Effective electrical safety starts with maintenance

Understanding standards critical to efficient operations, worker safety.

By Dave Kreger, Emerson Network Power April 8, 2015

It’s well known that maintaining electrical equipment in industrial facilities is fundamental for optimizing equipment performance and reliability, and preventing unplanned downtime. Today, such maintenance is not only recommended, it’s required.

The most recent version of the National Fire Protection Association’s Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace (NFPA 70E) stipulates that facility managers must conduct maintenance on electrical equipment—and not just overcurrent protective devices—in accordance with manufacturers’ instructions or industry consensus standards. Additionally, the facility manager must document those maintenance activities.

While completing required maintenance activities can go a long way toward improving equipment performance, it’s important to keep in mind that maintenance work is only as effective as the people performing it. In other words, qualified, well-trained people are essential to properly maintaining electrical equipment, especially in today’s Lean environments where companies rely on fewer people to accomplish increasingly complex work.

A good training program designed to ensure a best-in-class maintenance staff not only ensures more efficient operations; it can also reduce electrical-related injuries and fatalities in the workplace. Simultaneously, it keeps your facility compliant with the latest consensus codes and standards from organizations like NFPA and OSHA.

This article looks at requirements for a maintenance training program and highlights the benefits a properly established program can have for an industrial plant, such as improved facility performance and enhanced safety for maintenance staff.

Training helps prevent human error                                          

In today’s workplaces, where meeting operational goals sometimes means accomplishing more work with fewer people, it’s critical for employees to have the proper skills and expertise to accomplish both routine and complex tasks. Yet, inadequate worker knowledge remains a key contributor to unnecessary equipment failures and unplanned shutdowns.

Having preventive maintenance completed by service technicians that are experienced and well trained is vital for reducing human error that can lead to downtime. In fact, in a study on the impact of preventive maintenance on the reliability and performance of uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems, Emerson Network Power found that an increase in the frequency of preventive maintenance visits only increases mean time between failures (MTBF) for the UPS if the service technicians maintain a low error rate.

The research suggests a strong relationship between the capabilities of service technicians or maintenance professionals and the benefits of equipment maintenance.

If a service technician or maintenance worker lacks the appropriate skills and expertise to properly maintain equipment, he or she could do more damage than good when it comes to optimizing system performance and preventing failures in your facility.

Proper training can improve safety

Beyond protecting equipment, proper training plays a clear role in protecting maintenance personnel who work on or near energized equipment.

Every year, more than 400 fatalities and nearly 10,000 serious injuries occur due to electrocution and arc flash incidents, with arc flash accounting for as many as eight in 10 of these injuries.

Arcing from an electrical fault can produce temperatures hotter than the surface of the sun, creating an incredibly hot blast with force similar to an explosion—enough to throw a worker’s body across the room. It is estimated that arc flash incidents happen five to 10 times each day, and that every single day; one worker is killed as a result.

Due in part to greater overall energy usage as well as higher system voltages and available fault currents, the danger of exposure to arc flash hazards is on the rise and increasing steadily. Safe work practices, including electrical training programs for employees who maintain, test, and service equipment, can help combat this risk and protect workers from the devastating consequences of arc flash exposure.

New training requirements

In response to the increased risk of arc flash exposure, NFPA and OSHA are mandating and enforcing safer electrical work practices that specifically include training requirements for maintenance staff.

NFPA updates its Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace every three years, and recent versions of the standard include new requirements for training. In 2014, OSHA published its first-ever arc flash protection requirements for the electric power generation, transmission, and distribution industry, making significant revisions to OSHA CFR 1910.269, which addresses electrical safety requirements in high-voltage environments.The specific training-related requirements in both of these standards are outlined below.

Defining qualified workers

The most recent versions of NFPA 70E and new revisions to OSHA CFR 1910.269 emphasize the importance of determining a worker’s qualifications to work on or around electrical equipment. Per NFPA 70E 2012, only qualified persons can perform testing and maintenance within the limited approach boundary, or the boundary within which a risk of shock exists.

