s Safe At Work Ontario compliance strategy. They are announced to the sector by the ministry in advance, although individual workplaces are not identified in advance of inspectors’ visits. Results are posted on the ministry’s website.

The blitzes raise awareness of workplace hazards and are intended to promote compliance with the OHSA and its regulations.

Inspectors’ findings may impact the frequency and level of future inspections of individual workplaces. Inspectors may also refer employers to health and safety associations for compliance assistance and health and safety-related training.

Blitz Focus

Inspectors focused on the key priorities below. They checked that:

  • only qualified workers (electricians certified by the Ontario College of Trades) were permitted to connect, maintain or modify electrical equipment or installations
  • qualified workers were not working on live electrical equipment unless permitted. In addition, inspectors checked that a procedure was in place to de-energize electrical systems at the source and use lockout procedures to prevent re-energizing while workers worked on or near electrical equipment, installations or systems
  • employers had developed and implemented safe work procedures that workers followed when working on or near electrical equipment, installations and distribution systems
  • trained signal persons were provided to assist vehicle and equipment operators who were working near energized overhead electrical conductors to prevent part of the vehicle or equipment (cranes, dump trucks), or their load, from encroaching on the minimum distance permitted under the Section 188 of the Regulations for Construction Projects
  • visible signage was posted to warn workers and operators of potential overhead electrical hazards
  • prior to excavating, electrical and other services in and near the area to be excavated were located and marked and, if the service posed a hazard during excavating, the service was shut off by the utility owner
  • workers were using ladders in a safe manner

Inspection activity summary

Table 1: Inspection Visits To Construction Projects
Program Activities Numbers
Field visits 1,108
Number of workplaces visited 998
Total orders and requirements issued 2,825
Orders 2,801
Stop work orders 173
Requirements 24
Orders and requirements per workplace visited 2.83
Orders and requirement per visit 2.55

Order analysis

Table 2: Most commonly issued types of orders under the Regulations for Construction Projects
Reason for order Number of orders Percentage of total orders
PPE Head Protection: Every worker must wear protective headwear at all times when on a project 240 8.6
Fall protection: missing guardrail or other fall protection 161 5.7
Lack of emergency procedures or failure to post the procedures in a conspicuous place on the project 75 2.7
Failure to file a Notice of Project when required by legislation 73 2.6
Failure to ensure electrical equipment, installations, conductors and insulating materials are suitable for their intended use and installed, maintained, modified and operated so they don’t pose a hazard to a worker 72 2.6

Table 3: Orders by type of legislation / regulation
Legislation / Regulation Number Percentage of total orders
Regulations for Construction Projects 2,496 89.1
Occupational Health and Safety Act 289 10.3
Roll-Over Protective Structures, Noise, Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS), Occupational Health and Safety Awareness, Asbestos on Construction Projects and In Buildings and Repair Operations 16 0.6

A total of 2,801 orders were issued during the blitz:

In addition, 24 requirements (not counted in the total number of orders) were issued under the OHSA.
Most of the orders issued under the Regulations for Construction Projects were for violations involving:

  • a lack of head protection (not wearing a hard hat at all times while on a project) and
  • fall protection – in particular, an employer’s failure to provide a guardrail system:
    • as a primary means of fall protection (Section 26.1) and
    • around the open sides of a surface or floor (Section 26.3).

Seventy-two orders (2.6 per cent of total orders) were related to electrical safety, which was the focus of this blitz.

Stop Work Orders

A stop work order is issued when a situation could post an immediate hazard/danger to a worker. Stop work orders require a specific activity to stop at a workplace.

During the blitz, 173 stop work orders were issued under the OHSA. They were accompanied by 287 other orders requiring a specific activity to take place to remedy the issue involving the stop work orders.

Of the violations related to the stop work orders:

  • 23 per cent (67 of the 287 accompanying orders) were related to fall protection involving missing or inadequate guardrails
  • 17 per cent (49 of 287 accompanying orders) were related to scaffolds and scaffold platforms
  • 13 per cent (37 of the 287 accompanying orders) were related to access of stairs or temporary stairs five per cent (15 of the 287 accompanying orders) were related to equipment in general
  • five per cent (13 of the 287 accompanying orders) were related to general “housekeeping”
  • three per cent (nine of the 287 accompanying orders) were related to electrical hazards
  • three per cent (eight of the 287 accompanying orders) were related to excavations and wall stability

Conclusion

The results of this blitz indicate employers need to be more vigilant in complying with requirements for PPE on construction sites.

The blitz also indicates employers need to comply with fall protection requirements to protect workers.

The Ministry of Labour has worked to improve compliance by conducting blitzes targeting falls hazards in the construction sector in 2010, 2013, 2014 and 2016.

Next steps

The Ministry of Labour will continue to enforce safety requirements for working on or near electrical systems, equipment and installations.

Compliance help for employers

For more information on identifying, preventing and controlling these hazards, please contact the Ministry of Labour’s safety partners.

[1] A requirement is issued under the OHSA when an inspector needs more information to assess compliance. By comparison, an order is issued when an inspector determines there is a violation of the legislation or regulations

Disclaimer: This web resource has been prepared to assist the workplace parties in understanding some of their obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and the regulations. It is not intended to replace the OHSA or the regulations and reference should always be made to the official version of the legislation.

It is the responsibility of the workplace parties to ensure compliance with the legislation. This web resource does not constitute legal advice. If you require assistance with respect to the interpretation of the legislation and its potential application in specific circumstances, please contact your legal counsel.

While this web resource will also be available to Ministry of Labour inspectors, they will apply and enforce the OHSA and its regulations based on the facts as they may find them in the workplace. This web resource does not affect their enforcement discretion in any way.