Why Your Electrical Infrastructure is Too Important Not to Be a Maintenance Priority

The electrical infrastructure of a building, including distribution and controls, is the heart of any facility.

 

Too often, electrical systems aren’t always given the maintenance priority they might deserve. Today, we understand the importance of why the electrical infrastructure is critical to doing business and why plant safety can be enhanced with a little thought and planning.

For the majority of electrical work that happens in a facility, including scheduled maintenance, de-energizing the system is the fundamental requirement for safety. The electrical infrastructure of a building, including distribution and controls, is the heart of any facility. Without a reliable source of electricity, production would not be possible. So, what can be done to make electrical system maintenance a priority?

Schedule regularly, avoid spontaneity.
Even with the critical nature of electrical equipment, regularly scheduled maintenance needs to be a primary focus. Facility managers don’t often think about maintenance until a disruption, like an equipment failure, occurs within the system.

Neglecting regular maintenance of electrical equipment, especially over a long period of time, may lead to a disruption in facility operations and possibly a damaging system failure or an incident. Reliable equipment will increase safety and decrease property risks.

Don’t overlook the obvious.
Electrical equipment, especially what modern facilities are installing today, is well-designed, it’s safe to operate and it generally has a long service life. By nature, electrical systems are usually hidden from sight.

Thus, when it’s out of sight, it’s out of mind – awareness may not be raised as long as lights turn on and everything operates as it normally would. Even new equipment requires a proactive maintenance and service program and then it needs to be inspected to ensure it is properly installed, functioning and can be well maintained.

The Electrical System Can’t Always Speak for Itself.
Though sensors and condition-based monitoring are becoming more and more common, particularly thermal monitoring of critical electrical infrastructure, a fair amount of electrical equipment in use today still can’t warn us when a failure is imminent.

It could be less disruptive to operations if workers could identify equipment that is about to fail, before the failure occurs, so proper steps could be taken to prevent or minimize the downtime impact to people, processes, equipment and operations.

Regular maintenance is required to ensure that equipment can be operated as expected. For example, contacts that are not regularly exercised have a tendency to stick, or not open at all, leading to longer clearing times than expected.

Plan for maintenance.
While de-energizing equipment is a fundamental requirement for electrical safety, de-energizing by its nature is disruptive to facility operations. Thus, it is best to anticipate and plan for maintenance.

A conscious plan for maintenance is far financially advantageous to the other option, when unplanned maintenance occurs when least expected. It also may be helpful knowing that a facility-wide shutdown is happening, so steps can be taken to ensure operational disruptions will be minimized.

Maintenance shutdowns have a cost and require planning, so it’s important to anticipate the need and even budget appropriately. If the facility does not have trained and qualified electrical workers to perform the system maintenance, then many qualified service companies exist and can offer these services.

Planned maintenance has the distinct advantage of making sure that experts can be present. Some equipment manufacturers can even be onsite to assist customers with large PM programs when maintenance is scheduled in advance and not unplanned.

From Problem to Solution: NFPA 70E and the VeriSafe Absence of Voltage Tester

The VeriSafe – Absence of Voltage Tester (AVT) from Panduit supports compliance in the lockout/tagout process described in NFPA 70E.

 

Electrical workers must comply with safety regulations that require a voltage verification test before servicing electrical equipment. NFPA 70E, the Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace, addresses best practices for protecting employees from electrical hazards through the use of safety programs, hazard and risk identification, training, and procedures.

One of the best ways to protect workers is to isolate the electrical supply, follow lockout and tagout procedures, and verify the equipment is de-energized before any electrical work is performed. Until now, this process has been complex and time-consuming, fraught with possibilities for human error and potential exposure to hazards.

The verification step often puts electrical workers at risk for exposure to electrical hazards while testing a handheld tester on a known voltage source, testing for absence of voltage phase-to-phase and phase-to-ground inside the equipment, and re-testing the tester to ensure it is still functioning properly.

Until these steps have been completed, it is best to assume the equipment may be energized and take all necessary precautions including use of adequate personal protective equipment.

In the 2018 edition of NFPA 70E, a new exception was included in Article 120.5(7) that offers an alternative to the traditional hand-held testers method used to verify the absence of voltage: the option to use a permanently mounted device.

The permanently mounted test device can be used to test the conductors and circuit parts at the point of work before the equipment is accessed preventing exposure to electrical hazards. These permanently mounted devices must be installed at the point of work in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions, listed and labeled for the purpose of verifying the absence of voltage, and satisfy additional requirements outlined in the standard.

The permanently mounted test device is different from the test portal interface that is sometimes used with a handheld voltage tester. Although the test portals reduce exposure when verifying the absence of voltage, this process– working with hand tools via a portal – does not meet the requirements of the new Exception 1 in 120.5(7) because:

  • It is not listed for the purpose of verifying the absence of voltage
  • There is no way to confirm that the probes of the tester are actually in direct contact with the electrical conductors inside the enclosure at the time of the test
  • They bring hazardous voltage to the door

An example of a permanently mounted device that does meet the requirements of NPFA 70E is the absence of voltage tester (AVT).

