How Dangerous is it Being an Electrician?

As part of the electrical trade, an electrician is in charge of installing and maintaining wiring for both commercial and residential buildings. This can lead to a number of dangerous situations that are all too common among those who work in this profession. In order to avoid the dangers that come with being an electrician, it’s important to know what they are. Fortunately for you, we will be going over some of the most common hazards faced by these professionals and how you can avoid them, so that you may go into your new career without fear!

Electrical warning label – Source: safetysign.com

Becoming an electrician can be one of the most rewarding career decisions a person can make. Not only does it give you a skill to hone over many years, it gives you access to new and evolving technology and equipment that changes every year. It also gives you a certain confidence that what you do matters, and you have knowledge of a subject that not many other people are familiar with. With all of that said, it can also be a dangerous job to have; being an electrician is ranked within the top 20 most dangerous jobs in America. There are a number of hazards that electricians face every day, and it’s important for any potential or current electrician to know what these are so they can take steps towards accident prevention.

At Electrician U we teach people to assess situations and minimize risk first and foremost. Working on live circuits most of the time is an unnecessary risk, but there are times where the needs of the job require it. In these cases, it’s important to be well trained in how to work on live circuits, and what PPE and procedures there are for doing so. NFPA 70E is a document the electrical industry uses as a standard for addressing what PPE you need, in which environments.

These are the top four injuries you may face going into the field as an electrician. For the purposes of this article, we kept things like ladder safety, falling through a ceiling, and general tool-related jobsite injury out of the equation and focused on injuries that were electrical in nature.

Shock hazard

One of the most common hazards we face as electricians is being shocked. Electric shock happens when there’s an electrical current that travels through your body. This can happen if you touch a live wire or metal object with bare skin and introduce your body into the circuit, allowing current to flow through you! For this reason, electricians need to wear insulated gloves when working on live circuits. A layer of insulation between you and an electrical circuit allows you to work on live electrical equipment at a much lower risk. 

Testing on live circuits can represent a shock hazard – Source: quincemedical.com

Electrocution

Another extremely dangerous risk for those who are part of the profession is electrocution; something that happens typically when shock hazards are not properly mitigated. The difference between a shock and electrocution is that a shock can injure you, whereas electrocution means death. If shock hazards aren’t treated with the necessary caution, there is the risk of having a worker come into contact with an electrical current that runs through their body, causing life-threatening injury or death. An example of electrocution would be if a person were to hold on to a live circuit conductor with one hand, and another conductive path with the other hand. If an electrical potential exists between the two paths, current will flow across the chest, through the heart, and can cause ventricular fibrillation (heart attack).

Arc Flash

One of the most dangerous risks to take as an electrician is to put yourself in a situation where the possibility of an arc flash exists. An arc flash occurs when a flashover of electric current leaves its intended path and travels through the air from one conductor to another – for example, as a result of shock hazards created during electrical maintenance work on live/energized wires. Electricity in this circumstance is creating an arc of flowing current and can have a strong thermal force depending on what is on either side of the arc. Anyone who comes into contact with it may experience burns from their scalp to the soles of their feet, become physically paralyzed by the current’s shock effect, suffer cardiac arrest, or even be killed outright if enough current passes through them. 

electrical safety
Electrician working in a full flash-suite – Source: rcesoilandgastraining.org

Short Circuit and Ground-Fault Conditions

The last possibility is the fault. A fault is a situation where two parts of a live circuit touch when they’re not supposed to. A short circuit is a type of fault where two hot conductors come into contact with one another, or a hot and neutral do the same. A ground fault is where both, a hot and ground conductor, come into contact with each other. At higher voltages and currents, a fault can fill an entire room with a fireball and vaporized metal instantaneously. This is why it is crucial to wear proper PPE and understand the dangers of working on live circuits. 

A short circuit occurring in a plug-strip – Source: powertec.ca

Vetting the Company You Work For

Would you want to work for a company that would knowingly endanger your life? Of course not! But electrical contractors face this risk every day. It’s true, electrical firms must follow proper safety regulations and train their employees on the dangers of live electricity, and how to handle it safely. Many of these companies do so, but unfortunately, there are some who don’t care about training, regulation, or electrical safety at all. There are many companies that have a culture of “macho” electricians who take pride in working on live circuits and often chastise people who don’t. These companies are ready and willing to put your life in danger rather than taking extra time to make sure all risks have been removed – which means you should never work for such an employer. 

These types of employers will take advantage of any gaps in PPE standards by cutting corners and providing only inadequate equipment They typically do not take pride in their workmanship either; often their reason for ‘working unsafe’ is because they’re in a hurry to finish. Also, many of these individuals do not have strong values for either quality and/or customer service. If they don’t care about a lot of things, that’s ok. But they should still always care about their, and your, safety at all times. On the flip side, you will find employers that take the safety of their employees with the utmost seriousness. These types of employers will provide proper training and ensure PPE standards are met by providing all staff with appropriate equipment. It’s not uncommon for companies like these to hold safety meetings and set aside time to assess situations where someone could get hurt. How safe you feel on a job should be of paramount importance when working with something that can kill you. If you feel unsafe, speaking up is always the right answer. If an employer doesn’t respect that or makes you feel inferior, it may be time to find another company to work for. 

Electrician inspecting terminations in control cabinet – Source: clmi-training.com

When making these decisions on what type of employer to work for, remember: quality trumps quantity when it comes to working on electrical systems. Sure, there are jobs where quantity and production rate are very important – typically in a construction environment when live circuits are not present. But when working on or near live systems, quality and safety are the most important thing to keep in front of you. Always assess the risks and make sure the juice is worth the squeeze if you do decide to work on energized equipment.

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