Smart Safety: Long After Construction, Software and Apps Provide Contractors Recurring Revenue Through Safety Management

Smart Building Construction
Image credit: Shutterstock / Denisik11 / Golden Sikorka / Shuoshu

Facing tight budgets, an aging workforce and increasingly stringent safety standards, building managers are looking to third parties for electrical safety maintenance solutions. That means electrical contractors, who traditionally installed electrical systems only, are poised to help meet building requirements for safety maintenance on their electrical, automation and building management systems.

Safety standards are getting stricter for electrical systems and the contractors working on them. Fortunately, while regulations and customer expectations are growing, new technology used along with building integration have opened new solutions. As a result, some ECs offer services that create a source of recurring revenue for them and can save building managers the headache of handling equipment maintenance.

Data is at the root of most technology-based systems. Software platforms and apps help companies collect information about the function of electrical systems in a client’s building, and the contractor can then offer a safety and maintenance option in the form of a contractor service package.

By knowing the conditions of the electrical system, contractors can track equipment health and ensure the greatest risk—a catastrophic fire—never occurs, said Rob Griffin, global product line manager, Eaton.

The need for third-party support comes in part from budgetary constraints. Many building owners balance the need for greater productivity against the demand for safety. In fact, one of the biggest challenges building owners and managers face is shrinking operating costs, which they achieve by reducing the amount of maintenance needed on their electrical systems, which also increases their staff’s productivity, Griffin said. This can only be accomplished, though, with some form of automated maintenance systems to help them reduce operational cost.

The risk of injury to staff is another concern owners have about managing their own maintenance. Griffin said building managers and owners are well aware less maintenance reduces potential safety risks for staff members.

For a growing number of building owners, the viable option is to seek a third party, such as an EC, to conduct that maintenance and safety management. To manage a building’s system, contractors then have some considerations with regard to tools that collect and interpret system data.

Breaker safety management

For example, electrical and industrial power management company Eaton offers a line of circuit breakers, Power Defense, which provide several features intended to keep people safe, Griffin said.

The solution wasn’t designed specifically for contractors. The added intelligence on the breaker can allow facility managers themselves to gather and analyze real-time data, prompting condition-based maintenance of the electrical system. So, instead of time-based maintenance such as annual or biannual maintenance, an internet of things (IoT) system notifies building owners and managers when there is an issue, allowing maintenance to occur only when needed, rather than at prescheduled times. However, he says that contractors are now taking a role in managing that data as well, for both real-time information and even analytics.

Smart systems such as the Power Defense circuit breakers also are designed to provide visibility into where and why a fault occurred, which makes it easier, safer and faster to restore power. This also provides the user critical information about the integrity of their power distribution system through a breaker health algorithm.

Internet of things

Today, equipment features internal sensors that serve as an IoT solution to provide continuous monitoring and real-time data. Those sensors measure conditions such as temperature and vibration and forward that data to a cloud-based server, which grants service providers enough awareness to predict and prevent impending system failures, thereby keeping facilities online, safe and productive. These breakers then notify the user or maintenance service provider with more information about an electrical system than was possible before. By knowing more about the electrical system, they can intervene before anything happens to the system and before maintenance is needed.

These intelligent breakers also can communicate metering information, such as system loads for each device. Users can interpret this information to make the necessary system adjustments prior to problems arising.

Upgrading safety systems

There also is opportunity for contractors in updating a building’s system to include the intelligence they need to manage its operation and maintenance schedule “particularly in commercial construction applications where field upgradability is needed,” Griffin said. Intelligent equipment offers scalable options. Eaton provides upgradable trip units and field-installable accessories, for instance, that can be added as needed, as part of an upgrade to meet the evolving needs of each customer. In that way, contractors can install more advanced features and capabilities throughout their interactions with building owners.

Contractors typically sell monitoring services to customers by leveraging the various forms of communications embedded in smart equipment. That way, building managers can work out the predictive maintenance system that suits their needs, and if a building manager doesn’t want or isn’t able to monitor their own system, a contractor offers a full package with predictive maintenance services.

“The internet of things has changed everything in our world, including how contractors maintain circuit breakers,” Griffin said. While infrared technology has been applied for several years to get a better picture of breaker performance, the technology goes much further now. Today, intelligent circuit breakers can provide performance analytics in real time without needing a visual of the physical breaker.

This new intelligence improves facility and maintenance team productivity, because unnecessary maintenance is reduced or eliminated. In addition, when maintenance is required, the team immediately knows the issue’s cause, speeding up and easing the repair.

“Predictive maintenance is likely to become the norm,” Griffin said, as built-in intelligence grows in popularity and these capabilities will be available on more and smaller devices. This will provide ever more granular information about connected systems, improving safety and further enabling uptime.

App-based solutions also are making it easier for managers and contractors to ensure a building’s safety systems are in compliance. For example, technology company eCompliance offers environmental health and safety apps used by buildings as well as third-party providers, said Adrian Bartha, CEO. He pointed to a variety of challenges today’s building managers and owners face.

“We found the top key challenges are ensuring qualified contractors are on-site, following procedures, and ensuring we keep a low-risk environment for both tenants, residents and contractors,” he said.

The company offers a mobile app to automate common safety practices like building inspections, hazard identification and incident reporting. The data can then be shared across maintenance personnel and managers across all user companies for better system safety benchmarking with a goal of helping companies intervene with at-risk individuals before they get hurt (or affect the safety of a colleague).

The only constant is change

Apps can help users with related tasks such as configuring common safety or compliance forms, which they can share with others to identify the best of the industry—ultimately to create a highly configured safety system that supports a continuously improving safety culture.

“The only constant is change, so we need to ensure we support change along the way and evolve with our clients,” Bartha said.

For contractors, one sure-fire way to gain advantages over competitors is to share results of your safety activities with your clients, he said. For example, contractors can share a pre-job hazard assessment (paper or digital), provide a summary of proactive safety measures the company did in the last month, or demonstrate existing business processes and systems for the management process.

“It will show that you care for your workforce, you value quality of the job and that you’re taking it to the next level,” he said.

Customer demands are an ever-increasing challenge as technology provides more insights, so contractors need to be ready to meet those demands.

“Showing that you do safety right shows that you do many things right,” Bartha said. “Safety is a competitive advantage when it’s deliberate and transparent with your clients.”

Completing maintenance safely when it’s necessary may be one of the most important points. Here, too, technology can help.

Eaton offers an ArcFlash Reduction Maintenance System that helps protect workers by reducing dangerous arc flash incident-energy levels and enabling workers to activate this system from a safe distance without altering a breaker’s critical protection settings.

A circuit breaker equipped with an ArcFlash Reduction Maintenance System can improve safety by providing a simple and reliable method to reduce fault-clearing time. The unit also uses a separate, dedicated trip circuit designed to provide faster interruption times than the standard (digital) “instantaneous” protection.

There are a variety of approaches for contractors helping their customers work with these tools, Bartha said.

“Although there are similarities across electrical contractors, they differ significantly across end-markets. For instance—new construction differs widely from maintenance; industrial or commercial environments are very different than residential. And safety in installation and maintenance vary for them just as well.

“Also, every company is at its own phase of safety evolution and has some history around why they do things a certain way,” he said.

Stay Informed Join our Newsletter

Having trouble finding time to sit down with the latest issue of
ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR? Don't worry, we'll come to you.