Safety in electrical testing at work
What is the risk of injury?
Injury can occur when live electrical parts areexposed and can be touched, or when metalwork which is meant to be earthed becomes live at adangerous voltage. The likelihood of touchinglive parts is increased during electrical testing andfault-ﬁnding, when conductors at dangerousvoltages are often exposed. This risk can beminimised if testing is done while the equipmentis isolated from any dangerous source of supply,although this cannot always be done, and caremust also be taken to prevent contact with anyhazardous internally produced voltages.The most dangerous injuries are those causedby electric shock. This is because the effects of a shock are largely unpredictable and can easilylead to a fatal injury. However, there is also arisk of burn injuries resulting from arcing whenconductors are accidentally short-circuited. Asecondary risk can be the harm caused by aperson reacting to an electrical injury, forexample by falling or being traumatised bythe experience.Electric shocks occur when contact with a liveconductor causes sufﬁcient current to passthrough the body to cause an injury. As a roughguide, voltages exceeding 50 V ac or 120 Vripple free dc should be considered hazardousin a dry, unconﬁned, non-conductive location.These voltage values must be reduced if thelocation is wet, conﬁned or conductive, sowhere there is an adverse environment, those incharge of the work and those doing the work should be aware of the probable increase ininjury risk.In some equipment, for example microwaveovens, high voltages of several thousand voltsare used and there is a very high risk of fatalinjury if the exposed conductors are touched atthese voltages. Injury may also be caused bycurrents as low as 5 mA or by stored charges.Suitable precautions must be taken to preventcontact with stored charges in excess of 350 mJ.If the skin is pricked or cut at the point of contact,the shock current (and hence the seriousness of the injury) will be higher. Healthy skin may alsobecome damaged at the time of contact either bythe burning effect of the current or by penetrationfrom sharp-ended conductors.
Carrying out a risk assessment
As well as the level of voltage, charge orcurrent and the nature of the environment,there are a number of other factors that needto be considered when you are assessing therisk of injury arising from electrical testingwork. A risk assessment should be carried outbefore testing begins, to help you identify theprecautions you need to take.Some questions to ask when carrying out therisk assessment are:(a)Can the work be done with the equipmentdead or energised at a safe voltage or current?(b)Is it absolutely necessary for someone to beworking on or near to equipment that is liveat dangerous voltages or current levels?(c)What is the maximum voltage onconductors that will be exposed during thework activity?(d)Are the testers competent? Are theyadequately trained and knowledgeable to dothe particular work and ensure that othersare not put at risk?(e)If testers are not considered fully competent,are they adequately supervised?(f)What physical safeguards should be applied tothe equipment under test to prevent injury, egthe use of temporary or permanent screens?(g)Is the test instrumentation of safe design?Has it been properly maintained?(h)Is it necessary to set up a permanent testarea separate from the rest of the workplace,