Former Sparkies Insights on Risk Assessment

David Fulcher worked for over 50 years as an electrician and lived to tell the tale. Many others are not that lucky. David gives his insights into Risk Assessment from his long-term experience as an Electrician, and its impact on the industry…

I worked over 50 years as an Electrician. I was made redundant from my job in 2004. I had been Responsible for all electrical maintenance in a very large office building.

Working as a tradesman in Queensland changed dramatically about the year 2000. Up to that time, if you were given a job you just went and did it. If you needed help you asked a co-worker. If it was a big job, then your supervisor was involved.

The changes that occurred about the year 2000, mostly affected electricians. This was because there had been several electrical accidents in the state. Some of which were caused by stupid people. One particular accident was were the local electrical authority sent a 17-year-old apprentice up in cherry picker, to work on live cables. When he got electrocuted, his father created a huge uproar.

So the State brought in Risk Assessment. From that time on, if you were given a job, you had to fill in a risk assessment form, and follow a certain procedure.

First you had to go and look at the job. Write down the location the job, with a brief description of what was involved.

Assess all the risks involved, and make a list of these. Say how you intend to nullify or minimize these actual risks. Make a list of all personal protection you will need for the work. Saying at what stage items are going to be needed.

Write down the actual steps you intend to take, to safely do the work. Say when you intend to do the work, and the time you expect to finish it.

You then had to take the risk assessment form to your supervisor for his approval and signature.

You could then do the job, making sure that you were using the personal protection you had listed, and you were following the exact steps on the assessment form. An Electrical Inspector could approach you while you were working. If you were not using your personal protection, or following the steps you listed, then you could be in serious trouble.

Upon completing the job, you had to tell a co-coordinator that the job was safely completed, sign the risk assessment form and return it to your supervisor.

This risk assessment had to be followed on all your tasks.

If you needed a long ladder to do the job, you had to do a risk assessment on it. Can one man carry it safely? Do you need a man at each end, or even a third man to watch for any dangers? If you used the ladder for the job you had to have three points of contact at all times. Which means that the ladder was not much use anyway.

Before the year 2000 I must have changed tens of light switch mechanisms, live, only taking a few minutes. You may think why not pull the fuse, or turn off the circuit breaker. In a large office block light circuits are rarely marked, and there are dozens of them. Now this job could sometimes take two or three hours.

The overall thrust of risk assessment has meant that the cost of electrical work in Queensland has at least doubled. So instead of this stupid risk assessment, they should have given electricians a safety newsletter for us to read and sign. After all it is a big part of a tradesman’s job to work in a safe manner.

But I suppose now that apprenticeships are getting shorter all the time, they have to cater for very inexperienced tradesmen.

David Fulcher

About the Author

Safety Concepts is an online resource providing up to date insights and covering issues in the field of Workplace Safety.

Comments (2)

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  1. Kyle says:

    I am the Safety & Training officer for an Electrical company and the comments you make i hear all the time from our people and to some degree i think your right, the 4 years you spend at TAFE to learn the job and the safety of the job should be enough to allow you to use your initiative to work safely? Im sorry to say that this may have been the case in old times but these days you cant rely on everyone to use their initiative, we had a sparkie who had been in the industry for 6 years and didnt even know what testing and tagging was!
    Until accidents cease to exist and brainless people come into the job, task specific risk assessments will be right there with you….

  2. Cameron says:

    Your post raises several salient issues about regular testing and tagging of portable electrical appliances, and this includes computers and monitors, electrical leads and power boards. Sometimes employers argue that because offices are not classified as high-risk environments, then testing and tagging does not have to be done. The real issue, is risk management, and then assessing how cluttered the workspace is? This is normally addressed on a case-by-case basis. My company ( regularly uses a simple risk assessment of the office environment in educational environments such as kindergartens and child care centres, and this has been found to be useful before proceeding with testing and tagging. The main issues with office equipment normally stem from low-cost power boards with defective wirings/polarity and extension leads that are compressed by chairs etc. Again, all employees, clients and stakeholders have the right to a safe wokplace – and this definitely includes risks posed by portable electrical appliances.

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