The VeriSafe Absence of Voltage Tester from Panduit is specifically designed to verify the absence of voltage and fully complies with the new NFPA 70E standard. This ultimately simplifies the testing process and reduces risk for the qualified worker performing electrical work.

Automating this process with the VeriSafe AVT:

  • Reduces testing procedure time and complexity
  • Reduces the risk of exposure to electrical hazards
  • Supports compliance in the lockout/tagout process described in NFPA 70E

A facility’s electrical infrastructure is a top priority. With more than 60 years of infrastructure expertise, Panduit is committed to developing innovative solutions to help companies achieve their operational goals, reduce risk, and increase electrical safety.

Learn more about the VeriSafe - Absence of Voltage Tester here: www.panduit.com/verisafe

How Electrical Safety Technology Advancements Move From Ideas to Implementation

The VeriSafe AVT is a permanently-mounted test device designed to verify that a circuit is de-energized prior to opening an electrical enclosure.

The VeriSafe™ Absence of Voltage Tester (AVT) from Panduit simplifies the testing process by automating the voltage verification process.

 

When servicing electrical equipment, OSHA and the NFPA 70E Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace both direct these qualified electrical workers to de-energize all live parts to which an employee may be exposed.

Thus, the worker is required perform a voltage verification test to validate the absence of voltage. This is a complex testing process that includes a number of stages that can be cumbersome and time-consuming when using hand-held portable test instruments.

Before the testing even beings, it’s important for the worker to think ahead and not be forced to stop work to fetch other tools or testers that might throw their focus and contribute to an electrical accident.

Electrical safety, in terms of tools, has been advancing for decades. Today, we have infrared thermometers, cameras, and windows as well as laser distance meters and non-contact voltage detectors.

Early non-contact tools, like low-voltage, proximity testers were (and still are) good for a first test for voltage, but they required follow up with a direct-contact meter.

In general, proximity testers are flawed in that they may not work in all situations, as their readings are thrown off by a number of specific circumstances.

Solenoid testers used to be a popular tool of choice, but when voltage drops below 90 volts, the tool wasn’t reliable in indicating that voltage is present.

Some solenoid units with indicator lights stop lighting up at about 30 volts, some are prone to wear and scarring leaving inabilities to see voltage and today, solenoid testers aren’t fused and don’t comply with CAT safety rating requirements.

After the solenoid tester came the multimeter, which is a good tool for making accurate contact measurements to identify live circuits. However, one of the most common mistakes workers make when using a multimeter is turning it to the wrong function (amps instead of volts).

Verifying the operation of the voltage tester itself is also a task that needs to be performed.

Before beginning the absence of voltage test, it’s important to check the test instrument to ensure it is working properly – this is known as the  “live-dead-live” test, which is mandated by OSHA and is also required by the NFPA 70E when voltage is above 50 volts. The live-dead-live requirement was written into 70E in the 2009 update.

The VeriSafe™ Absence of Voltage Tester (AVT) from Panduit simplifies the testing process by automating the voltage verification process.

Voltage indicators are tools that can warn of hazardous voltage but cannot be used to confirm if the equipment is de-energized. The VeriSafe AVT is a permanently-mounted test device designed to verify that a circuit is de-energized prior to opening an electrical enclosure.

The idea for VeriSafe came as a product of Prevention through Design. In concept, it was designed to eliminate or avoid the electrical hazard.

With VeriSafe, the absence of voltage test is initiated with the push of a button; No additional tools required. The simplified process of automating for voltage verification is here.

More facilities are implementing advanced safety-first systems that remove doubt, reduce the chances of human error and boost worker productivity.

Just as the modern facility has advanced, so too has test technology that verifies the absence of voltage.

Learn more about Panduit absence of voltage testers here: https://www.panduit.com/en/products/safety-security/active-safety-devices/absence-of-voltage-testers.html

Ten Top Electrical Hazards and Panduit Solutions

Panduit innovates the products that protect people, places and things

Here are 10 of the most common causes of electrical death and injury.

The world knows a lot about electricity. Humankind knows how it’s made, how to use it, and humans even have a rudimentary understanding of how to store it.

And while experts understand electricity, they also know to respect it.

Because even before Ben Franklin inexplicably survived his interaction with a key, a kite, and a bolt of lightning, humans have known electricity is dangerous.

What follows are ten of the most common causes of electrical death and injury. The reader should take heed; each of these represents a preventable mishap.

Much like poor or inadequate communication, or mislabeled wires, these hazards are rooted in human behavior. In fact, another type of article could simply list “human error” as a single major cause of electrical mishaps.

There can be accidents wherever there are humans and electricity; here are some of the most dangerous situations.

