While electrocution deaths are declining, contractors across trades remain at risk.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) considers electrocution one of the top four construction hazards. According to a CPWR Quarterly Data Report from the Center for Construction Research and Training, deaths due to electrocution are declining — but still, 82 construction workers met their end this way in 2015. That year, construction had the greatest number of electrocution fatalities across all industries.
Electrical workers aren’t the only ones who face significant risk. In fact, only about 32 percent of electrocution fatalities within the construction industry occurred among electrical contractors, according to the report. Power-line installers, plumbing and HVAC workers and roofers were among those who faced higher-than-average risk per worker. And laborers certainly aren’t immune; 53 were electrocuted between 2011 and 2015.
“Electric parts” — power lines, transformers, converters, electrical wiring — caused the lion’s share of electrocutions between 2011 and 2015. Ladders came in second, causing 29 electrocution fatalities in those five years. That’s close to six workers per year, on average, dying of electrocution while using a ladder.
The numbers are a good reminder to all contractors — and especially small companies, which see disproportionate numbers of electrocution fatalities — to take the necessary steps to protect their employees.
Among the solutions noted in the report:
- PPE including rubber gloves and non-conductive clothing
- Lockout/tagout devices
- Surge protection such ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) and arc-fault circuit interrupters
- A geospatial augmented reality system to locate underground cables
- Regular tool inspection and maintenance
- The use of non-conductive ladders and cover-up equipment
- Overhead powerline proximity warning devices for heavy equipment
Workers should be taught — and reminded through toolbox talks or other safety meetings — to keep a safe distance from power lines, stay aware of electrical hazards when working with ladders and scaffolds and always look up to check for overhead power lines.
Like most construction injuries and fatalities, electrocution is preventable.
Marianne Wait is an editor and writer who creates content for Fortune 500 brands.