CSA to release new electrical safety standard

Changing a light bulb is one thing. Working with live, high-voltage electricity is quite another. For workplaces that don’t understand this, a new CSA standard is about to make it clear.
CSA Z462 Standard on Workplace Electrical Safety is “the biggest thing to come out of the CSA in a long time,” says Paul Goggan, a member of the standard committee and national health and safety coordinator for Canadian Auto Workers. Until now, Canadian industry has had no standard specific to electrical safety but used the American NFPA 70E standard as a guideline. The CSA and its industry partners started working on their own electrical safety standard in 2006.
When electricity comes from hydro plants, it’s very high voltage. By the time it gets to your home, says Goggan, it is significantly reduced to about 110 volts. “But at the factory, it’s maybe 600 volts and people play with things... they’ll work with live plugs, which can electrocute them.”

The new standard, scheduled to be printed in December 2008, covers any interaction between workers and electrical equipment. CSA Z462, like the NFPA standard on which it is based, addresses both electrical shock hazard and arc flash.

Arc flash is a localized and intense concentration of light and heat energy. It is most often the result of reduced insulation and isolation distance between energized components. A worker can inadvertently cause arc flash by leaving a tool behind or dropping one into a breaker, or failing to de-energize equipment. Degradation of insulating equipment and equipment failure are other culprits. “It’s so instantaneous,” says Goggan, “like a cigarette lighter going off in your face.”

That’s putting it mildly. Electric arcs can produce temperatures up to 35,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Milliseconds after the flash, an intense blast of superheated air can throw an adult many feet through the air and cause permanent and possibly fatal scalding of the lungs if breathed. Arc flash can cause 3rd degree burns and melt any man-made fibres to one’s skin, including clothing worn underneath FR (fire-retardant) gear. Protection from arc flash requires clothing with a specific calorie rating. According to the Canada Training Group, at least 5 to 10 arc flash incidents in North America require hospitalization in a burn unit every day.

Electric shock, another common electrical hazard, happens when the worker comes into contact with an electrical energy source. Electrical energy flows through a portion of the body causing a shock, which sometimes causes minimal injury but can also be devastating or even fatal.

The new standard is not just for electricians. “It applies to anyone who could be working on electrical systems,” says Len Cicero, President of Lenco Training and Technical Service. “That could include HVAC technicians, fitters, millwrights and others.” Cicero, a Master Electrician, is an executive member of the CSA Z462 committee.

To comply with the new standard, anyone performing electrical work will have to wear insulated rubber gloves for protection against electric shock, and specialized personal protective equipment including a face shield, balaclava and specified apparel for protection against arc flash.

CSA Z462 will apply to:

- Public and private premises, including buildings, structures, mobile homes, recreational vehicles and floating buildings;
- Yards, lots, parking lots, carnivals, and industrial substations;
- Installations of conductors and equipment that connect to the supply of electricity;
- Installations used by the electric utility, such as office buildings, warehouses, garages, machine shops, and recreational buildings, that are not an integral part of a generating plant, substation or control centre.

Utility companies, which have their own rigid safety standards, were represented on the Z462 committee and have been granted exemption from the new CSA standard.

Decades after protective equipment became commonly accepted in mining, construction, firefighting and other high-risk occupations -- including NHL hockey – working with live electricity without protection has somehow become common practice. Cicero wonders why Canada didn’t have an electrical safety standard until now.

 “What we’re experiencing is a bit of a culture shock in industry because, all of a sudden, they have to wear all this PPE. It’s all very new, particularly to an electrician or tradesperson working on electrical systems who has worked in the trade for a number of years.”

Goggan agrees the new standard will take some getting used to on the shop floor. “Electricians have been trained to wear rubber gloves, but many of them don’t. Now they’ll have to.”

Besides requiring PPE, CSA Z462 requires shutting power off to avoid working on live equipment and sets boundaries around electrical panels. “In the past,” says Goggan, “you might have an electrician wearing the proper protection and working on the panel, and a supervisor would come along and talk to him. But now no supervisor, no sweeper, nobody at all will be allowed in that area anymore.”