Trending Content

Electrical safety and how to protect workers and end users

July 19, 2023

Electrical safety is a crucial element in rental, whether it be with equipment or events. Things that may be taken for granted could lead to unforeseen consequences unless properly safeguarded. 

Weather-related conditions can bring a whole variety of challenges with outdoor events, just as it can wreak havoc on computer equipment in the office. Paramount to any potential problem with equipment is the safety of the individual, whether it be the owner or employees of an equipment rental store or guests and employees working and attending an outdoor event. 

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), electricity has long been recognized as a serious workplace hazard, whether working with it directly or indirectly. If you are in the field working with it or in the office, it creates potential hazards.  

Contact with or exposure to electricity continues to be one of the leading causes of workplace fatalities and injuries in the U.S., according to the Electrical Safety Foundational International (ESFI), a non-profit organization based in Rosslyn, Va. 

The ESFI says that between 2011-2021, there was a total of 1,201 workplace fatalities involving electricity reported by OSHA. During this period, 69 percent of all electricity-related fatalities happened in non-electrically related occupations. Some of the top 10 occupations involved in electrical fatalities, according to ESFI, include electricians, construction laborers, electrical power installers and repairers, tree-trimming occupations, painters, construction and maintenance. 

Liz Davis, construction operations manager, Sunbelt Temporary Structures, says electrical safety is an area that requires trained and conscientious field employees in all areas of construction. 

“In the event sector, this requires a heightened awareness since the end user is often not aware of risk factors,” Davis says. “Hosts and their guests, or the general public, are not typically informed on electrical safety.” 

Davis says hazard recognition training is essential for anyone managing an installation. 

“The first step when considering safety measures is to protect your field teams by conducting inspections to identify overhead power lines and underground utility checks to identify any power lines that we cannot see,” Davis says.  

Davis says when working with a client in the planning phase, there is the option of using a supplemental power source, like a portable generator.  

“If you do assist with this, it’s important to discuss all electrical needs for their event, even the items you might not be providing,” Davis says. “The coffee maker, the DJ equipment or that extra set of string lights can make a difference. An overloaded generator or house power line can at the very least be disruptive to the event, but also invites other more high-impact hazards.” 

Davis says other common mistakes are using extension cords that are not outdoor rated or allowing connection points to rest in wet areas. She says to mitigate risk in inclement weather and potential lightning. 

“Grounding your tent and generator with copper rod and wire will offer an added protection to guests and your equipment,” says Davis. “Having evacuation plans in place and sharing with your customer are another best practice. Temporary structures are not safe havens in severe weather and it’s important to articulate that upfront for the safety of the end user.” 

Sean Willich, safety training manager, American Rental Association, says tents are temporary structures that can help protect against normal weather conditions. 

“They are not severe weather shelters,” Willich cautions. “Many tents are supported by metal poles, frames and components which can attract lightning during thunderstorms and put anyone near or under the tent at risk. 

“The best precaution is to monitor the weather. Have one designated individual or group monitor weather conditions and alert the event organizers if weather conditions may turn severe. Also, have an emergency evacuation plan in place so individuals know what to do if severe weather happens.” 

Willich advises on surge protection, and why it is important to safeguard computer equipment at your rental operation. 

“Surge protection is a safeguard that protects equipment if too much voltage runs through an outlet,” Willich says. “This is especially good to have in office space that has computers and other more delicate electronics equipment. An electrical surge can cause electrical issues, damage equipment and cause fires.” 

Like Davis, Willich cautions when using any electrical equipment while performing outdoor operations, always to be cognizant of your surroundings and the weather conditions. 

“Wet conditions can make certain equipment unsafe to use, so always follow the manufacturers’ instructions located in the applicable operations and safety manuals,” Willich says. 

Some OSHA safety tips include: 
  • Assume that all overhead wires are energized at deadly voltages and not insulated. Never assume that a wire is safe to touch even if it is down. It is best practice to stay a minimum of 10 feet away from powerlines and utilize a minimum approach distance (MAD) chart if work needs to be done around powerlines. 
  • Never touch or get near a fallen overhead power line. Call 911 first, then call the electric utility company to report fallen electrical lines. Stay  
  • Stay at least 10 ft. away from overhead wires during cleanup and other activities. If working at heights or handling long objects, survey the area before starting work for the presence of overhead wires.
  • Never operate electrical equipment while you are standing in water.
  • Never repair electrical cords or equipment unless qualified and authorized.
  • Have a qualified electrician inspect electrical equipment that has gotten wet before energizing it.
  • If working in damp locations, inspect electric cords and equipment to ensure that they are in good condition and free of defects, and use a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI). Also, make sure the equipment is designed to be used in damp locations by looking in the manufacturer’s operations and safety manuals.