How to Stay Safe as an Electrician (Avoid Getting Shocked)

multimeter elma x one |

An electrician’s job can by some people be perceived as being a particularly dangerous job compared to other professions. Although this can be true, if you follow the safety instructions that every electrician should learn, there is absolutely no reason to be nervous in your day-to-day life working in the electrical trade.

If you are thinking about the possibility of becoming an electrician or are just curious about the trade, this article explains how you avoid the unpleasant experience of getting shocked.

To avoid getting shocked as an electrician you should follow the standard safety procedures of testing for any current power. Getting shocked can be avoided by correctly testing the installation with the proper tools. You should also work in electrical systems without power when possible.

The obvious danger, that comes to mind when working as an electrician is the possibility of getting shocked. Although this is true, and many electricians will experience this in some way or another, there are many safety protocols, that if you follow along, can enable you to work a long career without experiencing this danger.

Important note: This article is for educational purposes only and should only be perceived as such. You are responsible for following the official safety protocols that are being provided to you by your employer, union, and specific rules provided by your own education. To learn more about the electrical codes and standards at NFPA click here.

Avoid getting shocked as an electrician

Getting an electric shock is probably the first danger that comes to mind when we are thinking about the dangers in the life of being an electrician.

Getting shocked is a common danger that occurs when a person touches a live wire. This can send electricity through the body and cause a feeling of a sort of painful buzz in the specific part of the body, that touched the live wire. While electricians are installing or maintaining electrical systems, they may be at risk of experiencing a shock.

Actually, when it comes down to the work tasks of an electrician, 99 percent of our time, we don’t even work in electrical systems that are running on power. Nobody is interested in getting either themselves or their employees injured, and that is why electricians are being encouraged to always work according to safety procedures.

Safety procedures to avoid getting shocked as an electrician

The only time where it is acceptable to work with the power running is when the electrical system is being tested for functionality at the end of the installation. And this is a safe procedure, where you are not in a dangerous way exposing yourself to a live wire.

Although many times, you can, as an electrician save time, by doing specific work tasks with the power on, there are safe ways to get the same job done, without risking the possibility of getting shocked.

Step 1. Turning off the power

Turning off the power is obviously the most important action we need to take if we want to work on an electrical installation. This is not the only procedure as we further down in this article also introduce the tools necessary for marking sure, that the installation is actually turned off.

Components in an electrical panel can come in different variants, but in general, the power is on when the lever is up and the power will be turned off when the lever is down.

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Picture 1: Power is turned on with the lover up
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Picture 1: Power is turned off with the lover down

As getting shocked is one of the obvious dangers of being an electrician, this is a subject that every electrician is being extensively trained in understanding. Here is provided specific tools to test the current state of the electrical systems, and these include:

Option 1: Non-Contact Voltage Tester (Volt Stick)

A Non-Contact Voltage Tester is a handy little tool, that can be used for indicating voltage all the way down to 12V AC. Without touching the electrical wire or current, the end of the stick lights up a sharp red color, if there is a voltage of 12V or above.

non-contact voltage tester |
When placing the Non-Contact Voltage Tester in the phase of a power outlet turned on, the red glowing light will indicate, that we have a voltage of at minimum 24v.

Although the Non-Contact Voltage Tester does what it is supposed to do, this should never be taken as a fool-proof tool for testing voltage. A Non-Contact Voltage Tester is only an indication, and can for example be used when trying to find a certain wire, or when you are testing power outlets when documenting the work. If you are trying to find the specific group associated with a lamp, by having a colleague turn the power on and of, this is also a use-case for the volt stick.

One of the reasons why The Non-Contact Voltage Tester, should not be your only guide, is that it can even light up for static electricity. If you run it up and down on your clothes to produce conditions for static electricity the end of the stick it will light up.

If you want a quick indication of whether or not there is voltage in a wire it is great, but you need to verify this indication with a solid Multi-Tester, which will be introduced next.

Option 2: Multimeter and Voltage-Tester

The Multimeter is the electrician’s best friend in the field. The multimeter is the sure-fire way to know if your installation is being provided with power.

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The Elma X One multimeter

This multimeter has many functionalities and can be used for various purposes such as (1) testing for connection in general, (2) testing for voltage between phase, neutral, and earth. (3) testing for ampere in a cable/wire. (4) testing for wire connection in a ceiling junction box.

How to test for voltage with a multimeter

In the context of this article, the multimeter can be used to insure ourselves, whether or not the device we are working with is turned on or of.

This is being done by connecting the red stick to the phase part of the installation while simultaneously connecting the black stick to either the neutral or the earth outlet. If the installation is on, we will be able to read how much voltage the device is being provided with. In a standard power outlet, in the United States, we will typically get a reading of 120v, while in Europe, some places base their electricity on 230v.

Step 1: Testing batteries and possible loose connection in the multimeter

Firstly an electrician needs to make sure that the multimeter is working properly.

We have many types of multimeter options available but in the Elma One X (in the picture) you can replace parts, and therefore the phase and neutral stick have to be firmly connected. As seen in the picture below, one of the wires can easily be incorrectly connected.

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Checking for loose connection (red is loose).

When it is properly placed you can examine for connection from phase to neutral, as seen in the next picture. This will make a constant beep sound and otherwise be shown on the display if the multimeter is correctly working.

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Examine connection from phase to neutral.

Step 2: Testing the presence of voltage in installation

In the next step, we are ready to test for any voltage. This is being done by placing the phase (red stick) in the phase and neutral (black stick) in the neutral of the installation. In the picture below, there is nothing showing on the display, and no voltage is therefore present.

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Testing for voltage in an outlet when power is turned off.

In the next picture and example below, the display reveals to us, that the power outlet is being provided with a voltage of 232v.

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Testing for voltage in an outlet when power is turned on.

These provided steps can give us a way of telling, if whether or not we are working with an installation that is turned on or off. This is the standard procedure for many electricians, and should always be done before getting started with installing or replacing any electrical parts.

Final notes on avoiding getting shocked as an electrician

The procedure shown is some ways to stay safe in the day-to-day job as an electrician. Some other variables that I do as an electrician can include some of the following:

(1) Never touch anything shiny or blank material with your hands. A simple way to never get in contact with potential safety hazards.

(2) If you are unsure of the presence of voltage, contact another professional.

(3) If you are working (especially as an apprentice) with a journeyman, who doesn’t prioritize safety, you should insist on following the safety procedures. Alternatively, you should be moved to another work project.