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The Importance of planning for safe electrical work

It is pretty safe to say that our world pretty much runs on electricity, in fact just about every factor of our lives relies on electricity working well, and if for some reason it is not working it doesn’t take much to notice. In fact according to where it states the Greatest Achievement of the 20th Century, ‘electrification’ is the most important of the top 20 engineering achievements. Why? Because the other 19 would not have been possible without electricity. Now that’s something to think about. It’s a funny thing though, although each one of us use electricity numerous times a day, in fact it wouldn’t be far off to say that we use electricity in some way every minute of every day, and yet the average person knows so little about how it works and the powerful force it really is. Behind those walls, under our roads, hidden behind the wall sockets is a whole labyrinth of wires and circuits, complex circuits and connections, all carefully laid out and connected to the smallest detail, so that all we really have to do is flip a switch and there you have it, it works.
Although not everyone understands electricity and how it all works like an electrician does, it is still imperative to know the importance of proper electrical planning to ensure safety. Just as one relies on well working electrical wiring and appliances in everyday life, one can only imagine the scale of that when it comes to commercial electrical work in factories, plants and other industrial work places. Therefore it can be understood that it is more than necessary that any electrification is properly updated and all electrical systems are thoroughly maintained routinely with the highest standards otherwise the reliability of those systems will suffer and so will the reliability of your work. It goes without saying that competent and qualified permanent staff, contractors, or combinations of both are mandatory to ensure a smooth and well-functioning electrical system.
In the Ontario Health and Safety Act a “competent person” means “a person who,
1. is qualified because of knowledge, training and experience to organize the work and its performance,
2. is familiar with this Act and the regulations that apply to the work, and
3. has knowledge of any potential or actual danger to health or safety in the workplace.”
However a problem usually arises in defining what a qualified work and competent supervisor really means. Many works are given promotions and responsibilities on the amount of work they are able to accomplish in a day, while this is important, it alone should not be a deciding factor. Electrical Supervisors not only need to be able to do the electrical work themselves but they must also be masters at safe work planning. So how do you proceed in finding a qualified electrical supervisor and what do you need to look when looking for opportunities and areas to improve electrical safe work planning? According to Mike Dohery, a licensed industrial electrician with over36 years of experience, he lays it out in a simple five-step process.
For a more details description of this five step process please read the excerpt below in Mike’s very own words.

A simple five-step process is described here as one concept:
1. Identification of “all” electrical hazards for any specific task
2. Quantification of all identified hazards for any specific task
3. Strategies based on the above two steps
4. Document, document, document
5. Communicate, communicate, communicate.

All electrical hazards must be identified before starting work. In electrical work, this could include:
1. low, medium and high voltage direct contact
2. flashover
3. induced
4. step potentials
5. arc flash/blast.

All identified electrical hazards must then be quantified. This is relatively straight forward for electrical hazards A through noted above if done correctly, but not so evident for identified arc flash/blast hazards. They can be comprised of radiative and convective heat, dangerous decibels to ears, hazardous IR/UV to eyes, super heated noxious metal vapor harmful to lungs, shrapnel, molten metal and, of course, blast pressures. IEEE standard 1584 really only addresses the heat in cal/cm2. ArcPro software can do the same for single phase in open air with factors to be applied for three-phase in enclosures. Existing engineering formulas exist as well. The ongoing IEEE/NFPA Collaborative Research Project is doing much of this testing to give hard scientific evidence for most of these other hazards to be quantified. Additional information about this project can be viewed at:

Once all the hazards have been identified and quantified to current knowledge, supervisors must draft the required strategies to ensure safe work and no destruction of the electrical equipment, in particular from an arc flash/blast event.
The number one strategy bar none is TURN OFF THE POWER, complete with a comprehensive and effective Lockout-Tagout or Utility Work Protection Code. A high-level electrical supervisor is also a master of this strategy in the isolation and de-energization (grounding) of electrical equipment as required.
There should be justification for doing “energized work” from upper managers who are accountable and will sign off on it. Sometimes tasks like troubleshooting or diagnostics require energized work. If so, electrical utilities have very detailed and safe work practice procedures to follow. It is highly recommended that industrial establishments use the outstanding “Energized Electrical Work Permit” concept from current editions of the U.S.‘s NFPA 70E or Canada’s CSA Z462. Used correctly, these documents cover all the bases from an electrical safe work planning and due diligence viewpoint.

Document, document, document.

It cannot be emphasised strongly enough just how important this step is. It is a critical component of Step 3. Electrical workers, and in particular electrical supervisors, who execute work using only “tribal knowledge” or verbal instructions as a work practice instead of written procedures, put themselves at risk of injury and put the plant’s reliability at risk. If electrical task descriptions are not clear, concise and documented, the risk is much higher. Good documentation can also exonerate supervisors and upper managers from liability where extensive injury and/or destruction of plant equipment have taken place.

Communicate, communicate, communicate.

An outstanding electrical supervisor who lowers the risk of injury to workers and reduces potential significant downtime to the plant is also a master communicator.
Master electrical supervisors know their crew. They get to know any electrical contractors that may be involved. They issue clear, concise and documented safety and work instructions at all times. They ensure that their crews listen and understand all portions of the work, otherwise they stop and regroup. They look for error likely situations and use repeat backs from their staff to ensure that they are totally engaged.
Upper managers need to audit supervisors’ skill sets often for electrical safe work planning. If there are gaps, upper managers must get the supervisors the comprehensive training required.
Ultimately, every plant that wants to be safe, world-class, profitable and offer good, honest work to its community needs to ensure that their potential “Achilles heel” – their electrical system – is maintained by top guns in all phases of the work.
Having safe electrical work planning that is a recognized and valued component of your reliability chain and executed by competent and qualified electrical supervisors defines the statement, “Good Safety is Good Business.”
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