Ever Vigilant

During my career, I have encountered many electricians and engineers who considered installing power quality monitors to be a nonhazardous job that requires nothing more than hooking up the voltage clip leads and putting on the current probes to the proper conductors. They didn’t put on the proper personnel protective equipment (PPE) for the potential hazard, nor did they read the user’s guide for the equipment that they were using.

“I’ve done it hundreds of times before this way” or “I haven’t got time to get that stuff” or “This will only take a minute; it’s not worth it” are among the explanations given for the behavior. Yet every one of them would consider him or herself a “qualified person” to do the task.

OSHA’s 29 CFR 1910, Occupational Safety and Health Standards, the National Electrical Code (NEC), NFPA 70E and other documents refer to a qualified person as one who is familiar with the construction and operation of the equipment and the hazards involved. A good phrase to add to this is “and how to avoid those hazards.” Clearly, they aren’t qualified.

According to the latest data from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) National Traumatic Occupational Fatalities (NTOF) surveillance system, the fifth leading cause of accidental death in the United States is electrocution among workers. Each day, approximately one person dies from electrical accidents, five to 10 people in the United States are seriously burned from an arc flash explosion, and approximately 140 deaths occur each year in the electrical trades, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Even though power quality monitors are usually hooked up to “low voltage,” low-voltage systems (under 1 kilovolt) can cause fatal or serious injuries. Forty (54 percent) of the lower voltage electrocutions involved accidents at 120/240 volts. The electrical explosions can cause instantaneous third-degree burns, broken bones from the shock wave and/or the result of being hurtled back through the air, deafness from the sound, and permanent loss of functionality of various parts of the body. Depending on environmental and individual body conditions, just 10 milliamps of current flowing through the body can lead to serious injury or death.

The National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee (NJATC) has a book that is used in training courses, “Electrical Safety-Related Work Practices.” Based on the NFPA 70E, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace, and the related OSHA requirements, it covers the following:

• Electrical safety culture
• Hazard awareness
• Design considerations
• Electrical safety program
• Training
• Calculation of short-circuit currents
• Arc flash hazard analysis methods
• Personal protective equipment
• Equipment maintenance

The book is a reference not just for electricians but anyone who deals with live or potential live electrical circuits, as is often the case with power quality monitoring. The primary writer, Palmer Hickman, is a knowledgeable person in the field and sits on a number of committees, including NFPA 70E and NFPA 70B.

There also are contributions from a number of other well-known people in the field, many of whom are also very active in the industry and standards--making committees. To drive home the point, each chapter opens with a case study of someone who was either killed or seriously injured in an incident that could have been prevented. It follows with detailed yet easily readable information that is essential to carrying out electrical safety-related work practices. The chapters conclude with a summary, lessons learned and a list of current knowledge that the reader should have acquired after going through the chapter.

The onus is not just on the workers. Employers must also be responsible, and that begins by acknowledging that the problems really do exist in the current system and working to eliminate electrical injury or the potential for injury. Whereas everyone strives to work on de-energized electrical systems, it is acknowledged that this is not always possible. Unfortunately, the facility manager who has just had a critical process interrupted due to a power quality disturbance may not be willing to have the process interrupted again in order to connect the monitoring equipment on a de-energized circuit. The concept of Energized Electrical Work Friendly (EEWF) is slow to gain acceptance but is an attempt to address the need to not impact productivity and also to not compromise the worker’s safety.

Disregarding proper safety procedures jeopardizes not just your safety and the safety of anyone else in the area, it jeopardizes the operation of the facility as well. The statistics clearly show that accidents are not something that just happens to someone else. They often happen to those who didn’t take the necessary precautions to make them preventable incidents. Safety is something that you cannot afford to not follow. Safety isn’t a one-month-a-year event in May. Don’t let this be you or someone you know.

BINGHAM, a contributing editor for power quality, can be reached at 732.287.3680.

About the Author

Richard P. Bingham

Power Quality Columnist
Richard P. Bingham, a contributing editor for power quality, can be reached at 732.287.3680.

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