What’s New and What’s Safe: Electrical Technology and Safety for Our Times

Technology May 2018

In 2017, three employees were unloading and staging structural metal beams with a boom truck crane. The truck-mounted crane was moving the beams from an open-top container when the boom truck cable touched a high-power line, causing an electrical current to flow down the steel beam into the bodies of all three employees, electrocuting them.

This incident, shared by Brett Brenner, president of Electrical Safety Foundation International, Rosslyn, Va., demonstrates the importance of electrical safety awareness. Avoiding tragedies such as this one requires disciplined training and scrutiny.

Training value

“Overall, electrical injuries and fatalities appear to be declining,” he said. “The electrocutions that do occur appear to occur in the construction industry rather than the electrical industry. In 2016, 53 percent of all fatal electrical injuries occurred in the construction industry, down from 60 percent in the preceding year. This leads us to assume that maintenance workers or otherwise unlicensed or underqualified personnel are performing electrical work, calling for a need for better training for these workers.”

To ensure the safety of ECs and the general public, it is critical that states and jurisdictions promptly adopt each latest version of the National Electrical Code (NEC). Brenner said compliance with the NEC also encourages the use of safety products, such as ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCI), to prevent deaths and injuries.

“While GFCIs have been around since the 1970s, new GFCI requirements have been introduced in various editions of the [NEC], including the 2017 edition,” he said.

New technology, new risks

Many companies install and expand internet of things (IoT) networks with sensors and control systems. Selecting components, wiring and equipment requires careful scrutiny of the electrical safety of these new, unfamiliar materials.

“Any time an electrician is wiring for new technologies, such as the interconnectivity of internet of things, new dangers will present themselves, and new safety rules must be learned,” said Warren Tarbell, inventor of the Voltclaw and CEO of Nonconductive Tool Co., Torrance, Calif.

The internet can be a source of safety education. With countless videos demonstrating the “how-to” of complex electrical projects and wiring tasks, users can watch a fellow electrician tackling the very sophisticated electrical situation in front of them. (Blooper videos also can teach viewers what not to do.)

Sheri Hanson, director of U.S. services, safety, and environment at Schneider Electric, said with the proliferation of the IoT and connected devices, engineers and ECs are at the forefront of a paradigm shift in safety driven by changes in electrical equipment and technology.

“This shift is requiring electricians to learn new skills, such as how to use augmented reality and smartphones to assess gear,” Hanson said. “At the same time, standards and regulations are continually evolving, creating both opportunities and complexities specific to power systems’ operations and maintenance. This is all while, across the board, budgets are tightening and time pressures are mounting.”

By working with a partner, including the equipment manufacturer, ECs can address these growing challenges while keeping safety in check.

“Manufacturers with robust field services teams can not only correct issues but offer hands-on expertise throughout a system’s entire life cycle to ensure safety and enhance reliability,” Hanson said. “This includes factoring in safety at the outset through system planning and design assistance, ensuring proper installation and operation, conducting engineering and risk analyses, identifying and addressing safety compliance issues, and leading modernization projects.”

Designed for safety

“For the most part, the best equipment will prevent injuries by the worst employees,” said Rick Jones, senior marketing manager for electrical apparatus and lighting, Emerson Automation Solutions. “That isn’t to say that training isn’t as important or even more important [than equipment], only that equipment can prevent very bad outcomes from poor workmanship.

“Take, for example, explosion-proof equipment in a hazardous location. In the event of a gas or fluid accidentally spilled or leaked, an explosion will not be ignited by the electrical equipment. Explosion-proof equipment is always built for the worst-case scenario,” he said.

ECs work in an environment that is always changing and incorporating new and advanced technology. Relationships with manufacturers, regulators, code developers, and safety training providers are key to accommodate the challenges of new equipment and electrical technology applications.

“I believe electrical contractors are safer than ever,” Nonconductive Tool Co.’s Tarbell said. “There have been huge strides in the materials and designs used in modern electrical tools. […] That being said, we need to continually strive to be better and safer.”

About the Author

Jim Romeo

Freelance Writer

Jim Romeo is a freelance writer based in Chesapeake, Va. He focuses on business and technology topics. Find him at www.JimRomeo.net.

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