Specifically, NFPA 70E 2012 states that a qualified person shall be:

  • Trained and knowledgeable in the construction and operation of equipment or specific work methods
  • Trained to recognize and avoid the electrical hazards that might be present with respect to that equipment orwork method.

NFPA 70E 2015, which was released in July 2014, revised the definition of a qualified person to emphasize the need for workers to demonstrate skills and knowledge related to the construction and operation of electrical equipment and installations, as opposed to simply being familiar with these functions.

More specifically, a qualified person who performs maintenance on electrical equipment and installations must be trained and familiar with the specific required maintenance and test procedures, and must demonstrate the ability to use:

  • Special precautionary techniques
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE) including arc flash suits
  • Insulating and shielding materials
  • Insulated tools and test equipment.

NFPA 70E 2015 also adds that electricalworkers permitted to work within the limited approach boundary of exposed energized electrical conductors and circuit parts operating at 50 V or more must have additional training in minimum approach distances to exposed parts in order to be considered qualified.

OSHA CFR 1910.269 also weighs in on the definition of a qualified worker. This standard describes a qualified worker as one who demonstrates the appropriate skills and abilities to determine:

  • What hazards are faced
  • The magnitude of the hazards
  • The proper work techniques to avoid the hazards
  • The proper PPE to mitigate the hazards.

Typically, demonstration of such skills is accomplished through an annual observation or audit, similar to the annual audit requirements for other safety-related programs such as lockout/tagout.

Both NFPA and OSHA note that persons can be considered qualified with respect to certain equipment and methods, but still be unqualified in other situations. Additionally, even if an employer hires a worker who has been considered “qualified” by another employer, the new employer must still verify the skill sets, provide additional site-specific training, and closely monitor the new employee’s activities before considering the worker “qualified.”  

Training type and frequency

NFPA outlinesspecific requirements for the type of training that must be provided to employees who work on and around electrical equipment. The standard dictates the following:

  • Training should be instructor-led as opposed to Web-based.
  • Retraining must occur at least every three years. Additional training must be provided whenever new procedures or practices are introduced or when an audit indicates there is a need for retraining.
  • All training must be documented.
  • Facilities must conduct annual inspections (including audits of field work) to ensure each employee is complying with safety-related work practices.
  • Training programs must be audited at least once every three years to ensure compliance with the standards, and the audits must be documented.
  • If training deficiencies are indentified by an audit, revisions must be made to bring all elements of the training program into compliance.
  • For workers in high-voltage environments, OSHA 1910.269 stipulates that the degree of training must be determined by the risk to the worker for the hazard involved. To meet this requirement, employers are responsible for identifying the risks to each worker and for providing the appropriate training to enable workers to handle or mitigate those risks. 

Investing in maintenance training

Your maintenance team plays a crucial role in maximizing efficient plant operations and creating a safe, compliant facility. Investing in proper training for this team ensures workers have adequate knowledge to maintain equipment and avoid injury. Such an investment is essential not only to maximizing system reliability, but also to maintaining regulatory compliance and avoiding costly fines.

Working with the right service provider who understands all aspects of effective maintenance training and is well-versed in the latest consensus codes can help your facility create an effective training program.

By leveraging best practices for maintenance training, your company can build a best-in-class maintenance team with a direct and significant impact on your organization’s bottom line and ultimate success.

David K. Kreger is a power system specialist for Emerson Network Power’s Electrical Reliability Services. For more information on facility and safety training solutions, arc flash analysis, or other services from Emerson’s Electrical Reliability Services, visit ElectricalReliability.com.

The Bottom Line:

  • A good training program designed to ensure a best-in-class maintenance staff not only ensures more efficient operations, it can also reduce electrical-related injuries and fatalities in the workplace.
  • In response to the increased risk of arc flash exposure, NFPA and OSHA are mandating and enforcing safer electrical work practices that specifically include training requirements for maintenance staff.
  • NFPA outlines specific requirements for the type of training that must be provided to employees who work on and around electrical equipment. Among those requirements: Training should be instructor-led as opposed to Web-based.