How to Provide Electrical Safety and Reduce Costs

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Electricity is a serious workplace hazard.  Its use is essential, yet every year many workers suffer injury or death from accidents involving electrical equipment. Every company that relies on electricity requires a safety program to protect its employees from electrocution, arc flash, or other electrical hazards.  OSHA recognizes electricity as a serious workplace hazard – just one serious workplace injury could outweigh the time and cost to develop a proper electrical safety program.  The essential elements for an electrical safety program should include the combination of a proper electrical design, administrative procedures, and work practice controls.  The self-interpretation of NFPA 70E and NEC requirements are not adequate.  To establish the most effective safety program, analysis and recommendations from both a Professional Engineer (the designer) and a Master Electrician (the implementor) are advisable.

Electrical Design.  Sometimes off-the-shelf components cannot reduce the probability of danger when working around electrical equipment.  Under those conditions, installing specially designed components within your electrical equipment will reduce the probability of electrical hazards.  Every company would benefit from engineered controls such as arc-energy reduction switches, zone selective interlocking, high-speed tripping, remote control schemes, differential relaying, sensitive ground-fault protection, or fiber-optic flash sensing.  Considering these components would lower the probability of employee injury or death, and most likely reduce your insurance premiums.  Such controls can often be installed on existing electrical equipment or considered when specifying the purchase of new capital equipment.

Administrative Procedures.  Developing proper administrative controls for your workforce to engage with your electrical equipment is an inexpensive step toward reducing workplace accidents.  Administrative controls define the specific roles, training, and knowledge required for supervisors, and how to distinguish qualified vs. unqualified personnel.  These controls also include the necessary criteria to recognize the latest safety practices to allow an unqualified person to become qualified.

Work Practice Controls.  Work practice controls explain the appropriate procedure for performing electrical work, such as lockout/tagout procedures to establish an “electrically safe work condition” and under what conditions performing live work is justified. Live work, when absolutely necessary is undertaken by executing a comprehensive “energized electrical work permit”.  This could even include tasks as simple as operating or racking circuit breakers to complex tasks such as performing hot-phasing on a paralleling switchgear.

It is always safer to work with the electricity off, but some critical facilities cannot afford an electrical outage, intentional or not.  Proper work practice controls will show your employees how to operate the equipment or work on it safely under electrically live conditions. Preparing an electrical safety program must be specific to your company, the complexity of your facility, your production goals, and your safety culture.  Such preparation requires a solid understanding of both electrical engineering and electrical construction.  When properly designed and implemented, a well-documented electrical safety program will save your company more than it costs.

For more information on how to develop an effective electrical safety program, please call me, Priyan De Silva, at (240) 582-3900 — Helios Electric LLC.