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Electrical Safety at Work: Should You Do It In-House?

Introduction: Electrical Safety at Work Considerations


Lightning bolt seen at night over city lights

Electricity, while a crucial component of modern life, carries a significant risk factor if mishandled. Improper handling can lead to serious injuries or extensive property damage.


The human body is especially sensitive to electrical currents, with even a small amount having the potential to disrupt the heart's rhythm, leading to life-threatening complications.


As such, it becomes imperative to maintain rigorous standards of electrical safety at work and at home. An educated approach to handling electrical equipment and assets can significantly mitigate these risks, fostering a safer and more productive environment for everyone.


Licensed Tradespersons: Electricians

Thankfully, the domain of electrical work is populated with skilled tradespeople known as electricians, who are professionally trained and licensed to handle these tasks. Typically, a licensing process is in place to legally authorize individuals to perform electrical work across residential, commercial, and industrial sectors.


This licensing entails a considerable amount of training, education, and hands-on experience under the supervision of an already licensed practitioner. However, it's worth noting that there are certain exceptions to this rule in various states across the United States.


Moreover, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), while not enforcing a licensing requirement for those performing electrical work, does insist on them being qualified persons. OSHA also stipulates certain training prerequisites and establishes standards for the execution of electrical work.


Allowance to Use In-House Maintenance Workers

The notion of utilizing in-house maintenance employees for electrical work, although seemingly cost-effective, requires a meticulous approach to safety and skill training. Indeed, businesses have the leeway to use their own personnel for electrical tasks within their premises.


However, the decision to do so must not compromise standards for electrical safety at work and adherence to OSHA's guidelines. As businesses typically use larger amounts of electricity and have more complex installations than residential premises, the risks associated are inherently higher.


It is in this context that proper electrical safety measures become paramount in workplaces, given the multitude of areas where things could potentially go awry, leading to severe injuries or substantial damage.


The Question of Using Licensed Tradespersons or In-House Workers

Licensing exists for the very reason of ensuring that those who undertake electrical work are qualified and fit to do so safely - a factor that becomes doubly significant when it comes to commercial and industrial settings. Licensing often entails professional electricians who serve clients at diverse locations.


However, when it comes to in-house electrical work, businesses often find themselves on the fence - should they rely on their own unlicensed maintenance staff, or should they bring in licensed electricians?


In this post, we will delve deeper into this subject - exploring what it takes to uphold a high standard of electrical safety at work, and whether there is logic in handing this responsibility over to unlicensed maintenance personnel employed by the company.


Hazards Associated with Electricity


Responding to an electrical shock victim

Static Electricity

Electrical hazards are not limited to substantial installations or complex machinery; they can be as simple and seemingly harmless as the static electricity that builds up during the colder months. As we are experiencing in the deep south of Texas, the winter cold wave brings along the issue of static cling.


While it may seem insignificant, the reality is that the voltage associated with static electricity can be surprisingly high, even though its current is almost negligible. This can lead to uncomfortable shocks which, although usually safe, serve as a reminder of the inherent power and potential danger of electricity. This is yet another reason why electrical safety in the workplace is paramount - even the smallest oversight can lead to unexpected consequences.


While we often think of static electricity as a minor inconvenience, or even as a playful trick, it also manifests on a grander, far more powerful scale in the form of lightning. Essentially, lightning is static electricity, but its scale is exponentially greater. Boasting substantially higher voltage and current, particularly during its initial flash, lightning is a force to be reckoned with.


The powerful current of a lightning strike superheats the surrounding air, resulting in the thunderous rumbles and cracking sounds we associate with a storm. Even after depleting much of its initial current, lightning remains potent. Some bolts find their way to the ground or close to it, often with destructive results.


The sudden and powerful release of electrical energy can split trees apart, cause extensive property damage, and pose significant risk of injury or even fatality to any living beings unfortunate enough to be in its path.


Alternating Current

Alternating current (AC) is the most common form of electricity found in homes, commercial establishments, and industrial settings. Its unique feature, often referred to as the "alternating" aspect, allows the voltage to be stepped up and down.


This capability enables the long-distance transmission of electricity with relatively low power losses through power lines - a practical advantage that has made AC the standard for power distribution.


However, similar to static or direct current (DC) electricity, AC comes with its own set of hazards. Exposure to live, energized conductors can result in electric shocks of varying severity. The severity of the shock depends on both the voltage and the current; even a relatively low voltage can deliver a dangerous shock if the current is sufficiently high.


