Maintenance is a part of each of our lives in one manner or another, important for both longevity and safety. We invest in vehicle maintenance not only to ensure it lasts but also to be sure key components, like brakes, work when we need them. The electrical distribution system is a system that should receive the same level of attention that many things do in our lives, but unfortunately it doesn’t receive the attention important to ensure performance over the life of the facility it serves. We can’t take a set-it and forget-it mentality and expect these systems to last forever. This realization is the beginning of your journey to a long-lasting, well performing system that will pay dividends.
MINDSET OR CULTURE
I once received a call pertaining to our IQ 1000 II motor protection relay, and the caller on the other end of the phone asked for my assistance in disabling ground fault protection. At some point in the call, he revealed that the reason he wanted to turn ground fault off was because he wanted to burn up the cables and the motor so he can replace them. You see, he had a budget to replace this equipment but did not have a budget to maintain it. For quite some time I thought about that call and would get a good laugh.
It took me some years to realize how sad of a call that really was. There is no humor in a situation that puts individuals in a position to work around a system possibly putting lives at risk. This story happens all too often and establishes the baseline of our journey to change the safety culture in our industry.
MAINTENANCE AND THE NEC
The Purpose of the NEC is the practical safeguarding of persons and property from the hazards due to use of electricity. Section 90.1(B) speaks to the fact that the NEC contains provisions that are necessary for safety; “Compliance therewith and proper maintenance results in an installation that is essentially free from hazard but not necessarily efficient, convenient, or adequate for good service or future expansion of electrical use.” Electrical equipment will perform as expected when installed correctly and maintained over its life.
The NEC has provisions to help those who are performing maintenance on electrical equipment. The following sections are examples of this:
- 110.26, Spaces About Electrical Equipment
- 110.32, Work Space About Equipment
- 110.34, Work Space and Guarding
- 110.76, Access to Vaults and Tunnels
The 2017 version of the NEC expanded maintenance requirements for emergency systems as part of 700.3, "Tests and Measurements." Article 700 focuses on requirements around emergency systems required to operate when normal power goes out. It's about life safety. Maintenance is very much a part of the picture. The new 700.3(C) added the following language:
"Emergency system equipment shall be maintained in accordance with manufacturer instructions and industry standards."
Maintenance increases the level of confidence that a system, like that which is dedicated to life safety, functions as it was deisgned and intended to function in times of emergency.
MAINTENANCE AND NFPA 70E
NFPA 70E, "Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace," has an entire chapter - Chapter 2 - focused on safety-related maintenance requirements. This document reminds us that when we use the phrase "properly maintained," we mean equipment has been maintained in accordance with the manufacturer's recommendations and applicable industry codes and standards. NFPA 70B, "Recommended Practice for Electrical Equipment Maintenance," is a well-referenced document to help provide guidance with this regard.
Maintenance is important for safety for many obvious reasons and some not so obvious. When calculations are made on a power distributions system for inci