Not so ‘shocking’ ways to be safe

Here at Western working with high-voltage electricity is just part of the job. Our employees who work on the 500-kV transmission lines, in the substations and in the switch yards take care every day to protect themselves, their co-workers and the public from electrical hazards.

It’s not surprising that most of the electrical issues our crews face in the field, many people also find at a lower voltage in and around their homes and neighborhoods.

Electrical safety hits home

As May is Electrical Safety Month, I talked with Electrical Engineer John Quintana. He shared that on occasion he does his own electrical work at home. “I remember one time I was installing a ceiling fan at home and out of convenience, I turned off the electricity at the light switch, but not at the circuit breaker. Well, the wires I was cutting into also supplied continuous power to wall outlets, and one of the wires stays hot.  I ended up causing a mini explosion in my ceiling and melting a good set of pliers. But fortunately, I was lucky enough not to be electrocuted,” he recalled.

“One thing to think about; our trained and highly skilled craft employees do not work with low-voltage equipment without properly disconnecting it from service and making it safe through lock-out-tag-out procedures. So we all should do the same,” John added.

In fact, the best way to avoid electrical injuries with home projects is to leave it to the professionals. Hire a qualified, licensed electrician to do the home improvement project.

But if you’re more handy around the house, follow the Electrical Safety Foundation International’s recommended safety tips before undertaking any home electrical project:

  • Make an effort to learn about your home electrical system so that you can safely navigate and maintain it.
  • Never attempt a project that is beyond your skill level. Knowing when to call a professional may help prevent electrical fires, injuries and fatalities.
  • Always turn off the power to the circuit that you plan to work on by switching off the circuit breaker in the main service panel.
  • Be sure to unplug any lamp or appliance before working on it.
  • Test the wires before you touch them to make sure that the power has been turned off.
  • Never touch plumbing or gas pipes when performing a do-it-yourself electrical project.
  • Never stand in a puddle or on a damp floor when working directly on or near electricity.
  • Always have your work inspected upon completion to ensure that it has been done correctly.

Beware of high voltage

While our employees are highly trained to handle high-voltage electricity on the job, there are some simple ways you can protect yourself from dangerous situations. While they may seem obvious, remember these three safety tips:

  1. Look up! If you’re flying a kite or using tall equipment on your farm or near your home, look above you and ensure you’re not near a power line.
  2. Read and follow signs. Warning signs are all around high-voltage equipment and facilities, like substations, transformers, etc. Do what they say and stay out! It will keep you out of danger and out of trouble.
  3. Leave it alone. If you see a power line on the ground or stuck in a tree, report it to your local utility. Don’t touch or go near a downed power line.

“You should always treat power lines as if they are hot [energized],” said John. “Our electrical systems are all interconnected, so call the local utility. Even if it isn’t their line that is down, they will be able to alert the proper utility.”

Question of the week:

What electrical sources do you take for granted (or forget about) when working on a project?


  • By Kathy, June 30, 2010 @ 4:25 pm

    I found your site looking for information about Electrical Safety Month. I just wanted to say I liked your post. I had a homeowner call me the other day that had done exactly the same thing, except for he fell off the ladder and actually ended up with a broken wrist. It’s always best to call a licensed electrician-homeowners can get into serious trouble trying to do it all themselves.

  • By Dave in Belize, July 26, 2010 @ 5:34 pm

    When I was growing up I had the misfortune of experiencing the death of my best friend’s father who worked as a lineman for the power company and was accidentally electrocuted on the job.

    This tragedy instilled an unbelievable fear of electricity in me…which eventually turned into less of a fear and more of a great respect.

    Hence whenever myself or my friends are working on their electricals I always INSIST the main breaker is turned off at the box.

    In most cases this probably isn’t necessary, but I’m pretty sure being overly cautious has probably saved us from a few shocks and maybe something worse!

  • By Anthony, December 29, 2010 @ 8:50 pm

    Being electrocuted accidentally when I was younger, I have always taken steps to ensure safety when working or repairing anything electrical. If you are a do it yourself type person around the home, I would seriously recommend to get a meter to test if the power has been shut off. Working with live voltage can be dangerous. Also have a flashlight handy, and do research on the net before making the attempt to fix, replace or repair anything with current.

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