Image of wall mounted outlets and laptop computer wiring.

A Guide to Commercial Electrical Safety

Updated March 3, 2017 . AmFam Team

When it comes to protecting your business from electrical hazards, we’ve got you covered. Check out these tips on how to educate yourself and your employees.

You’ve worked hard to build your business, now it’s time to protect it. Now's the time to educate yourself and your employees on some common electrical safety hazards. It's also a great time to study up on ways to stay safe, reduce risks and follow the requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and the National Electric Safety Code (NESC). Safeguard your company with these key electrical safety tips for your commercial organization.

Remember to review the latest OSHA electrical safety guidelines (Opens in a new tab) each time you update your electrical safety plan to be sure you’re training your employees on current best practices.

Launch an Electric Safety Program

The first step to safeguarding your hard-earned business dream is putting a written electrical safety program into place. Start by verifying that your program’s in compliance with National Electric Code (NEC) and OSHA safety standards.

Here are some electrical safety topics your program should address:

  • How to identify electrical hazards
  • Guidelines for what is considered a safe distance from exposed electrical conductors
  • Information about personal protective equipment for electrical safety
  • OSHA electrical safety best practices for working in wet or damp locations containing electricity
  • Proper lockout/tag-out procedures for electrical equipment and systems
  • Electrical safety code requirements for electrical installations
  • How OSHA electrical rules apply to your company's workplace
  • OSHA penalties for electrical code noncompliance

How to Manage an Electrical Safety Standards Program

The best way to promote a successful electrical safety program is to firs raise awareness of electrical risks in the workplace. Additional training and the prominent displaying electrical safety posters can help keep the topic top-of-mind among employees.

Work with your staff to recognize common warning signs that could lead to unexpected electrical hazards or fires. Here's a list of ways to help keep your workplace safe from electrical risks:

Keep a record of tripped breakers

Frequently blown fuses or tripped circuits are symptoms of electrical problems — usually overloaded outlets or circuits. Make a quick spreadsheet that documents each event with details on how the circuit failed, what equipment was in use and make a plan to prevent the breaker from tripping again. Consult a licensed electrician for assistance if necessary.

Inspect suspect areas for low-voltage discharge

Receiving even a small shock when touching appliances can indicate a serious problem. Be sure to unplug the appliance, discontinue use and have a certified electrician troubleshoot the issue and the circuit.

Inspect electrical receptacles and switches

Worn or discolored wall outlets can indicate hidden arcing, smoldering or burning. They can also be indicative of damaged or improperly installed wiring in the outlet, or a problem with the receptacle itself. Avoid using the outlet or switch and contact a qualified electrician as soon as possible. Make sure faceplates are securely fastened on all outlets or switches.

Take note of electrical load fluctuations

Frequently flickering or dimming lights may be a sign of a short in the wiring, dangerous arcing, or an overextension of electrical systems. Contact a qualified electrician to discuss the problem and get request an electrical system inspection.

How to Reduce Electrical Risks at Work

In order to better ensure electrical safety in the workplace, you can take steps that effectively reduce the risks of electrical fires or other combustion hazards in your business. With proper training on how to use mechanical and electrified equipment, employees and owners together can minimize risks by using tools correctly after robust safety training.

And remember, only a licensed, bonded professional electrician should attempt to service or repair any electrical equipment. But here are some ways to proactively safeguard your company:

Train workers on OSHA lockout protocols

Always follow the lockout, tag-out and grounding procedures appropriate for the work environment:

  • Unplug tools and equipment before cleaning, adjusting or repairing them
  • Lock the power switch in the “off” position and pull fuses or breakers to prevent a person or a time clock from starting equipment under repair
  • Replace guards over augers, chains and belts before unlocking or re-fusing the power switch

Move equipment carefully

Use caution when moving old televisions and computer or video monitors, which contain two areas that have the greatest electrical dangers: the non-isolated line power supply and CRT high voltage.

Major parts of nearly all CRT-based TVs and similarly designed computer monitors are directly connected to the AC line, so there is no power transformer to provide the essential barrier for safety. Additionally, in some TVs, the entire chassis is live.

Carefully inspect plugs and equipment cords for damage

Plugs and power cables should be routinely monitored and maintained. Keep fire risks to a minimum by creating a maintenance schedule to intermittently inspect, repair or discard cables and chords:

  • Verify all appliances, tools, lighting and extension cords are approved by Underwriters Laboratories (UL)
  • Unplug equipment and appliances or use a power strip toggled to the off position when they’re not in use
  • Frequently inspect cords and plugs to be sure they are not cracked or frayed, and keep cords out of high-traffic work areas
  • Never force a plug to fit an outlet
  • Verify all outlets are properly grounded
  • Extension cords should be used only on a temporary basis
  • Do not staple or nail extension cords to walls or baseboards
  • To prevent overloading an extension cord, limit  the amount of equipment plugged into each cable

Mind OSHA outlet requirements and local codes near sources of water

Use ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) in any area where water and electricity can come into contact. Outdoor outlets should be outfitted with waterproof electrical outlet safety covers and be GFCI protected.

Ground yourself to avoid static discharge

When handling static-sensitive components, an anti-static wrist strap or grounded work surface can help reduce risks to circuitry and prevent unintended arching.

Replace bulbs and fuses with like types

Swap out lightbulbs by verifying the recommended wattage for the appliance when replacing light bulbs. Be sure to only replace fuses and breakers with equally-rated products, never adjusting amperage.

Work mindfully with circuit boards

If circuit boards need to be removed from their mountings, put insulating material between the boards and anything to which they may short. Hold them in place with string or electrical tape. Prop them up with insulating sticks — plastic or wood.

Farmers and ranchers should regularly inspect electrical systems

Farm/ranch operations should pay special attention to overhead power lines to prevent dangerous accidents. Also, be sure to prevent heavy equipment running over electrical cords and be sure all circuits are properly grounded.

Insufficient or improper grounding, unbalanced electrical loads or faulty electrical equipment may cause stray voltage or arching. To help prevent this, have a licensed electrician annually test the wiring and connections in farm buildings and equipment.

Find the Commercial Coverage Your Business Needs

Electrical safety is all about individually managing electrical hazards. And by ensuring your business is in compliance with current electrical safety codes, you can better reduce the risks of electrical fires and personal injury in your business.

While you’re making upgrades and building out your commercial electrical safety plan, be sure to reach out to your American Family Insurance agent (Opens in a new tab) for a quote. You’ll get customized coverage that can really offer peace of mind, with the knowledge that everything you’ve worked so hard for is insured carefully.

Tools & Resources

Explore our tools and smart tips.