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Safety Ranks High on the Minds of Electrical Contractors

Industry Report – Electrical ContractorsRecent revisions to the National Electric Code are a cornerstone of stepped-up efforts to protect electrical workers from occupational hazards that include electric shock and so-called arc-flash hazards, or concentrated bursts of energy that explode from electrical equipment.

According to Harry J. Sassaman, executive vice president of Forest Electric, an electrical contracting company in Edison, the latest revisions to the code, which serves as a standard for safe installation of electrical wiring and equipment, came in 2005.

They require employers to better protect electrical workers from injuries—and in some cases death—through the use of certain protective gear.

The gear, or personal protective equipment (PPE), ranges between $1,000 to $1,800 per worker, says Sassaman, whose company has about 100 employees and has purchased about two dozen PPE outfits to date. “The expense is warranted,” says Sassaman. “A single injury could be catastrophic. It saves money in the long run.”

Nationally, electrical and other specialty trade contractors accounted for 68 percent of the occupational injury and illness cases in the construction fields in 2005, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

An estimated 2,000 cases of workers admitted to burn centers as the result of arc-flash incidents are reported in the United States each year, according to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) in Piscataway and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

The IEEE says arc flash occurs when “an electric current passes through air when insulation, or isolation between electrified conductors, is no longer sufficient to withstand the applied voltage.”

The IEEE and the NFPA last year created the IEEE/NFPA Collaborative Research Project, which seeks to safeguard electrical workers by improving safety standards that protect against arc flash. Companies contributed $1.25 million in initial funding last July.

“We see the program as a great opportunity for many organizations to collaborate to benefit the entire power industry,” says Gus Schaefer, a senior vice president and public safety officer for Underwriters Laboratories, a Northbrook, Ill.-based provider of product-safety certification that donated $500,000 to the project.

“Supporting such a breakthrough health and safety initiative is consistent with our No. 1 value of safety-first, says Duncan Hawthorne, president and CEO of Bruce Power, an independent power generator in Ontario, which also donated $500,00. “Moving forward, I will be encouraging other utilities to participate in this important initiative.”

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