Deploying Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters in the Real World

Despite major safety improvements, accidents, injuries, and even death on the job can occur from electrocution. From 1992 through 2010, an average of 268 U.S. workers died each year from electrocution, and in 2009 there were 2,620 non-fatal electrical injuries in the U.S. In addition to causing pain, suffering, and loss to victims and their families, electrical accidents impact employers through financial penalties and medical/disability costs.

The good news is that companies can keep workers safe through the disciplined use of ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) in wet and hazardous settings. A GFCI disconnects a circuit when it detects that the electrical current is not balanced between the energized conductor and the return neutral conductor.

It is vital for workers and managers to understand and follow electrical safety codes such as the National Fire Protection Association’s National Electrical Code (NEC). Training and retraining must always focus on why it is never acceptable to take shortcuts and “work around” GFCIs to complete a job faster. Many state and local authorities have adopted NEC standards for safety and best practices, and industrial companies are bound by law to follow federal OSHA regulations. NEC and OSHA concur that:

  • electrical equipment must be free from hazards,
  • worker protection must be provided in wet locations, and
  • use of GFCIs is mandatory.

GFCIs can be placed on individual electrical power cords (in-line GFCI) or deployed systemically to protect an entire system from ground faults, nuisance tripping, and other hazards, guaranteeing “always-on” worker protection.

Detailed safety guidelines cover extension cords used with portable electric tools, which must be 3-wire, use hard or extra-hard rated cable, and not exceed 100 ft. in length. These guidelines also cover outlet boxes and receptacles. For wet or damp areas, all equipment and wiring devices—including single and duplex receptacles—must be designated for use in wet locations, so that water cannot enter or accumulate inside. Unless listed as portable, boxes must be rigidly supported from a structural member of the building.

It’s important to select code-compliant GFCI components from a reliable source that can ensure all parts are compatible. Also, keep in mind that leading vendors offer innovative components that not only meet OSHA and NEC standards, but also provide superior construction, performance, and reliability.