Corporate Social Responsibility… this term has become synonymous with organizations championing external social causes. I truly believe that a lot of good has come from it. But I also believe that in India it is high time that we start considering our own employees’ safety as part of the Corporate Social Responsibility programme. And even though the trend is to be outward-looking, employees are the most important pillar of any organization.
We as leaders need to do everything in our power to help strengthen this pillar, by providing a much stronger foundational understanding and support with respect to safety.
Safety at the workplace is essential, irrespective of the nature of business, size or industry. Without proper workplace safety measures, a company puts its employees, customers and overall brand reputation at stake. Failure to educate employees on how to maintain a safe work environment could lead to accidents on the job, injuries and in extreme situations, it could result in loss of life.
According to a study, approximately 48,000 workplace accident-related deaths occur in India each year. While employees need to be trained and must maintain the utmost focus on their own safety, a large number of these deaths occur due to electricity. Hence, more attention must be given to the task and proper training should be required when working with or around electricity.
Almost everything in the workplace utilizes electricity these days. New devices and appliances are constantly getting added to our buildings/systems, thereby increasing the load on our already overloaded electrical infrastructure. Most places of work are in structures that were constructed years if not decades ago, and their electricity needs have evolved over time. During this time though, enough upgrades have not been made to the system and neither has an evaluation been performed on their readiness or reliability during an incident.
With every system or building the point of interconnection with the utility has extremely high energy potential. And each time the system is modified or more load is physically added while the system is still in operation it adds the risk of significant electrical events, such as a fire or arc flash, occurring which may cause serious burns and shocks, and even death. Most times these loads aren’t studied or measured for any code compliance.
Any time a circuit or cables are overloaded on a system, it adds a significant fire risk. Additionally, lack of proper upgrades of electrical systems to add loads lead to short circuits and thus fires. Research has shown that electrical issues have caused about 40% of building fires that occurred in India. Apart from fire-related incidents, workplace accidents in India report a staggering number of 13 electrocution deaths per day on average, the highest in the world. With rapid urbanization and advancement in technology, these simple safety issues need to be addressed urgently.
Ensuring safety for employees by reducing hazards should be everyone’s aim – employees and employers alike. Every workplace and even homes have electrical outlets generally rated at a voltage of 230V. And even though this is considered low and non-threatening by most, it has the potential to cause electrocution. Injuries from electricity are a function of the amount of current, and currents as low as 0.1Amp or 100mAmp can cause death.
Other than electrocution, some hazards related to electricity occur by coming in direct contact with live parts or equipment which are not de-energized or properly grounded. These can cause burns and shocks. When an electrical fault occurs, they have the potential to cause fires, electrical burns (one of the most severe, agonizing and disfiguring of all burns) and other injuries that are caused due to the effects of shock.
Some large workplaces, such as manufacturing units, may receive a higher supply voltage. At these locations, there is a higher shock hazard and also a possibility for a serious arc flash event occurring. Simply put, Arc flashes are events where due to low impedance and high currents (sometimes due to faults), an electrical path is created through the air or ground and an unwanted electric discharge occurs. This is combined with the release of a lot of energy in the form of heat, light and pressure. Working on electrical equipment live in these situations can be extremely dangerous. In case an event occurs, the worker would be fortunate to get away with slight injuries such as tingling of the affected parts or a headache. More likely though they would be affected by spasms in the body, breathing, hearing or seeing difficulties and could also potentially lose consciousness temporarily. The worker could also be faced with far more serious consequences such as long-term hearing or vision impairment, or arrhythmia. It could even cause death.
Most short circuit fires are caused because of improper or loose wiring, substandard fittings and inadequate maintenance of wiring. Apart from these, inadequate wiring – when a conductor is too small to carry all the current flowing through it which will cause overheating or a possible fire, overloads – caused if too many devices are plugged into a circuit, the current flowing through will heat the wires to a high temperature which could result in a fire. If the insulation melts, it could lead to an arc flash and cause fire and uninsulated overhead power lines also cause electrical hazards.
Thus, it is of utmost importance to take safety measures when working with electricity. While working with electrical equipment, all workers must be provided with and should only be using insulated tools. They must also be provided with and be using the necessary Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as steel toe boots with an electrical hazard rating, hard hats, safety glasses, arc flash rated clothing, and properly rated gloves.
They should avoid wearing any jewellery or other conductive materials. No part of their attire should be loose or hanging to help avoid any accidental contact or getting caught in energized or moving parts. Lastly, all the equipment being used to work safely must be tested and inspected for damage before each use. While working with or around electrical systems, the employees must be focussed and have their mind on the task and not be multitasking.
When it comes to electrical infrastructure, the safety of the user(s) should be the main focus. Considering the fact that the users we are talking about could be schools, or hospitals or even industrial manufacturers, it is vital to note how significant safety and reliability are.
Regular maintenance of these systems is extremely important not just for everyday operations but to also improve the overall durability of the equipment. In addition to that these systems are designed to operate in a very specific way, which means that every time any upgrades or particular modifications are needed, they need to be verified with the necessary engineers and made sure that it conforms with the requirements of the National Electrical Code, and other relevant codes and standards.
Lastly, engineering studies such as Short Circuit and Coordination studies of the system also helps with making sure that the system can run in a safe and reliable way.
Currently, in India, personnel safety isn’t much of a priority. Most people including top management and employees themselves, consider any investment on safety – unnecessary and wasteful. Increasing electrical safety knowledge and awareness is critical, however, technical information alone is not enough to affect their attitude towards safety.
One’s mindset is a big part of being safe on the job. Even if you’ve been doing the same work for years, getting refreshed about the new safety practices helps keep life-saving mindsets, procedures, and technologies in the forefront—giving them the importance they are due.
Looking at the current scenario with respect to the safety of personnel, and the number of injuries and fatalities it causes, it can be safely said that there is very little importance given to human life. Investing in safety equipment is costlier for a company than hiring a new employee because of the cheap, unskilled labour available in India.
We need to realize that human life is not replaceable, and high value needs to be placed on the safety of each employee. We need to help create a culture of safety not just in the workplace but also at home and in every aspect of life.