Hands on for Safety
We live and work in an electrical industry that can be dangerous at times. We all must continue to sharpen our skills through continuous education. This education does not come from a one-size-fits-all,off-the-shelf training program. There are many approaches to training and the best program is that which meets your needs and yields results. Results come in a safer work environment and dollars to the bottom line. Electrical safety is more than just applying a product or sitting through a training class; it’s a regiment of training and procedures implemented in combination with technology that saves lives. Working smarter, utilizing what you learn and the tools available on the job, is a good way to begin to work safer.
Flex Your Membership
Training is fundamental to safety and should not be perceived as time absorbed to just earn continuing education credits; you need to absorb the material presented and use it. Learning is best achieved and will last the longest when more of your senses are utilized. Listening in a classroom or sitting behind a computer for online training should be accompanied by activities that help the material sink in. Practical application of what you learn is important. Training doesn’t end; it is ongoing.
You can leverage many resources including your IEC membership. As an IEC member, education and networking opportunities are not far away. It is up to you to flex your membership. State/local chapter meetings and this magazine are opportunities to leverage and continue your life-long education journey. Code changes, code questions, electrical topics like grounding and residential wiring, and many others are just a few of the topics you can discuss with other IEC members. Building your network with others in the trade is important for your continued success.
Trade magazines like Insights also provide good information for reference. I personally keep all of my Insights magazines, as well as other trade magazines to which I subscribe, filed away not too far from my desk. Another method I use for some periodicals is to snip key articles and file them by topic.
Tools of Safety
There are many products on the market today that can make a difference when it comes to saving life and property from the worst that electricity has to offer. Not all of these tools are products. The following are just a few examples:
Your safety plan is an important product that you manufacture yourself for your own organization. Just about every presentation and training seminar I deliver has time set aside to poll the audience and talk about their safety plan. I’ve had various individuals tell me that they don’t have a safety plan because they do residential work. My response to that is a safety plan is important no matter what market or structure you work in. Put the basics of your plan in your truck to remind yourself on every job. Working de-energized should be at the top of your list.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
PPE is not limited to those big, heavy suits that protect you from arc flash. PPE also includes eye and ear protection. We can sometimes forget about these most basic items that protect the most sensitive areas of our bodies. You may not be in front of energized equipment and may be working de-energized but you will still need your eye and ear protection. Every day we experience sound in our environment, such as the sounds from television, radio, household appliances, and traffic. Normally, we hear these sounds at safe levels that do not affect our hearing. However, when we are exposed to harmful noise — sounds that are too loud or loud sounds that last a long time — sensitive structures in our inner ear can be damaged causing noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). These sensitive structures, called hair cells, are small sensory cells that convert sound energy into electrical signals that travel to the brain. Once damaged, our hair cells cannot grow back. So how loud is too loud?
110 Decibels: Regular exposure of more than 1 minute risks permanent hearing loss.
100 Decibels: No more than 15 minutes of unprotected exposure recommended.
85 Decibels: Prolonged exposure to any noise at or above 85 decibels can cause gradual hearing loss.
To put this in perspective, the following gives an idea of decibels vs. sound source:
|110||Chain saw, rock concert|
|105||Personal stereo system at maximum level|
|100||Wood shop, snowmobile|
|85||Heavy city traffic|
|0||Threshold of normal hearing|
Your eyes are yet another sensitive area that must be protected. In many cases you may not be actually performing the work but still need eye protection. The most basic PPE is not limited to eyes and ears. Don’t forget about your feet and hands and even your knees. Wearing the correct PPE while you work is important no matter what you are doing. Make sure your PPE is up to date and on your person — not in the truck.
Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI)
This technology has been around for quite some time and has saved many lives. Job sites that have temporary power have requirements in the code that specifically call for GFCI protection. These requirements are there for a reason. But you don’t have to stop at the bare minimum code requirements. GFCI can provide protection on more than just those circuits in a home that have been called out in the National Electrical Code (NEC). Going above and beyond is not a code violation.
Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters (AFCI)
These products too have been around for quite some time and have prevented fires and found many wiring mistakes/damaged conductors and a good number of damaged appliances. This is an unforgiving technology that can detect problems. You do not have to only include these on the circuits that have been identified in the NEC. They can be applied on any 15A and 20A circuit and will find the problems that can be detrimental to the occupants of the structure. It’s that electrical inspector that you leave in the loadcenter that keeps an eye out for problems.
Arc Reduction Technologies
In addition to GFCI and AFCI solutions on the market, there are many solutions now available that work to reduce the energy on a system when a fault occurs. The NEC now has Section 240.87 that specifically calls out these technologies, or approved equivalent, for certain installations.
You can always go above and beyond when it comes to implementing these technologies. Zone Selective Interlocking and Arc Flash Reduction Switches have been used for many years in industrial power systems for certain markets. Now the code is beginning to recognize the value of these technologies and requiring them under certain conditions.
Arc Resistant Electrical Equipment
Those big gray boxes we live and work with on a daily basis are also now being designed to channel arc flash energy up and out as opposed to directly in front of the gear where we typically stand and walk. A little thought during the design process can make a big difference down the road when it comes to safety. A little education and awareness goes a long way.
Handheld safety equipment
We can’t forget those tools that make it possible to detect problems and also indicate what is energized keeping us out of harm’s way. These handheld devices are great tools but just as with any product, if you do not apply them correctly, they can be dangerous. Reading instructions and being diligent about how they are used is critical. Misapplied meters and other equipment, handheld or not, may result in disaster. Remember to read the instructions and apply all of your products correctly. These products can be a great asset to your organization. From infrared cameras to meters, there is a broad range of solutions available that can help detect wiring problems and system issues. They are worth the investment.
The above is just a sample of the various types of solutions available on the market. Simply having these products on your project or in your truck does not mean they will achieve the expected goal. They must be utilized appropriately and included in your safety plans and procedures to be effective.
Procedures in Practice
As noted earlier, electrical safety is more than just applying a product or sitting through a training class; it’s a regiment of training and procedures implemented in combination with technology that saves lives. We can be very knowledgeable and have all of the best safety solutions employed in our facility. We may even have the best that PPE has to offer hanging in a closet or in a bag that is readily accessible. If you don’t make the first move and flex all of this horsepower, that investment was all for nothing. You must get moving and work to make a safe environment for you and those around you. Be an advocate of safety by doing the bare minimum — share your knowledge with those around you. Be that mentor that makes a difference in an apprentice’s life. Spreading your knowledge just may save a life or keep someone out of the hospital.
As always, keep safety at the top of your list and ensure you and those around you live to see another day.
Thomas Domitrovich, P.E., is a National Application Engineer with IEC Platinum Industry Partner Eaton Corporation in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He has more than 20 years of experience as an electrical engineer and is a LEED Accredited Professional. He is active in various trade organizations on various levels with IEC, the International Association of Electrical Inspectors, the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), the National Electrical Manufacturer’s Association (NEMA), and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Domitrovich is involved with and chairs various committees for NEMA and IEEE and is an alternate member on NFPA 73. He is very active in the state-by-state adoption process of NFPA 70, working closely with review committees and other key organizations in this effort.