Canadian Rental Service

What went Hong: Stop the spark

By James Hong   

Features Government and regulatory Business Intelligence

Preventing electrical accidents is a matter of good maintenance.


Electrical hazards pose one of the most serious threats on jobsites. Wet and damp jobsite conditions increase these risks exponentially. Let’s run through electrical
hazards, specifically from generators and other jobsite equipment. 

Electric shock can be fatal. It’s the result of contact with live wires, electrical components and electric arcs. There are several causes and many pre-emptive safety precautions that will greatly reduce the risks.

It’s not uncommon to be scrambling to find power outlets on a job. A lack of access to power outlets can lead to connecting too many devices to a generator or circuit which may cause an overload. Temporary distribution panels must be installed by qualified electricians and in compliance with the provincial laws and electrical codes. Overloads can result in overheating and possible fires. Additionally, inadequate grounding can increase the risk of electric shock. Doors and covers of electrical equipment should be kept closed while the equipment is energized.

Electrical cords are heavily relied on on most jobsites, but proper use and maintenance of them is often neglected. Damaged cords or improper use of the correct gauge poses electrical risks. Do not use light duty cords for heavy load applications.  Any cord that is frayed or has an exposed sheath or unsheathed wire connections is a hazard for shock. Proper storage and use of electric cords will prevent tripping and damage to the cords by equipment rollovers and excessive sheath friction from pulling long runs on jobsite foundations. Proper coiling techniques protect the cord and its longevity for use. Open front plugs should be replaced with dead front plugs whenever possible. 

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Arcs or flashes of electricity from generators and other equipment are hazards for burns and other injuries. Arcing is the action of electricity jumping from one connection to another. This flash of electricity reaches extreme temperatures up to 35,000 F, which can cause fires and shock. 

Electrical fires are frequently caused by unmaintained or improperly used equipment. Managing an electrical fire has different requirements than other types of fires. Electrical fires require a Class C fire extinguisher designed for electrical fires. Always aim at the base of the fire and never use water. Instead, use a fire blanket or non-conductive materials such as sand or a dry chemical extinguisher to smother electrical fires. Where necessary, isolate the fire, evacuate the area, de-energize the equipment and or call 911.

All electrical hazard risks can be effectively managed with trained workers. Training in how to properly use jobsite equipment is essential and properly maintaining equipment with a maintenance schedule prevents unnecessary accidents. Proper PPE for the corresponding task required protects workers from injury by using insulated gloves, safety glasses and protective clothing. 

Equipment training and jobsite orientation should cover shutdown procedures for emergencies and malfunctions and be posted in clear view of the equipment location whenever possible. Always protect electrical equipment from rain, snow or other weather conditions. Always have an emergency response plan with clear procedures to follow. When it comes to electrical equipment and generators, allow only qualified persons to do repairs and manage load maximums to prevent overloading circuits and generators by properly calculating and distributing electrical loads. Circuit protection such as circuit breakers, fuses and residual current devices protect against overloads and short circuits. It’s important to routinely inspect equipment for potential hazards.

Always ensure clear instructions are posted and distributed for accessing first aid with a first aid attendee trained in resuscitation training to respond to electrical accidents. And, last but not least, always know the proper safe job procedures for operating the equipment you use. Instructions and procedures can be found online and at the source of the equipment provider.

Be safe. Be well.  


James Hong is an independent safety writer and journalist.


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