Chapter Corner

Drilling for Safety

Posted in: Features, March 2017

Running drills serves as an important learning tool in many forums and should be considered to be included as part of your safety plan. I’m sure each of us has experienced a drill in one form or another, whether it be on a ball field or as part of a fire alarm drill at work or at school. The process of sounding an alarm and walking through the motions that must occur to demonstrate a preparedness should a real emergency occur is important. Both the act itself and the analysis after the event can serve to raise awareness of opportunities for improvement and recognition of successes. There is much that can be said about the phrase “practice makes perfect;” our challenge is to understand how we can leverage this more effectively with regard to safety.

Today, I would like to focus on electrical safety drills and spur the thought process on how the practice of going through the motions can help identify areas for improvement. Both NFPA 70E, “Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace,” and OSHA’s 29 CFR Part 1910, “Occupational Safety and Health Standards,” recognize the importance of emergency response training. Section 110.2(C), “Emergency Response Training,” of NFPA 70E recognizes that employees may be exposed to shock hazards and must be equipped to properly address. This may be through awareness of the hazards of shock to the team or instruction on how to release victims who may be in contact with exposed energized electrical equipment. Emergency response teams must be aware of electrical hazards as some accident locations may present hazards of their own to any who enter.

Let’s explore more on this topic of safety drills keeping in mind that the more senses we include in the learning process, the more chances we will have of ensuring lifesaving activities occur during emergency situations.


Emergency events are filled with distractions that can act to dismantle all of our well-intended safety plans. Because of the chaotic nature of an emergency at a facility, it can be difficult for a team to perform at their peak unless their activities become somewhat of a habit, leaving room in the brain to address the not so normal issues that arise. One could argue that it is important for us to understand how we learn and retain information as well as how habits are formed to ensure our teams are performing at their peak during an emergency. If we can make some of what needs to occur during an emergency a part of our team’s instinctive reactions, we may just provide additional time needed to respond to the not so normal occurrences.

Various research projects have shown that including more of our senses during the learning experience helps ensure better retention rates. The student doing something, executing tasks or crunching the numbers so to speak, helps with retention and understanding of the materials being presented. The more we can combine various methods of teaching the better off we are. Combining classroom discussion, reading, and “doing” activities is a healthy mix that when wrapped with repetition results in long lasting instinctive abilities. We have to identify ways for our emergency response teams to see, experience, and discuss for peak performance.

Retention of learning may vary depending upon the engagement of the group and the mix of delivery methods for the materials. As human beings, we have less than a 20% retention rate when simply reading or listening to lectures. That assumes the audience is listening. We increase our retention rates when we include some level of participation by the target audience. If we can get team discussions spurred, debates on principles being presented, or work in demonstrations during classroom events, then we can increase retention from less than 20% to somewhere between 20% and 75%. The real pay-off though is when we can implement a “learn by doing” experience that includes coaching and continued practicing. This increases the retention rates beyond 75%.

As safety professionals, we need to learn from this and develop our teams. Safety-based emergency drills can help our teams leverage the act of doing and take the classroom experience to the next level.


A well-prepared team is able to adjust and accommodate the unexpected and chaotic nature of emergencies. In the midst of an emergency, certain things must happen to ensure success. The basic three functions that must occur include the call for help, removal of the hazard, and initiation of first aid. It sounds simple, but every situation will present challenges that either prevent or delay these basic activities from occurring. Presence of electricity can complicate things. Our challenge is to anticipate and train for the unplanned and unexpected.

Running functional or full scale drills flexes more of the senses, which translates into a long lasting educational experience for those involved. The more elaborate the drill, the higher chance you will have of identifying opportunities to improve your emergency response team. On the other hand, the more elaborate and complex of a drill could lose an educational impact on those involved. A healthy balance must be maintained to ensure overall success. There are various documented approaches to safety drills that include workshop, functional, and full-scale activities. The right mix for you and your team should be agreed upon by all of those involved. One shoe doesn’t fit all.

The emergency drill can be an effective way to put the team through the paces, exposing them to situations that require instinctive actions as well as time to think and act to address the unplanned. The unplanned issues don’t have to be complex to send a team into a learning experience they will remember. Situational events that command thought and teamwork to address cannot be played out effectively in lecture.

After an electrical accident, the location of the victims can present challenges and/ or hazards to those being called upon to address their needs. First responders must understand the hazards presenting themselves and address them in an appropriate manner. The hazards may not be electrical in nature and could be as simple as lighting for visibility. The first responder teams must be prepared.

A documented emergency full-scale drill at an industrial facility demonstrated an incident that included loss of power to the lighting in the electrical room where the incident was being simulated and to the facility’s fire station building that served as the primary incident command center. It was during the execution of this drill that the first responder teams recognized they were not equipped to properly address a situation where the room they were entering did not have appropriate lighting. The act of entering a room where an electrical accident has occurred – where energized conductors or other hazards may exist – can lead to devastating results for those first responders if not prepared. In addition to the basics of dealing with lighting of the area where the injured personnel were located, the loss of power to the primary incident command center also presented some unique challenges for the team. The emergency response team could not electrically open the fire station doors. In addition, there were locations that were completely dark due to an emergency lighting system that did not last the required 90 minutes or did not function at all. Because power was lost to the primary incident command center, the personnel had to move to a secondary incident command center. This caused confusion because some personnel were not aware of the location of the secondary center and – once there – learned that they could not operate the relatively elaborate communication control system in the room. The teams were not able to adjust in an efficient manner. These issues played out in real world functional drills teach invaluable lessons that if left to a classroom would not have been as well received, if received at all.

From this one example of a full-scale drill, lessons were learned and modifications made to help the team function better should a real event occur. They learned that having a knowledgeable electrical resource who was familiar with the electrical system of the site was invaluable to the performance of the team. This resource not only helps during an event to understand how the electrical distribution system may or may not perform during the emergency, the resource also helps create the training experience for the team identifying points of failure and how the teams should react. Equipment was modified as a result of this drill due to a raised awareness of a lack of specific tools needed during this emergency. Lessons were learned not only by the team members but also by those in leadership roles.


Walking through the details of an emergency event with all of those doing their jobs that would have to be done during the emergency can do wonders to identify needed improvements and can save lives. Consider adding full-scale drills to your program and practice on regular schedules to help your team perform during chaotic emergency events.

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 VP of Technical Sales for Eaton’s Bussmann business within the Circuit Protection Division of Eaton Corporation. Thomas is based out of St. Louis, MO, and has more than 25 years of experience as an Electrical Engineer. He is a LEED Accredited Professional and a licensed Professional Engineer in the state of Pennsylvania. Thomas is active in various trade organizations including the Independent Electrical Contractors (IEC), International Association of Electrical Inspectors (IAEI), Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers(IEEE), National Electrical Manufacturer’s Association (NEMA), and the National Fire Protection Association(NFPA).Thomas is Principle member on Code Making Panel 2 for the National Electrical Code (NFPA70) and an Alternate member on NFPA 73 for electrical inspections of existing dwelling units, both representing NEMA.