I won’t get too righteous about compliance, but I will say this: we need to start taking electric safety rules a lot more seriously. Not least of all because we are worried about citations or fines, but because we have a responsibility to keep our employees safe.
A few months ago our team was chatting with a service manager whose team is working on electric vehicles (EVs), mostly maintenance and some repairs. He confided to us that while some of the technicians had manufacturer training, he wasn’t sure they were following the right protocols, except wearing rubber gloves. I mentioned they look into the regulations and standards for more guidance.
His face froze in fear: “What regulations?”
Hearing OSHA, he slumped back, visibly relieved. “Oh good.” He emphasized. “I thought you meant real regulations.”
Raise your hand if you’ve heard, “This is the Wild West” in reference to electric vehicles. This feels especially true on the operational side, where there isn’t as much of a roadmap as there is around installations and grants. Fleets usually find us when someone from their facilities departments or insurance pops by suddenly asking to see a risk assessment. While you can’t conquer the Wild West, you can definitely navigate it using existing regulations.
OSHA electrical safety can be a minimum standard, but by all means, fleets and service providers can definitely do more. The NFPA 70E in particular, which is much more prescriptive, is table stakes.
There is also a wealth of free and affordable resources provided by SAE and ASE, which just launched two electric safety certifications in March of 2023. Level one of this training is designed for all employees, including drivers and administrators working near electric vehicles. While the goal will be standardization when it comes to safety, these resources are complementary and cross-reference each other.
Taking a Loook at Electric Vehicle Safety
First, this is not to suggest electric vehicles are unsafe. Electric vehicles are engineered to be exceptionally safe. While the rumor mill works overtime, the risk of electric vehicles or chargers imploding in your warehouse or causing engulfing fires is highly overblown and extremely unlikely.
However, a slip in precautions is all it takes for electric hazards like arc flash incidents and electric shocks to strike. Electric vehicles and chargers pack hundreds, sometimes up to many thousands of volts. While the chance of encountering high voltage even during repair is extremely low, it’s never impossible. Workplaces that lack relevant administrative controls are much, much more likely to have this happen.
Administrative controls are tangible actions such as providing awareness training or ensuring personal protective equipment or PPE. Ironically, almost all workplaces, even if they do not have any other administrative control, will almost always provide gloves. Meanwhile, while necessary, gloves should be the last line of defense in an electrically safe workplace.
Once broken down into its parts, building an electrically safe workplace is actually not complicated. Despite some edge cases, the lack of ambiguity around what not to do is extremely helpful. For fleets and shops who refuse to touch electric vehicles, this can be comforting. With the right precautions, there is no reason for fleets not to do their own preventative maintenance for example, or for shops to generate revenue from these vehicles or even, down the line, chargers.
Separately, technicians, once they feel confident enough to work on these vehicles, find their fears dissipate. Every single technician, today poking around in an EV unfazed, has a story about their first time working on an electric vehicle and shaking for two hours or sweating through their gloves.
When it comes to electric vehicle safety, it's the rare time we’ve talked to folks from both sides of the aisle, asking for more government oversight. This seems inevitable. Closer to home,the electrical trades offer a precedent for how folks think about safety. International regulations covering electric vehicle operations, with the exception of the United Kingdom, are extremely strict. While we hope it never happens, we are one bad accident away from this move accelerating.
Ultimately, there are probably still a few folks out there who don’t think it's worth investing in safety. To them, I’d say, do it because building a safe workplace is ultimately your cheapest option. Workers compensation lawsuits will pinch a lot, and so will whistleblower verdicts. Insurance providers dropping coverage or tripling premiums will be a lot more expensive than spending $30 every six months to test gloves.
Ultimately, the fleet industry has always prioritized safety. I have no doubt our ecosystem will continue to do the same in the future.
Originally posted on Automotive Fleet