February 14, 2013
By Ron Haverkost, Oregon OSHA technical specialist [originally printed in the Construction Depot, Winter, 2006-2007]
Coated hand tools may not protect you from electrical hazards. Recently, while removing lighting on a demolition project, a worker inadvertently cut an energized power cord with a pair of pliers that caused a spark and a hole in the cutting portion of the pliers. The worker used pliers with plastic-coated handles made for ergonomic comfort; however, this type of coating doesn't insulate against electrical current and doesn't provide a complete safety barrier.
Some hand tools such as electrically rated lineman's pliers have insulated handles that are designed to withstand specific voltage levels - for example, 1000 volts AC. The coated pliers that most workers use are not electrically rated. Insulated hand tools must be covered with material that protects the user from electric shock and minimizes the risk of a short circuit. The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM F1505) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC 60900) specifies the requirements for selecting and using insulated hand tools.
Oregon OSHA's Division 2/S and Division 3/K electrical safety rules require employers to have safe work practices that protect employees who work near or on energized equipment or circuits. Live parts that an employee may be exposed to must be de-energized before the employee works on or near them. If de-energizing live parts makes work more hazardous or is not feasible, employers must use other effective safe practices.
Never assume that a hand tool is acceptable for work on energized equipment because it has a plastic coating on its handles. Although insulated hand tools must meet specific industry standards, they provide only a partial barrier from electrical hazards. The safest way to work on electrical equipment is to make sure that it's de-energized before you begin.
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But remember: the information in this newsletter is intended to highlight safe work practices, but it does not replace Oregon OSHA workplace safety and health rules.
For information about Oregon OSHA services and answers to technical questions, call (503) 378-3272 or toll-free within Oregon, (800) 922-2689.