Electrocution and shock hazards

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Recognizing and avoiding common electrocution and shock hazards

The US Bureau of Labor reported that in one recent year, 1000 electrical workers suffered shocks and burns—some fatal.  It is estimated that fifty percent of these injuries were related to arc flash.

The best way to avoid shock and electrocution hazards is to ensure you’re not part of the electrical circuit. That means staying as far away as you can from electrical equipment and systems with exposed live components. Unfortunately, this is often more complicated than it seems.

Here is a quick summary of some common electrocution and shock hazards and what you can do to avoid them.

Electrocution or Shock Hazard

Safety Strategy

Using broken or damaged tools

  • Properly maintain tools. Know when it’s time to replace. Use Insulated tools.
  • Using the proper tools for the job can help keep electrical workers safe. For example, insulated tools can help prevent an arc flash incident. In fact, test tools are some of the most important personal protective equipment (PPE) items electrical workers can use.

Wrong level PPE

  • Wear PPE rated for the work environment.
  • Although the greatest need for PPE focuses on arc flash, NFPA 70E also addresses shock and electrocution hazards. For example, PPE for shock and electrocution hazards includes insulated gloves, which are required in addition to leather gloves.

Working on energized equipment

  • De-energizing electrical equipment prior to repair or inspection.
  • After safely performing the lockout/tagout procedure, you can now verify absence of voltage in the work area. Wearing proper PPE, measure the target circuit and incoming line-side to determine if they are de-energized.  If the incoming line-side is energized, it must be properly guarded.
  • Verify your test instrument again on a known live voltage source after the “absence of voltage” test.  If your test instrument still works correctly, you can now safely work on the de-energized system. Be aware that in some circumstances, such as when the Line-side of a breaker or switch is still energized, PPE may be required.

Insufficient safety training

  • Established safety training program.
  • For electrical workplace safety, the key to staying safe is following the National Fire Protection Association standard known as NFPA 70E – The Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace.
  • Whether you’re a professional electrician, an apprentice or a supervisor, it’s your responsibility to read and fully understand this standard. It could save your life.

Limited preventive maintenance

  • Conduct regularly scheduled preventive maintenance.
  • Prevent downtime by measuring key indicators on critical equipment so you can discover impending failures and schedule maintenance instead of reacting to downtime. Use the resources below to help create a successful proactive maintenance program.

Using outdated or defective test equipment to troubleshoot

  • Ensure test equipment is up-to-date and well maintained.
  • Using a test instrument built and tested to IEC design standards is your ‘best defense’ to protect against arc flash and transients.

Maintaining too little distance in arc flash boundary

  • You’ll want to know the flash protection boundary (FPB), the minimum “safe” distance from energized equipment that has a potential for an arc fault.
  •  Warning signs and “live work” permits can help keep you safe.


Conclusion: Whether arc flash or shock/electrocution hazards, electrical incidents can be prevented by using safe work practices such as de-energizing electrical equipment prior to repair or inspection, observing caution when working near energized components, keeping tools and equipment properly maintained, and using insulated tools and proper PPE.

For more information on Electrical Safety, see our online course available at the Fluke eLearning Center.

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Arc Flash and Arc Blast

Crucial discussions of arc flash and arc blasts, including safety and prevention information.

For more information on Electrical Safety, see our online course available at the Fluke eLearning Center.