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Shocking truth about installer safety

Sep 2018 Legislation, Safety | Comments Off on Shocking truth about installer safety
Shocking truth about installer safety
 

Health and safety failings that led to the death of a 26-year-old Edinburgh electrician prompted his sister to raise awareness and are the subject of a survey by Super Rod that reveals alarming levels of non-compliance among electricians and their employers

Professional electricians and installers are risking their lives every day by not following basic safety procedures such as using a lockout kit or a voltage tester to check charge before starting work, according to new research carried out on behalf of Super Rod and Louise Taggart, who tells her brother story.

Louise’s brother Michael Adamson died as the result of an electrical incident in August 2005. Aged just 26, Michael was an experienced electrician but due to a number of health and safety failings on the site that he was working on in Dundee – including the failure to implement safe isolation procedures and a failure to provide lockoff devices and testing equipment – he came into contact with mains voltage power and was pronounced dead.

Via the Electricians Community Forum group on Facebook, 825 members were surveyed about their safety habits and the findings make shocking reading: a quarter said they rarely or never use a lockout kit to isolate the electrical supply they are working on and 1 in 5 don’t even carry one in their van or tool bag. Without a lockout kit in place, installers are ‘working live’ and any accidental contact can cause serious injury or even loss of life.

The workaround

Instead of using a lockout kit, installers have many weird and wonderful ways to ensure their safety, from using signage (44%) and tape (19%) to verbally telling other trades what they are working on (2%) to avoid accidents. Worryingly, a few respondents said they took no precautions at all (2%).

So why don’t installers use a lockout kit, which could save their life? A third said they worked alone so didn’t need to use one (31%), 1 in 10 (10%) said they were too much hassle and others felt they were too expensive (9%). 10% didn’t use a lockout kit because their employer didn’t provide them with one, and 4% said they couldn’t find them in their local wholesalers.

Contractors know best?

The survey also asked about attitudes towards using a voltage tester to prove dead before starting work. One in 10 installers said they didn’t use one, and a third of respondents (33%) think they are experienced enough not to make a mistake, so didn’t need to check with a voltage tester. A quarter of installers (25%) said they didn’t use a voltage tester regularly because theirs was broken or needed new batteries.

Campaigning for safety

Louise now shares Michael’s story and works tirelessly to ensure no other family has to endure what her family has been through. Louise said: “Attitudes towards safe working practices in the industry desperately need to change, and it is shocking to hear that so many installers’ lives are being gambled with through non-supply or use of vital equipment, which is there to ensure they get home safely to their loved ones.

“My brother would still be alive today and celebrating his 40th birthday next year had safe working practices been followed on that job and I would urge installers to get smart about their safety – if not for themselves, then for their family and friends.”

Louise added: “At the trial of Michael’s employer in 2008, the sheriff – the judge in the case – said many electricians had a macho and cavalier attitude to their work and to taking the necessary safety precautions.” She also said that attitudes needed to be altered and that “employers and management had to help bring it about. But we are now 10 years on and the survey results suggest this is still an issue today”. Michael’s employer was found guilty of health and safety offences and fined £300,000.

“I think the hardest thing about unsafe electrical installations is that the danger is not always seen straight away – it’s only when things go wrong that the issue is identified. And by then it could be too late.”

Super Rod managing director Malcolm Duncan heard Louise speak at a conference in Scotland last year and was inspired to support her cause. He said: “As soon as I heard Louise’s story, I knew it was something we had to support to help her raise awareness. We didn’t know how widespread the issues of non-compliance would be but the reality revealed by the survey was worse than we had initially thought.

“The use of a lockout kit and voltage tester needs to be standard practice for every installer, and we are committing our own resources to raising awareness of the issue and finding solutions that will encourage smarter, safer working environments.”

“I hope that the findings of the research become a springboard for positive change in the industry and raise awareness of the need for change. I want the campaign and Michael’s story to make electricians and contractors think twice about the consequences of what might happen if they aren’t working safely. They might think that using a lockout kit is too expensive or too much hassle now, but it’s a small price to pay to go home to their families every night.”

The survey of installers was conducted by the Electricians Community Forum, which has more than 15,000 members on Facebook. 825 members completed a short survey in April 2018 about their attitudes to safety and in particular the use of lockout kits and voltage testers.

You can see Louise talking about Michael’s story at
www.michaels-story.net/blog/workplace-safety-video.

  • Louise Taggart was an experienced employment lawyer before leaving her job in 2013 to take on a project to convert the Scottish Hazards Campaign Group into the charity Scottish Hazards, which she helped to launch a health and safety advice centre for workers and spread the word as a workplace safety speaker. She has been named Safety & Health Practitioner’s most influential person in health and safety for 2018. Read more about Michael’s story at www.michaels-story.net.