A lack of proper control over potentially hazardous energy on a job site, especially in construction and manufacturing, is a huge danger. Fortunately, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has established guidelines that businesses and employees can follow to reduce the danger of serious injury or death. But when these guidelines are not followed, people end up seriously harmed by electrical discharges or active machinery.
What Is Hazardous Energy?
In general, “hazardous energy” refers to any sort of energy that has the potential to cause bodily harm, either directly or indirectly. This includes direct threats such as frayed electrical wires that can electrocute someone, or indirect dangers like machines that are not functioning properly but have power, which can harm someone with a sudden movement or unexpected functionality. Built-up energy in the form of steam or compressed air also falls into this category.
How Can Hazardous Energy Cause an Accident?
The simplest way hazardous energy causes accidents is through direct contact with a person or other object. For example, a construction worker does not realize that someone is doing maintenance on a large machine and plugs it in or turns on the power to the machine. The person doing maintenance may be exposed to a serious electrical shock as energy flows into an area that he or she is physically in contact with.
Another example would be a piece of machinery that a worker shuts down to work on. When another worker comes along and powers on that machine, it moves and crushes the worker performing maintenance. In this example, the energy itself does not harm the worker, but the machinery does.
The release of steam, heat, and chemical power can also cause harm to people at a construction site or other workplace.
Are Hazardous Energy Accidents Common?
It is estimated that about three million people in the U.S. are at risk of injury from uncontrolled energy, particularly construction workers—especially electricians, machine operators, and general laborers. Workers who are injured by hazardous energy miss, on average, 24 workdays to recover from such an injury. When serious accidents occur, the cost is much greater, not only to businesses but also to the victims and their loved ones.
Injuries from hazardous energy vary depending on the specific details of the accident. In general, however, common injuries include:
- Lacerations: While minor cuts and scrapes can be cleaned and dressed on a worksite, more serious lacerations may require professional medical care to avoid infection and ensure recovery.
- Broken Bones: Broken bones can take a worker off the job for several weeks or months. These injuries are painful and require medical treatment.
- Burns: Burns from direct exposure to heat, steam, or electricity can range in severity—but on construction sites and places with wiring, electrical shocks can be deadly.
- Internal Injuries: Damage to a person’s internal organs can be very serious or fatal. Injuries to the heart, lungs, and other organs require medical treatment, and can go undetected until it’s too late.
- Spinal Cord Injuries: Injuries to the neck and back can result in spinal cord damage that can be very painful and affect the rest of a person’s life. Paralysis will result in permanent changes in lifestyle or prove potentially fatal.
- Traumatic Brain Injuries: Brain injuries are among the most serious injuries a person can suffer. They can change someone’s lifestyle or personality, and may be fatal.
Procedures to Control Hazardous Energy
Different methods are outlined by OSHA to help businesses and workers avoid accidents and injuries from uncontrolled hazardous energy. The most common and beneficial is proper LockOut/TagOut (LOTO) practices. LOTO refers to placing physical locks and tags on pieces of equipment and machinery to indicate that they are powered down for maintenance or other procedures and to warn others against plugging them in or turning them on.
When LOTO is done properly, everyone on a worksite has already been trained to understand what the locks and tags mean, as well as how and when to use them. Businesses should provide locks and tags for employees, and ensure equipment on a worksite can be properly locked. If they fail to do so and employees are injured as a result, the business may be held liable in a civil lawsuit. Our New York electrocution lawyers have vast experience with all sorts of hazardous energy violations and getting compensation for victims. For a free consultation, please call Wingate, Russotti, Shapiro, Moses & Halperin, LLP, at (212) 986-7353.