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Establishing and verifying an electrically safe work condition • Electrical Safety 360, June 2019

June 17, 2019 | By Mike Doherty

June 17, 2019 – The two most evident electrical hazards in a workplace, i.e. shock and arc flash, can be extremely dangerous to people, infrastructure, profits and business concerns. As such, there are moral, social and economic costs involved, to varying degrees, with the consequences of a significant electrical incident in the workplace.

The first rule for workers within the scope of CSA Z462-18 (Clauses 1.1 and 1.2) for the electrical trades is to only do work in the de-energized state, as per the documented procedures in place. This rule requires strict, rigid procedural adherence to what is most often described as a documented lockout/tagout (LO/TO) program, as defined by the individual business unit executing the work. Another relatively common term is a Control of Hazardous Energy (COHE) program.

Electrical contractors may use their own program or a similar program from their client, if agreed upon beforehand. Employees must be trained and competent in the use of these programs. Documented audits need to be completed on a regular basis to ensure accountability at all levels.

CSA Z460-13 (R2018) is the go-to standard in Canada for all LO considerations, within the scope requirements of CSA Z462-18 or as appropriate to the requirements of the specific electrical sector. (Note: CSA does not use the term ‘tagout’ in Z460.)


Regulators across the country fully expect comprehensive due diligence, with business units’ managed systems using the standard as an integral tool to ensure a safer workplace. During an incident investigation, they often look for where LO/TO considerations may have been less than adequate.

With this in mind, a deep-dive, fully documented audit of your current LO/TO program is highly recommended, to ensure it is equal to or greater than CSA Z460-13. This opportunity for improvement cannot be overstated in terms of its value on many levels, including but not limited to safety.

It is important to note CSA Z462-18, Clause 3, includes a whole section of definitions that have been reviewed and improved over the past 12 years and four editions; it is an outstanding reference section that is closely aligned with other best-case standards from around the word, reduces murkiness and vagueness in the electrical industry and is definitely helpful when planning work. Clause 4.2, meanwhile, features eight detailed steps for ‘establishing an electrically safe work condition.’

By way of example, ‘de-energized’ is defined as ‘free from an electrical connection to a source of potential difference and from electrical charge, i.e. not having a potential different from that of the earth.’ This is a critically important definition for the fundamental requirement to establish and verify an electrically safe work condition as per Clause 4.2.5. It is simply not adequate or acceptable to use jargon like “we’ve turned off the power” or “it’s dead” in an LO/TO work program, which communicates very serious interactions between professionals in the electrical trades.

Clause 3 defines an electrically safe work condition as ‘a state in which an electrical conductor or circuit part has been disconnected from energized parts, locked out in accordance with established standards, tested to verify the absence of voltage and, if necessary, temporarily grounded for personnel protection.’ This is a professional and accurate description of the true goal of an LO/TO or COHE procedure in ensuring extreme clarity and safety for workers.

Words are important. Jargon will not suffice.

Mike Doherty is president and owner of Blue Arc Electrical Safety Technologies and an electrical safety subject-matter expert. His specialties include electrical safety management, consulting, training, auditing and incident investigations. He is an independent electrical safety consultant/trainer contractor for eHazard in Canada, an independent technical advisor contractor for eWorkSAFE in Canada, a licensed electrician and an IEEE senior member. He chaired the Technical Committee for CSA Z462 from 2006 to 2018 and continues to serve on the committee. For more information, contact him via email at mike.doherty@e-hazard.com.

This column originally appeared in the June 2019 issue of Electrical Business magazine.

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