How to engineer and maintain safe electrical work practices
With the end of May comes the end of National Electrical Safety Month. An entire month dedicated to safety – at home, at work and wherever else our lives take us. But is this enough? Shouldn’t we treat every day as a “safety day”? The irony of “National Electrical Safety Month” is that, every day in May, there was a story about an injury or fatality that could have been prevented through simple steps and planning.
Between OSHA, NFPA, and a slew of other acronyms representing agencies and organizations focused on safety, there are numerous guidelines and policies in place that direct operations for business. The concept “culture of safety” is always pushed by companies and thought leaders alike, but it sits as an incomplete solution because it relies on people. Although most optimists want to keep hold of their faith in humanity, data shows us that human error is often the root cause of incidents in high-risk industries. The issue, then, is to figure out how to remove or minimize human error wherever possible.
The simple answer is to adopt a three-step technological approach of “monitor, inspect and manage” to create an ecosystem of safety-focused operations that remove the human element’s risk. This is not to say that humans should be replaced with technology. Instead, we should eliminate the numerous risk-based behaviors that occur in the workplace through technology. And, to be successful, this must be a top-down program in which the entire work environment is approached as function follows form. This means the physical environment drives the operational environment.
With the use of an online monitoring system on electrical equipment, asset conditions can be continually collected, trended and assessed. Monitors feed data through a gateway to software and apps, allowing the information to be continuously accessed from workstations and mobile devices.
When the asset condition data exceeds the custom parameters, alarms can notify electrical technicians of a possible issue that may require inspection. Keeping human interaction with equipment to only instances where inspections of potential faults are deemed necessary minimizes workers’ exposure to risk.
Once the wireless monitoring system notifies technicians of a possible issue, the use of inspection windows on the asset allows a safe, efficient method of inspecting and assessing any possible issue in an energized condition. Once solely designed for thermographic inspections using infrared cameras, advancements in manufacturing have led to the inclusion of ports that allow for ultrasound and partial discharge technologies to be incorporated into the inspection. Visual, infrared and ultrasound inspections can be done simultaneously by a single employee.
This design protects inspectors from arc flash/electrocution risk, removes the need for bulky and expensive personal protective equipment, and allows the inspection to be accomplished more efficiently. Not only does this represent a significant process improvement driven by original design, but it also falls in line with the most recent NFPA 70E updates and continues to protect critical assets from human interaction/mistakes that may cause failure.
The data collected during inspection can be stored through intelligent asset management tags attached to the pre-installed inspection windows. From the asset location, information can be transmitted into a dashboard system accessible from workstations and mobile devices.
Customizable routes can be established before, and condition reports generated after, data analysis to further increase efficiency. These design aspects allow managers to assess operations and limit the amount of “scheduled exposure to risk” that so many archaic, yet still employed, systems cause.
The proper tools are only as useful as the hands wielding them. Shifting to an engineered reliability system for the electrical maintenance team means training new and veteran staff alike. With “monitor, inspect and manage,” the use of technology allows single individuals to accomplish inspection tasks with minimal training. Online learning systems offer on-demand educational and training resources that teach the use of these specific technologies.
The physical environment of any factory, plant, facility, etc., is the setting where risk-based behaviors take place, with both machinery and power systems posing the highest threats to worker safety. Structuring out hazards through technology drastically reduces the opportunities for incidents/injuries/fatalities to occur, and as an added bonus, increases the reliability of assets and efficiency of the team.
— By Michael Riccio, firstname.lastname@example.org, Global Marketing Manager, IRISS