Additionally, faulty wiring or equipment can lead to electrical fires or, in cases of extremely high voltage and current, even explosive blasts. Therefore, safety precautions and regular maintenance checks are essential in any environment where AC is used to prevent accidents and ensure safe operation.


Electrical Work: Those Who Must be Licensed and Those Who Don't Have to Be


Picture of glasses, a note pad saying "licensing", and a compass on a partially visible laptop computer

What is Electrical Work?

Electrical work encompasses any work, which includes labor and the utilization of various materials, performed on or in close proximity to live electrical equipment or services. This broad definition covers a wide spectrum of activities, ranging from installing, maintaining, and repairing electrical systems to diagnosing and correcting electrical problems.


It extends to both large scale industrial settings and smaller domestic environments. In the course of these tasks, electrical workers may find themselves working with a variety of components, including wiring, electrical panels, and circuit breakers. Given the inherent risks associated with working near live electricity, a high degree of knowledge, skill, and caution is required to ensure safety.


The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Requirements Overview

According to OSHA guidelines, any worker who could potentially encounter electrical hazards, such as the risk of shock from handling or otherwise working on electrical equipment, must undergo appropriate electrical safety training to be considered qualified for the job.


The purpose of this training is to educate workers about the potential dangers and how to operate equipment safely, thereby reducing the risk of workplace accidents. However, OSHA does not mandate licensing for these workers. This is because licensing requirements fall under the jurisdiction of individual states, and thus, vary widely across the country.


Therefore, in addition to completing OSHA-required safety training, electrical workers must also adhere to any state-specific licensing requirements to ensure they are fully compliant with all safety and regulatory standards.


State Licensing Requirements (Texas)

In the state of Texas, the regulations pertaining to electrical work are comprehensive and thorough. The state essentially defines electrical work as any labor or materials used or performed on electrical wiring or electrical equipment for electrical energy purposes.


These regulations apply to both interior and exterior work in buildings, structures, residences, and similar applications. The encompassing nature of these definitions highlights the state's commitment to ensuring the safety and professionalism of all electrical work conducted within its borders.


It's important that workers familiarize themselves with these specific requirements to maintain compliance and uphold the highest standards of safety and proficiency.


However, it's worth noting that there are several exceptions where someone performing electrical work does not require a permit. One such exemption pertains to maintenance work.


Simply put, if you're a maintenance worker or an electrical worker who does not carry out electrical services for the public, nor do you install new electrical installations as part of new construction, you don't require a license! This may appear surprising, but you can corroborate this information for yourself here.


The Big Question: Licensed Electricians or Exempted Maintenance Workers?


Picture full of question marks

The answer to the question of whether to hire licensed electricians or employ exempted maintenance workers hinges largely on the training you aim to provide your team. Just because licensing isn't mandatory in states with regulations similar to Texas, doesn't imply that your workforce possesses the comprehensive knowledge and skill set required to carry out the work.


Licensing statutes exist for a reason - electric power is certainly not something to be taken lightly if the objectives are to ensure safety and prevent potential hazards such as fires.

Look at it this way, you wouldn’t want an untrained professional conducting a subpar splice job on an outdoor repair.


When it rains, the poor quality of work may cause short circuits that can damage your expensive equipment or injure workers. Therefore, it's critical to consider training programs that not only comply with OSHA's extensive electrical standard requirements but also impart practical skills for efficient task completion.


It may be beneficial to have an electrical contractor provide fundamental training for your employees, particularly for the tasks they are likely to perform. This approach ensures that they are equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge.


Furthermore, when evaluating which worker type is more suitable, there are other factors to take into account. These factors include availability, cost, and legal restrictions associated with each worker type. It is crucial to carefully consider these options in order to make an informed decision on the matter.


Now, let's take a look at the pros and cons of each option. After all, it's worth it for maintaining your electrical safety at work to make an informed decision of which path suits your needs best.


Pros and Cons of Exempted Maintenance Workers and Licensed Electricians

Pros Exempted Maintenance Workers

Exempted maintenance workers, being part of your regular staff, often offer greater availability than licensed electricians. They are typically on-site and ready to address any immediate electrical issues that arise, reducing response times significantly. As a result, they are likely to minimize downtime more effectively than electrical contractors, who might be dealing with multiple clients concurrently.


