Written by: Matt Cocuzza
Per the 2013 Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report, the most recent data available, incidents in the construction industry accounted for 828 fatalities of workers. That’s 828 families who lost a loved one without getting to say goodbye. Each of these 828 workers went to work like any other day simply to provide for their family, except these 828 workers never came home.
Of these 828 unwarranted fatalities, more than half were victims of what OSHA calls the “Fatal Four”. The “Fatal Four”, for those of you who don’t know, are the top four causes of fatalities in the construction industry. These four leading causes of worker deaths are falls, struck-by-object, electrocution, and caught-in/between. This article will focus on a cause that contributed to 71 (8.6%) of the 828 fatalities in 2013, electrocution.
Since I started working for Safegate Safety Solutions in 2014, I’ve easily inspected hundreds, if not over 1,000 construction sites. I inspect for vulnerabilities in safety that put the lives of workers at risk. I walk every site top to bottom and edge to edge in search of violations of standards set forth by OSHA. Of all the violations I regularly observe on construction sites, one in particular is found on almost every site. This particular violation is the use of damaged extension cords.
Whether it is a missing ground prong, a torn jacket, or an illegal splice, it’s everywhere. I find damaged cords on almost every single construction site I inspect. Yes, I pull every plug to check the prongs. I walk every cord length in its entirety in search of these discrepancies. Why? Well, because what may seem like a minor nick in a cord or just a broken ground prong is actually an electrocution hazard. It is an electrocution hazard that contributed to the 71 deaths by electrocution on construction sites in 2013.
A few simple changes before the work day begins can fix this issue and potentially save many lives. Prior to beginning work (and definitely prior to plugging in any cords) inspect your extension cords for any damages. Make sure the cord has all three prongs. Inspect the entire length of the cord for any abrasions or tears in the jacket that expose the inside wiring. Make sure the cord is one continuous length and not spliced together. If any issues are found, the cord needs to be taken out of service immediately.
When using an extension cord, be aware of where the cord is being run. You do not want to expose the cord to any strain points that can potentially tear the jacket while in use. Do not staple or hang cords from nails. You also want to make sure you are using a cord rated for use in construction by the NEC. These cords will have designations for hard or extra-hard usage such as S, ST, SO, STO, SJ, SJO, SJT, and SJTO.
Taking the time to check an extension cord before use can potentially mean the difference between life and death. I advise all of my clients to regularly inspect the extension cords being used on their site for damages. Normally they have the contractor remove the cord from the site, but repeat offenders have lead some of my clients to go as far as cutting the cord ends off rendering them useless.
This is a resolvable issue from both the bottom up and the top down. Every employee should do their part when it comes to electrical safety. Those who use extension cords should be sure they are using a damage-free cord and using it correctly. Site management should be regularly checking in to make sure everyone is compliant. A team effort in safety can save many lives.