  1. Overhead power lines

In the United States, nearly 46 percent of fatal workplace electrical mishaps are caused by contact with overhead wires.

Conversely, overhead wires are involved with only two percent of non-fatal mishaps. Those statistics are a grim reminder of the danger posed by overhead power lines; they pose an exceptional danger to the life of anyone who comes in contact with one.

  1. Lockout/Tagout Failure

Lockout/Tagout literally means to lockout circuits during construction and other electrical work. And the process works well; OSHA estimates that nearly 50,000 injuries2 are prevented every year by using proper procedures.

Solutions such as Panduit’s full line of lockout/tagout equipment make it easier to comply with safety procedures. Check out the line here.

  1. Damaged tools and equipment

Damaged equipment and faulty tools cause 37 percent3 of non-fatal workplace electrical mishaps. Whether it’s an old electric hand tool, one that’s been dropped, by the time it starts smoking, it’s been dangerous for a long time. Regular checks, maintenance, and awareness are critical to keeping tools safe in the workplace.

  1. Overloaded circuits

The National Fire Protection Association (U.S.) estimates that more than $1.4 billion4 in property damage is caused by overloaded circuits in homes every year.

Commercial statistics are difficult to come by, but what’s certain is that overloaded circuits cause an enormous amount of damage to commercial and residential property all across the globe. It’s a problem that’s easily solved by accurate labeling.

Panduit labeling solutions make this safety step quick, easy, and a must-have for any commercial application.

  1. Damaged insulation

Mice chew on wires. So do squirrels. But even without a plastic-munching rodent problem, wires can be damaged when they rub on other surfaces.

Repeated wear on the wires can break the insulation, allowing electric current to escape. Much of this abrasion can be eliminated with a good pest control program and using abrasion protection products like these.

  1. Inadequate wiring and terminations

Non-home structure fires involving electrical failure or malfunction accounted for an estimated annual average of 12 civilian deaths5, 210 civilian injuries, and $614 million each year from 2010-2014. Some of that damage and loss of life can be prevented simply by terminating wires correctly. Learn how here.

  1. Exposed electrical parts

Inadequate labeling, poor equipment condition, and even user error can cause electrical parts to be exposed, posing a significant risk to safety.

Clear communication and labeling, along with using high-quality products at every turn is a critical step to reducing the thousands of injuries caused every year by exposed electrical parts.

  1. Improper grounding

Improper grounding is the #1 electrical violation according to OSHA. It’s often overlooked and poorly understood. The Panduit line of grounding solutions makes grounding a simpler task with a complete line of tools and products.

  1. Qualification of the “qualified” electrical worker

NFPA 70E and OSHA regulations instruct that electrical circuits or equipment with at last 50 volts of electricity must be covered, protected, or made inaccessible to everyone except “qualified electrical workers.”

That worker is considered “qualified” when they have attained the training and experience to be familiar with the construction and operation of the equipment, along with any hazards. But that vague definition allows for a huge range of experience. Only with an ongoing safety program can any organization determine its workers are “qualified.”

  1. Verification for Absence of Voltage

Test lights are decades old technology. But meeting the challenges of today’s regulations and expectations means using a tool that’s permanently installed, like Panduit’s VeriSafe.

VeriSafe minimizes risk by verifying the absence of voltage before equipment is accessed, making it easier for qualified electrical workers to identify an electrically safe environment in a fraction of the time of hand-held portable test instruments. Learn more about VeriSafe, and how you can meet the NFPA 70E requirements here.

 

1 (Source: Brenner B, Cawley JC (2009). Occupational Electrical Injury and Fatality Trends: 1992-2007. EHS Today. Available at: http://ehstoday.com/construction/news/occupational-electrical-injury-3991. Accessed 01/19/2018, via https://www.nfpa.org/News-and-Research/Fire-statistics-and-reports/Research-reports/Electrical-safety/Occupational-Injuries-from-Electrical-Shock-and-Arc-Flash-Events accessed 1/18/2018)
2 (Source: EFSI.org,  https://www.esfi.org/resource/lockout-tagout-your-life-depends-on-it-544 accessed 2/12/18)
3 (source: https://www.nfpa.org/News-and-Research/Fire-statistics-and-reports/Research-reports/Electrical-safety/Occupational-Injuries-from-Electrical-Shock-and-Arc-Flash-Events accessed 1/18/2018)
4,5 (source: NFPA fact sheet, accessed here: https://www.nfpa.org/News-and-Research/Fire-statistics-and-reports/Fire-statistics/Fire-causes/Electrical-and-consumer-electronics/Electrical accessed 1/25/18)
6 (source: Office of Compliance, Congressional Accountability, fact sheet. https://www.compliance.gov/sites/default/files/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/Exposed-Energized-Wiring-Fast-Fact-Feburary-2010.pdf accessed 1/25/18)