Upgrading Safety Through Technology

With new advancements in technology happening every single day, our lives are being shaped by new apps and devices that we never knew we needed until we used them once and asked, “How on earth did I live without this?” Technology and culture is evolving so fast that it has become difficult to try and wrap our heads around the speed of change that we are experiencing every day. For example, according to the latest statistics, there is a very good chance my 10-year-old daughter will have a career in a field that doesn’t even exist yet. And many might find it troubling to know that most of what college freshman will learn in class this fall will be outdated by the time they graduate.
safety.jpgSo what does all of this mean for our chosen profession? As electricians and electrical contractors, numerous advancements in technology continue to shape and change our industry. From AFCI and GFCI innovations to LED lighting and Power over Ethernet, our jobs are evolving right before our eyes. And one area where technology is really making an impact is in the world of electrical safety. We are witnessing new and innovative ways every day that protect our employees; these new technologies are becoming a real game changer in the safety culture of our industry.
For instance, many products are now being brought forth that are really aimed at eliminating the need to expose employees to a hazard while performing many of the tasks that are required to keep our systems up and running. Take the simple task of monitoring electrical terminations as part of a maintenance program. Turn back the clock to when many of us got in to the trade and the widely accepted method was to manually check the torque to make sure there were no loose connections. This required employees to cross the restricted approach boundary and be exposed to both arc flash and shock hazards. This task was often performed energized, since the idea of justifying energized work was often overpowered by an industry-wide machismo that if you can’t work energized you are somehow less of an electrician. Fast forward a few years and we began to see thermal imaging equipment becoming more available and, as is the case with most technology, it became more reliable; more effective; and most importantly, more affordable. However, employees must still remove the covers in order to gain access, a task that according to Table 130.5(C) in the 2018 edition of NFPA 70E® does carry an increased likelihood of causing an arc flash. So technology had now mitigated the shock hazard, but we still were exposing employees to arc flash. That is when manufacturers answered the call and started offering IR windows. Now terminations can be monitored without exposing the person performing the thermal imaging to any hazards during the process.
Another technology that is part of safer equipment design is the listed absence of a voltage tester. This is a device that can be permanently mounted in equipment in order to verify that equipment has been placed in a zero-energy state, such as during a lockout/tagout procedure. There are some specific requirements for these devices in order to be used in establishing an electrically safe work condition, which can be found in Exception #1 to Section 120.5(7) of 70E. These devices are being used to eliminate the need to expose employees to hazards during the process of establishing an electrically-safe work condition; however,absence of voltage testers do have limitations when compared to portable test instruments. For starters, they are not portable, which means they must be installed in multiple pieces of