The construction industry accounted for 21 percent of workplace fatalities in 2018. More than 8 percent of those were caused by electrocution. Of the many risks and hazards in construction and demolition work, hazardous energy is one that often gets overlooked. Hazardous energy sources in these environments can be wide and varied, including electrical conductors, power tools, pipelines, conveyor belts and rotating shafts.
“What’s different about these types of hazardous energy sources is that they present a different and special type of hazard that is particular to construction and demolition,” says Michael Serpe, CSP, chair of the ANSI/ASSP A10.44 subcommittee. “These energy sources are present in the work environment, but they may not be energy sources controlling the equipment or directly involved in the construction company’s work activities.”
If your workforce is involved in construction and demolition operations, keeping these three points in mind can help you protect them from exposure to hazardous energy.
1. Plan Ahead
In many cases, the hazardous energy sources on construction and demolition sites are not directly related to the work being performed. That’s why preplanning is crucial to identify any hazardous energy sources present at the site before work begins so that they can be properly mitigated.
“Preplanning must involve broad thinking about the energies present at the site,” says Serpe. “Construction companies may not want to take the time to do effective preplanning for areas involving hazardous energy, but if they don’t, a serious incident can occur.”
Hazardous energy sources that may be on or around the job site include overhead power lines or underground utilities that are near the construction work being performed. Concrete-encased electrical duct banks can be struck by construction excavation activities and may also be located within buildings scheduled for demolition.
Serpe notes that the dynamic nature of construction also presents a challenge that preplanning can help overcome.
“Major activities are undertaken that may not have occurred previously at a particular site and may never occur again at the same location,” he explains. “That in itself necessitates the need for a methodical and systematic approach to all construction activities where workers may be exposed to unexpected energy.”
2. Establish Control Procedures
Once you’ve identified the types of hazardous energy present, you should focus on implementing the proper energy isolation controls.
“The next big element is establishing energy control procedures for the construction machines and equipment that will be used for the project,” Serpe explains. “This includes having locks, tags and specific lockout hardware needed to correctly deenergize equipment. Those should be obtained during the planning phase.”
In addition to the hazardous energy sources that exist in and around the job site, contractors will use various energy sources, such as temporary power, throughout the project. In such cases, Serpe encourages the use of ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs), which will cut power in the event that the energized equipment connected to it has a short circuit.
He notes that while GFCIs are not allowed to be used for energy isolation, they can supplement recognized energy control procedures, such as locking out circuit breakers and safely removing fuses.
Regardless of the source of hazardous energy, it’s important to remember that the steps of energy isolation must proceed in a systematic and logical sequence. Furthermore, hazardous energy control should include verification procedures to ensure that equipment has been deenergized and isolated. Serpe notes that approximately 10% of lockout incidents are due to failure to verify that a piece of equipment has been properly deenergized after an attempt to lockout that equipment.
The recently updated ANSI/ASSP A10.44-2020 standard provides a framework for the sequential steps of hazardous energy isolation and can aid construction companies in developing their own energy control procedures.
3. Educate Your Workers
After you’ve identified sources of hazardous energy and determined which control measures will be used, you must ensure your workforce understands the risks associated with those hazards and how they can safely perform their duties on a project.
“Construction employees may not recognize the dangers of electrocution, which can occur if their bodies, equipment, tools, work materials or vehicles come near an overhead power line,” says Serpe. “Workers involved with equipment should be trained to recognize the energy types in the equipment, the magnitude of that energy, and the means and methods that must be used to control that energy”
For instance, workers who operate on hydraulic pressurized systems or pressurized hydraulic lines should know that if those systems are not properly deenergized, pressurized fluid may get injected into someone’s skin. In the event of such an incident, workers must know to seek immediate medical attention because such an injury could lead to amputation of a limb.
Serpe notes that training could involve elements such as toolbox talks or other focused hands-on or classroom training where hazards are communicated to workers along with detailed discussion of procedures and precautions. Furthermore, you must plan for adequate supervision to verify that the training was effective and that workers are applying the skills and knowledge they learned in the field.
It’s important to remember that workers may encounter hazardous energy in situations beyond construction or demolition activities, such as during installation or adjusting activities, inspection operations, cleaning operations and servicing and maintenance. Therefore, all involved must be diligent about understanding the hazards present and ensuring that equipment is properly deenergized.
These steps can help construction and demolition companies plan properly, develop and implement procedures to protect construction and demolition workers from hazardous energy sources.
“If companies have an energy control program that is implemented as an integral part of any work performed, it is much more likely that hazardous energy will be identified ahead of time and provisions put in place to prevent incidents,” says Serpe.
Listen to our podcast with Michael Serpe of the ANSI/ASSP A10.44 subcommittee to learn more about controlling hazardous energy in construction and demolition.
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