Electricity is a necessity for research at the University. Many researchers custom design and work with power supplies, cables, capacitors, and electrical equipment. The hazards associated are unique because of uncommon or one of a kind designs. Contact with electricity can result in serious injury or death. It is important to understand the hazards associated with research and create a safe work environment by utilizing safe work practices.

Anyone who works on or near energized electrical circuits or components must be trained as a Qualified Person prior to performing such work.


  • Electrical research projects must be free from recognized hazards that may cause death or serious physical harm.
  • In addition to shock hazards, the potential for an arc flash event must be considered. An arc flash event is a sudden, explosive, electrical arc resulting from a short circuit through air.
  • Unintentional movement (tool is dropped, or accidental contact) increases the risk of an arc flash.
  • Internal component failure can cause excessive voltages.
  • Output circuits and components can remain energized after input power is interrupted.
  • When power supplies serve more than one experiment, switching between experiments may create hazards.

Shock Thresholds For Research And Development Applications


Department of Energy (DOE)


Electrically Safe Work Condition (ESWC)

Establishing an ESWC should be accomplished for all energized electrical work, except for testing and diagnostics where the system must be energized in order to perform the task.

To verify that you have created an electrically safe work condition:

  • Determine all sources of electrical supply.
  • Properly interrupt the load current and open the disconnecting devices for each source.
  • Visually verify all blades are fully open/withdrawn.
  • Apply lockout-tagout devices.
  • Test each phase conductor or part to verify!
  • Ground, where necessary.

If energized electrical work tasks, such as testing and diagnostic, need to be performed energized, additional controls and precautions must be implemented to ensure that it is performed safely. Controls include:

  • A trained, qualified person needs to perform the task.
  • Proper personal protective equipment (PPE) being worn, such as voltage-rated gloves, safety glasses, or arc-rated clothing if within the Limited or Restricted Approach Boundary.

Engineering Controls

  • Protective covers and/or barriers shall be installed over terminals and other energized parts.
  • Conductors adequately braced and supported to prevent hazardous movement.
  • Enclosure and remote control work to avoid contact with energized circuits and stay within the approach boundary.

Picture of Enclosure courtesy of Virginia Tech

Safe Work Practices

  • Always consider electrical equipment energized until positively proven otherwise.
  • Design and plan for safe work, identify hazards and anticipate problems.
  • De-energize the equipment before testing.
  • Use insulated electrical tools. Insulated tools must be rated for the voltages on which they are used.
  • Wear protective equipment for the eyes or face wherever there is danger of injury to the eyes or face from electric arcs or flashes or from flying objects resulting from electrical explosion.
  • Any exposed live parts should be guarded (e.g., plexiglass shield) to protect against accidental contact.
  • All electrically energized equipment is used in a safe manner as intended by the manufacturer and within the equipment’s NRTL / UL listing.
  • Know how to isolate all energy sources to equipment in an emergency.
  • Minimize the number of control stations and provide an emergency shutdown switch.
  • Hardwired equipment (e.g., breaker box) is considered part of the facility electrical system and requires shutdown by qualified personnel only! Notify Facilities Management (Academic 434-924-2267 or Health System 434-924-3053) to coordinate any repair, relocation, alteration or shutdown of electrical systems.
  • Report any electrical shock to your supervisor and seek medical attention.

Standard Operating Procedures

Research that involves electricity should have a documented standard operating procedure (SOP). The purpose of the SOP is to create awareness and mitigate any hazards prior to starting a project. Established procedures can limit exposure to an electrical hazard.

Some items to include are:

  • Describe the scope of the project.
  • Voltage / Frequency / Current / Power / Energy used.
  • Identify all electrical exposures.
  • Consider additional hazards involved (e.g. chemicals).
  • If work cannot be deenergized, detail the engineering controls to be put in place and name the trained, qualified person.
  • Details on appropriate shielding, guarding and grounding.
  • PPE necessary for this application.
  • Emergency procedures.
  • Any additional training required for this project.


Contact EHS at 434.982.4911 for any questions or guidance.

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