In terms of cost, maintenance workers may provide a more economical solution. While their salary is a fixed cost, it often turns out to be less than what electrical contractors charge for their services. Moreover, maintenance staff can handle a wide range of tasks beyond strictly electrical work, offering additional value for their pay. Therefore, having maintenance workers on your payroll could be a more cost-effective solution, particularly when considering their broader skill set.


Cons of Exempted Maintenance Workers

While exempted maintenance workers bring certain advantages, a heavy reliance on them can be limiting. For example, they cannot be utilized for installations as part of new constructions. It's critical to understand that meeting Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) training requirements primarily focuses on safety - a crucial aspect, indeed, but not the whole picture. Licensing training, in contrast, covers more than just safety; it instills the practical skills and knowledge required to perform the job efficiently and effectively.


Consider a novice welder with little to no experience, although well-versed in safety protocols. Equipped with personal protective equipment, maintenance of welding equipment, and the necessary permits for hot work, this novice welder exemplifies safety.


But does that ensure his competence in executing the assigned welding job? Not necessarily. Despite being safe, the novice may still struggle due to a lack of requisite skills, spending hours attempting to perform the task correctly.


This example illustrates the difference between safety training and effective job training. Maintenance workers might be similar to that novice welder—strong in terms of electrical safety at work but lacking in the practical skills and knowledge needed to carry out the task effectively.


Pros of Licensed Electricians

Licensed electricians bring significant benefits to the table. When they provide a copy of their current license, you receive a guarantee that they possess adequate experience and have met the stringent requirements set by your state for such work.


Moreover, these requirements aren't a mystery—you can look them up to understand exactly what they entail. If you're working with an electrician who isn't an employee, sharing the liability of the work being done at your site is possible through their insurance. While this doesn't entirely absolve you of your responsibility to ensure they are performing the work in accordance with applicable regulations, it does mean that they share the responsibility for their work.


Licensed electricians also tend to possess the necessary practical skills and knowledge to execute tasks effectively. That's pretty much the point of licensure. In some states, the use of licensed tradespersons is not merely an option but a legal mandate.


Most often, their knowledge and capabilities outperform what your in-house staff can offer. They can provide services beyond maintenance, including working on new installations as part of new constructions. This broad skill set ensures that you receive comprehensive electrical solutions that meet your needs.


Cons of Licensed Electricians

Despite the numerous advantages of hiring licensed electricians, there are certain drawbacks to consider. Firstly, the cost of employing licensed electricians is typically higher than that of in-house staff. The expenses associated with obtaining and maintaining a license, coupled with the cost of business operations and liability insurance, can lead to a hefty price tag for their services.


Moreover, while licensed electricians do not require the same level of management as employees, it is still crucial to monitor their work to ensure compliance with the agreed terms. Some contractors may not fulfill all their responsibilities unless their employer enforces the rules.


Finally, while licensed electricians generally offer a high level of expertise, their availability may not match that of in-house maintenance workers. In situations where immediate attention is required, the delay in response time from a contracting company could prolong the resolution of an issue, thereby disrupting productivity. Therefore, while licensed electricians are a valuable asset, it's essential to weigh these considerations before deciding on the best course of action.


The Verdict


Picture of judge or lawyer with gavel, scale, and note book

Taking both licensed electricians and exempted maintenance workers into account can yield a balanced and optimal solution for your electrical needs. By having an experienced, well-trained, and well-equipped in-house staff, you can efficiently handle routine maintenance jobs, reducing costs and ensuring immediate attention when required. This not only promotes a smooth workflow but also enhances productivity.


However, it is important to note that for tasks that extend beyond daily maintenance or require specialized knowledge, the expertise of a licensed electrician becomes invaluable. Their technical proficiency and industry know-how ensure that complex projects are handled with utmost precision and efficiency.


By adopting this approach, you can enjoy the best of both worlds - cost-effective, readily available in-house services, coupled with the technical expertise of contracted professionals for more intricate projects. This comprehensive strategy allows you to leverage all available resources to their fullest potential, ensuring that your electrical needs are met effectively.


In conclusion, navigating your electrical safety at work requires careful consideration and utilizing all available resources. Remember, ensuring top-notch electrical safety is not just an obligation, but also a sound business practice that safeguards your employees and operations. Take the right decisions and prioritize the well-being of your business. Stay safe and secure!

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