Electrical Safety History: gains and room to grow

Safety matters in every industry. However, that’s especially true for Miller Electric and other commercial electrical contractors.  

For us, safety truly is a matter of life and death. 

Today, we have the benefit of OSHA, the NEC and NFPA 70E guidelines to guide our work and ensure that we do our jobs safely. 

But many of those safety regulators and regulations were formed out of lessons learned the hard way — and they still aren’t perfect. A report from the Center for Construction Research and Training shows that the rate of fatal injuries in construction rose 11.1% between 2011 and 2020.  

That study calculated an annual average of 963 fatal injuries among all construction and extraction occupations and 78,000 nonfatal injuries annually among all private wage and salary construction workers.  

The leading causes of safety events were slips, trips and falls. It’s a good reminder to follow safety protocols closely and recognize that while danger has always been part of the job, it used to be worse.  

Electrical Safety Has Changed Much Over the Years 

It wasn’t that long ago that building projects had an “acceptable” number of deaths from a risk standpoint. 

Death on the job was simply a fact of life. Thankfully, that’s no longer the case. 

We’ve come a long way with electrical safety in a relatively short time. Miller Electric’s own Jim Mayer has seen that change first hand. Having worked at Miller for 54 years, Jim has lived through the evolution of PPE to what it is today. 

“Safety really changed as the years went on. In the early years, PPE wasn’t enforced. Hard hats were never worn,” Jim said. “Now, you can’t step out of the office without it — and for good reason. We know our guys have equipment that is tested and proven to protect them, and we use TEGG and our preventative maintenance program to keep electrical systems operating in prime conditions. We also put an emphasis on working on equipment when it is deenergized.” 

The Shift to Deenergized Work 

That move to deenergized work is a transformation that Electrical Risk Consultant Jeremy Overman has not only observed but helped bring about over the past ten years with Miller Electric. 

“I’ve seen so much positive change over the past decade,” Jeremy said. “Education is the key to that. When we started this adventure around arc flash and NFPA 70E safety training, a lot of the emphasis was on getting people into classes and providing them with safety perspectives to keep their workers and facilities safe.” 

Now, Jeremy is seeing a sea change in the industry. 

“The pure volume of contractors that adhere to safety standards is huge. No one does as much due diligence as Miller Electric, but the resources to work safely with electrical equipment are at the fingertips of anyone who wants them.” 

Electrical Safety Through the Years 

  • 1882 – Thomas Edison creates first commercial electrical power system. 
  • 1895 – Five electrical installation codes are developed. 
  • 1897 – National Electrical Code (NEC) is established. 
  • 1911 – NEC splits from NFPA to update electrical safety protocols specifically. 
  • 1956 – Charles Dalziel writes landmark work, “The Effects of Electrical Shock on Man,” revealing the connection between ground faults and fatalities. Dalziel invents GFCI outlets. 
  • 1969 – Alice Stoll and Maria Chianta invent the Stoll Curve, which is used to predict burn injuries. 
  • 1970 – OSHA is formed with the purpose to “assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education, and assistance.” 
  • 1976 – At the request of OSHA, the NFPA forms a committee to develop newer electrical standards. 
  • 1979 – NFPA 70E is released as the Standard for Electrical Safety Requirements for Employee Workplaces. This remains the core of electrical safety practices today. 
  • 1982 – Ralph Lee publishes “The Other Electrical Hazard: Electrical Arc Blast Burns.”  
  • 1995 – NFPA 70E acknowledges arc flash electrical hazard and begins developing standards for dealing with it. 
  • 2000 – NFPA 70E PPE tables are developed and incident energy calculations are invented. 
  • 2002 – The IEEE Guide for Performing Arc Flash Calculations is published and the NEC requires arc flash warning labels for certain electrical equipment. 
  • 2007 – The National Electrical Safety Code (NESC) requires electric utility systems to perform arc flash assessments. 
  • 2009 – NFPA 70E requires additional labeling to make PPE selections easier for people working on or near live energized systems. 
  • 2015 – OSHA updates its labeling standards for NFPA 70E to further protect workers from arc flash incidents. 
  • 2018 – NFPA begins proactively testing safety measures and protocols to minimize human error in the assessment of electrical safety risk. 

More information on the history of electrical safety is available online at the CES News blog.   

The Evolution of Electrical Risk Safety Solutions 

Jeremy noted that electrical risk safety solutions have changed over the last ten years as well. 

“Our customers’ safety directors are focused on arc flash safety training, IR imaging and electrical equipment inventories now,” Jeremy said. “It used to be something we pushed with our contacts, which then had to move up the ladder to leadership. Now, the push for safety is coming from the top down.” 

Miller Electric has come to be known for getting ahead of minor issues and resolving them for facility owners and managers before they become bigger problems. As the city has grown over the past 110 years, Miller Electric has been there along the way, helping advance progress as safely as possible. 

“I’d like to think that with our safety trainings and preventative maintenance offerings, Miller Electric has played a part in helping shift the mindset from fixing things when they break to stopping them from breaking in the first place. We’ve really solidified ourselves as electrical safety consultants, and that comes from the heart. We truly do want to see people go home safe at the end of each day.” 

Miller Electric is back to offering quarterly NFPA 70E Safety Trainings for customers and clients. If you or someone you know is interested, browse available courses on our site now: https://www.millerelect.com/resources/training