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Safety Tips for Using Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs)

Electrical

Electrical hazards are an area of major safety concern in most industries and account for a large number of injuries and fatalities. Extension Cords and Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs) can be found on any construction site, shop, and jobsite as well as office buildings, warehouses and manufacturing plants. Remembering a few safety tips can help prevent serious injuries from happening.

OSHA Construction Standard 1926.416(a)(1) states that no employer shall permit an employee to work in such proximity to any part of an electric power circuit that the employee could contact the electric power circuit in the course of work, unless the employee is protected against electric shock by deenergizing the circuit and grounding it or by guarding it effectively by insulation or other means.
GFCI "Pig-Tail"
GFCI Pig-Tail

OSHA General Industry Standard 1910.333(a) states that safety-related work practices shall be employed to prevent electric shock or other injuries resulting from either direct or indirect electrical contacts, when work is performed near or on equipment or circuits which are or may be energized. The specific safety-related work practices shall be consistent with the nature and extent of the associated electrical hazards.

According to OSHA, a GFCI is a fast-acting circuit breaker designed to shut off electric power in the event of a ground-fault within as little as 1/40th of a second. The ground fault occurs as a result of “leaking electricity.”

  • From a small kitchen lobby in an office building to an industrial food plant, when using electrical equipment or extension cords near a water source they should be plugged into an outlet that is GFCI protected.
  • When operating machine pumps, welding equipment, or other high energy producing equipment or tools, an industrial GFCI should be used.
  • Always test GFCIs before use by using the test and reset buttons. If found defective do not use that GFCI.
  • Inspect all tools and equipment before use, if ground pin is missing do not use.

A GFCI may also be called a Residual Current Device (RCD). GFCIs will shut off the electrical power circuit when it detects that current is flowing along an unintended path, such as through water or a person. This puts it into perspective a bit better as to why these devices are so important on jobsites.

OSHA General Industry Standard 1910.304(b)(3)(i) Cord sets and receptacles in wet environments can potentially expose employees to severe ground-fault hazards. Therefore, in a built environment (non-construction) OSHA requires ground-fault circuit protection for all 125-volt, single-phase, 15- and 20-ampere receptacles installed in bathrooms and on rooftops.
Common temporary set-up of an electrical panel with GFCI outlets found on a construction site.
Common temporary set-up of an electrical panel with GFCI outlets found on a construction site.

Use GFCIs anywhere (at home, on jobsites, in a warehouse, etc.) to reduce the potential of electrical shocks due to a ground fault. Example of portable GFCI power outlets:

Portable GFCI Power Outlets
OSHA Construction Standard 1926.404(b)(1)(ii) Ground-fault circuit interrupters. …outlets on construction sites… shall have approved ground-fault circuit interrupters for personnel protection.
Common GFCI Outlet Plug

Never take electricity for granted! No matter how small the job, always use safe work practices, especially when using electrical tools and equipment.

To read more about how a GFCI works and the different types of GFCIs available, click here to read a great article at SafeElectricity.org, a program of the Energy Education Council.

OSHA also provides an article on Ground-Fault Circuit Interrupters (in both English and Spanish!) through their Construction eTool. Click here to check out the OSHA article.

If you are interested in Electrical Safety and want to learn more, ElectricalSchool.org has put together an amazing glossary of electrical terms. This comprehensive list includes definitions, related links and videos for every term and acronym you can think of related to electrical work and safety.

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