Win/Win: OSHA and Electrical Contractors Work Together to Protect Workers

Win/Win: OSHA and Electrical Contractors Work Together to Protect Workers

An alliance between OSHA and the Independent Electrical Contractors Inc. provides both groups with training support and promotes a culture of safety through outreach to business owners and their employees.

OSHA and the Independent Electrical Contractors Inc., a trade association for electrical and systems contractors that was founded in 1957, recently renewed their alliance to protect construction workers from electrical hazards. The alliance focuses on providing agency staff with 70E and arc flash training and offers contractors guidance on preventing worker exposure to electric shock and arc flash hazards.

It's a win/win for both parties, according to John Masarick, vice president of codes and safety for the Independent Electrical Contractors Inc. (IEP).

"The reason we formed the alliance was to share information about protecting workers from electrical and arc flash hazards," said Masarick. "It's about more than OSHA regulations and enforcement."

During the five-year agreement, the alliance primarily will focus on providing OSHA staff with 70E and arc flash training, and IEC members with tools – training, videos, PowerPoint presentations, toolbox talks and more – to help them prevent worker exposures to electric shock and arc flash hazards. Through the alliance, participants also will promote awareness of OSHA campaigns on preventing falls and heat illness, as well as promote a culture of safety through outreach, particularly to small businesses and workers with limited- and non-English speaking skills.

"For more than a decade, OSHA and IEC have had a productive partnership developing resources to protect thousands of workers in the electrical industry," said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels. "Our continued alliance will help ensure that employers and workers in this industry receive information and training that are essential to keeping their workplaces safe and healthful."

IEC has more than 50 chapters across the country and 3,000 members, said Masarick. Many of its members are active with the NFPA 70E review panel and in helping craft updates to the National Electrical Code (NEC). Both NFPA 70E and NEC are updated more frequently than OSHA standards, and IEC – as part of the alliance – keeps OSHA inspectors up to date on changes to those standards and codes and provides them with training to spot electrical hazards.

"With chapters and members all across the country, we're in a unique position to provide training for OSHA inspectors," Masarick noted.

IEC also provides training for some 8,000 apprentices per year. They learn basic safety training, as well as training specific to electrical and arc flash hazards and fall protection. The training serves to "get the message out" about best practices in the industry and lays a solid safety foundation for the workers entering the profession, said Masarick.

Injuries Devastate Workers, Families, Employers

Many of us remember Willy Coyote cartoons showing him get shocked and afterward, looking a little singed. In reality, electrical-related injuries are no joke. They are some of the most costly in terms of pain and suffering and actual financial outlay.

Significant burns probably are the most painful injuries a worker can suffer. In addition to the initial electrical burns, particles from exploding insulation and the copper wire used in electrical wiring can imbed in the skin, causing life-threatening infections.

Serious burns often result in years of operations, painful debriding sessions, skin grafts, medical care, rehabilitation and retraining. The injuries are devastating for both the injured worker and their loved ones, who must watch their family member suffer through treatment.

In addition to the horror of knowing an employee suffered a life-altering injury, employers can face bankruptcy in the aftermath of an arc flash or electrical injury incident.

"There was one company that had an employee who was burned in an arc flash incident. The cost of the workers' compensation claim (medical and wage replacement) was $8 million. They are extremely expensive claims and a single claim can put a company out of business," said Masarick.

The best way to "deal" with electrical injuries and hazards is to prevent them, he added, and the alliance has developed fact sheets, toolbox talks and guidance documents on updates to OSHA electrical standards; hazards involved in working on or near energized electrical conductors and circuit parts; general safety guidance to help prevent fall-related injuries; and safety considerations for using ladders.

An Assist in Compliance

While some 70 percent of IEC members are small companies with fewer than 10 employees, Masarick said the association's reach is wide, encompassing more than 100,000 employees and electrician apprentices. For many of those companies and workers, IEC is a one-stop shop for training, safety management information and tools and updates about OSHA regulations, NEC changes and updates to NFPA 70E.

"Most employers want to keep workers safe, but they aren't aware of changes to regulations," said Masarick. "We keep them updated and the alliance helps us do that."

Through its alliance programs, OSHA works with unions, consulates, trade and professional organizations, faith- and community-based organizations, businesses and educational institutions to prevent workplace fatalities, injuries and illnesses. The purpose of each alliance is to develop compliance assistance tools and resources and to educate workers and employers about their rights and responsibilities. The IEC alliance program participants do not receive exemptions from OSHA inspections or any other enforcement benefits. Specifically, the OSHA/IEC alliance program:

  • Raises awareness of OSHA's rulemaking and enforcement initiatives.
  • Shares information on OSHA's National Emphasis Programs, regulatory agenda and opportunities to participate in the rulemaking process.
  • Disseminates information on occupational safety and health laws and standards, including the rights and responsibilities of workers and employers.
  • Provides outreach and communication.
  • Promotes awareness of OSHA's fall prevention and heat campaigns, as well as sharing of information on the recognition and prevention of workplace hazards, such as electrical shock and arc flash.
  • Expands existing relationships between the IEC and OSHA's regional and area offices to address health and safety issues, including the training of agency staff and providing technical expertise when appropriate.
  • Works with other alliance participants on specific issues and projects such as construction safety, temporary worker protection and any other issues that are addressed and developed through the alliance program (e.g., participation in the OSHA Alliance Program Construction Roundtable).
  • Develops materials and effective training aids that align with current regulatory information, interpretations and enforcement initiatives, as well as promotes an understanding of workers' rights and employer responsibilities outlined in the OSH Act.
  • Provides for the delivery of at least four best practice training seminars annually to OSHA staff focusing on topics such as NFPA 70E and the prevention of arc flash.
  • Revises existing and develops new best practices for workplace safety and health management systems and other safety performance programs, as well as promotes their adoption by independent electrical contractors.

While the alliance is successful on many levels, Masarick said that one thing in particular has been beneficial for IEC members: OSHA's Consultation Program.

"A majority of companies are afraid to call OSHA for consultation help. They are afraid they'll get cited, regardless of what OSHA says," admitted Masarick. The alliance has helped them see OSHA as more of a partner than an adversary, he said, adding that more IEC members are taking advantage of the consultation program.

"We had one member contact us specifically to tell us that the OSHA Consultation Program was very beneficial to him," he said. "Another employer told us that an employee was involved in an arc flash incident but because of his training and personal protective equipment, he went home that night to his family. That's success. The alliance helps us – IEC members and OSHA – keep more workers safe."

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