Electrical Safety Essentials: Hazards in a High Voltage Workplace

April 26, 2024

Reduce hazards in high-voltage areas by understanding the fundamentals of electrical safety that are crucial for your employees.

Electrical Safety Essentials: Hazards in a High Voltage Workplace

The hum of electricity is a constant presence in workplaces such as construction sites and some manufacturing facilities. This presence brings a magnitude of risks with electrical system failures and hazards. Prioritizing a culture of safety is a must to address electrical concerns effectively, thereby protecting your employees from harm.

To keep the workplace safe and reduce risks, employers need to set up electrical safety measures and provide regular training. These steps will equip employees with the knowledge and skills needed to stay alert and create a sense of responsibility during an electrical emergency.

Power lines are one of the most visible high-voltage threats. However, they can become dangerous to those unaware of how low they hang or even when they are down. Safety near power lines begins with knowledge and spatial awareness.

  • Stay alert: Educate teams on the presence and dangers of overhead, buried and downed power lines within the workspace. Encourage a ‘look up and look out’ habit before starting any work, especially when maneuvering equipment and ladders, or when work requires elevation.
  • Keep a safe distance: Implement strict policies defining safe distances from power lines. When a power line is down, always assume the wire is live. The absence of a humming sound or sparking does not mean electricity is gone. Keep all equipment and personnel the recommended distance away from down and overhead lines:
  • Plan around electrical lines: Where possible, de-energize power lines when working nearby. If your team cannot deactivate a line, use barriers or insulated materials to prevent accidental contact. To mitigate risks, ensure that electrical engineers or utility companies are involved when planning to work around power lines.
Voltage (kV)Minimum Clearance Distance
Up to 50 kv10 feet
Over 50 to 200 kv15 feet
Over 200 to 350 kv20 feet
Over 350 to 500 kv25 feet
Over 500 to 750 kv35 feet
Over 750 to 1000 kv45 feet
Over 1000 kvAs established by the utility owner/operator or registered professional engineer who is a qualified person with respect to electrical power transmission and distribution.

Understanding the risks associated with electricity lays the groundwork for a comprehensive approach to electrical safety through grounding, ground fault protection and properly utilizing electrical tools and cords.

Implementing effective grounding techniques is critical for workplaces dealing with high-voltage equipment to minimize the risk of electrical accidents. It prevents the buildup of hazardous voltages in a circuit by creating a low-resistance path to a ground plane. 

After implementing grounding techniques, employees need to know how to inspect and maintain grounding cables, rods and connections regularly. Damage and deterioration need to be addressed immediately to ensure the safety of personnel and equipment.

Regular use of electrical devices, including power tools and flexible cords, inevitably causes deterioration. Examples of deterioration include insulation damage, short circuits and exposed wiring. If ground-fault protection is not used, this deterioration can escalate into a ground fault, channeling current through an individual’s body and leading to severe electrical burns, explosions, fires, and in extreme cases, fatalities.

To keep employees safe, there are preventive measures you can take when working with ground-fault hazards:

  • Use double-insulated tools and equipment. These are hand-held tools that have been manufactured with non-metallic cases.
  • Use ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCI) or have an assured equipment grounding conductor program (AEGCP). Follow the manufacturer’s testing procedure to ensure the GFCI works correctly.
  • Use equipment according to the instructions on their labeling or certification.
  • Visually inspect all electrical equipment before use. Remove any equipment with frayed cords, missing ground prongs, cracked casings, etc.

While some materials will naturally wear down over time, improper handling of equipment and cords can also cause damage. Understanding how to use electrical tools properly is just as important as taking preventive measures during everyday use.

Using electrical equipment outside of the way it was designed can lead to unforeseen dangers and cause employee injuries. Employers should provide proper training and education on the correct use of equipment, as well as extension and flexible cords.

Some common examples of misusing electrical equipment:

  • Using equipment specifically designed for dry, indoor environments in outdoor settings.
  • Using modified tools or cords that are not in compliance.
  • Using tools or cords that have worn insulation or exposed wires.
  • Attaching ungrounded, two-prong adapter plugs to three-prong cords and tools.

It is important to emphasize that electrical tools should never be modified or altered without proper authorization and training. Doing so without the right knowledge can increase the risk of electrical accidents and place yourself and those around you in harm’s way.

Electrical safety is crucial to any workplace, especially those dealing with high-voltage equipment. Knowledge, awareness, proper techniques and regular maintenance are key to preventing electrical accidents. By implementing these measures and creating a culture of safety within the workplace, the risk of electrical accidents can be significantly reduced.

About The Author

Aaron Paris, CSP, ASP

Aaron Paris, CSP, ASP
Email As the Director of Safety, Property & Casualty, Aaron has more than six years of experience in workplace safety and 12 years in law enforcement. Aaron consults with clients on a wide variety of safety issues such as worker safety, auto, property risk and other safety procedures. He is also authorized to teach OSHA 10- and 30- hour courses.