How electrical, power system trends are affecting and impacting safety standards

Electrical and power system trends are often impacted and affected by evolving safety standards, which are critical for workers.

By Plant Engineering February 21, 2024
Left to right: Ken Crawford, senior director of automation, Weidmuller USA; Scott Dowell, senior vice president and general manager, Wesco; Zack Mitchell, assistant corporate safety manager, Stellar; Marc Elliott, marketing director, Eaton. Courtesy: Weidmuller, Wesco, Stellar, Eaton


  • Ken Crawford, senior director of automation, Weidmuller USA, Richmond, Va.
  • Scott Dowell, senior vice president and general manager, industrial and CIG, Wesco, Pittsburgh
  • Marc Elliott, marketing director, Eaton, Wilsonville, Ore.
  • Zack Mitchell, CHST, GSP, assistant corporate safety manager, Stellar, Jacksonville, Fla.
Left to right: Ken Crawford, senior director of automation, Weidmuller USA; Scott Dowell, senior vice president and general manager, Wesco; Zack Mitchell, assistant corporate safety manager, Stellar; Marc Elliott, marketing director, Eaton.

Left to right: Ken Crawford, senior director of automation, Weidmuller USA; Scott Dowell, senior vice president and general manager, Wesco; Zack Mitchell, assistant corporate safety manager, Stellar; Marc Elliott, marketing director, Eaton. Courtesy: Weidmuller, Wesco, Stellar, Eaton

Question: What are the key components of an effective electrical safety program in an industrial setting?

Scott Dowell: A comprehensive safety program is key to providing the safest possible work environment on the plant floor. In a manufacturing facility, equipment is always being moved around, and new pieces added. Powering those machines requires electricity and while it is a ubiquitous necessity, it is also one of the most significant safety risk factors. We often help implement plant floor checks which are visual plant walkthroughs with trained professionals designed to identify electrical hazards before they become a problem. The mission is to pinpoint where all the danger points are and how they may be exacerbated as operations ebb and flow. It’s a simple but underutilized safety strategy.

Taking advantage of new technologies is also key to reducing electrical safety risks. Going beyond OSHA’s 70B requirement, manufacturers can deploy monitoring technologies that alert to an instance of misused or unused PPE. For example, cameras monitoring the plant floor can alert if an employee isn’t using glasses to perform a task or is in an area where hard hats are required. These cameras function as sensors and can alert your team to potential hazards, mitigating the situation before it causes damage to employees. Robots are also increasingly used on the factory floor. Instead of using your key personnel to rack things in and out or encounter a situation that requires additional layers of protection, robots can go into the dangerous area instead to do the dirty work so to speak.

However, no program or technology is useful without proper training. Training may be the single most important factor in providing an effective electrical safety program. Ensuring employees know how to properly use equipment can mitigate much of the potential risk. In our experience, you can never communicate too much about electrical safety protocols.

Marc Elliott: Advancing safety requires education, training and controls to eliminate or reduce hazards. The hierarchy of controls (source: The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) provides guidance in preferred order. Fundamentally, safety programs must seek to eliminate hazards and keep people out harm’s way. Industrial digitalization efforts are supporting safer conditions through remote monitoring, control and operations.

Amid big changes to energy systems, education and training are vital to reduce risk.

Digital tools are providing novel ability to help. At Eaton, we provide expansive electrical training programs. Our programs include interactive, virtual simulation providing immediate feedback in a safe environment.

Justin Mitchell: A clearly communicated purpose for the program, proper assignment of responsibilities, ensuring all components comply with current industry standards and OSHA standards, and ensuring that all of these components are communicated and followed company wide.

Question: How frequently do you train staff on electrical and power safety, and what have been some of your most successful training programs?

Justin Mitchell: Training on electrical safety is performed on an annual basis at the very least. Stellar’s safety department conducts in-house training that covers safety training topics in compliance with industry standards, including electrical safety.

Question: How do you address arc flash hazards, and what measures can be taken to minimize their risks?

Scott Dowell: First and foremost, there must be a mandated arc flash program in place. An arc flash incident can be especially devastating as the release of the electrical energy can be hotter than the surface of the sun and produce a powerful explosion equal to that of eight sticks of dynamite. Given the chaos this can cause, arc flashes threaten personnel safety, widespread equipment damage, and downtime with lost production.

Power circuit breakers are especially vulnerable as these devices have limits on their clearing time. That often results in a limit to just how much the device can reduce potential arc energy. Any further reduction requires factories to consider alternative ways of capturing and containing the energy. One such advancement to address that problem is arc quenching devices. This powerful tool can provide better protection for employees as well as equipment and deliver a significant reduction in downtime if an arc flash does occur.

Proactive training and ongoing testing are also major factors to reduce overall risk from arc flash hazards. Equipment should be properly labeled, the right PPE should be available and worn correctly, and only a “qualified person” should be engaging where arc flash may be a risk. For those qualified persons, manufacturers should clarify with those employees which scenarios are safe given their training and identify where further instruction for the installation and operation of a given electrical system may be needed before approaching.

Justin Mitchell: Employees who perform tasks involving potential arc flash hazards are provided arc flash kits and specific training to reduce and/or eliminate the safety risks. Considerations include location and access to the electrical system, as well as whether lockout/tagout (LOTO) is required.

Question: How do you manage electrical isolation and LOTO procedures to prevent accidental energization during maintenance?

Justin Mitchell: Prior to beginning any work involving lockout/tagout, a preparatory meeting is held with all relevant parties to ensure lines of communication remain open and that all involved personnel understand the work procedures and duration. We enforce a lockout-only method, where a physical lock is applied to all power sources prior to beginning work on any equipment. Tags are used as a means of identification only.

Question: What are the safety implications of introducing renewable energy systems into existing infrastructure, and how can these risks be managed?

Justin Mitchell: We manage these risks by identifying the power source and equipment we are tying into and ensuring it is de-energized prior to executing the procedure. We also carefully coordinate with existing infrastructure so as to not interrupt ongoing operations and productivity.

Question: How do you ensure the safety of electrical equipment during extreme weather conditions or natural disasters?

Justin Mitchell: Whenever possible, all electrical equipment is required to be kept indoors to protect it from the elements. All equipment introduced into outdoor conditions are grounded and properly mounted to foundations that meet wind codes.

Question: What are the best practices for grounding and bonding in electrical systems to prevent electrical hazards?

Justin Mitchell: It’s critical to ensure everything is properly grounded per the National Electrical Code (NEC) standards. Proper grounding techniques include drilling tap, mechanical means and CAD welding.

Question: What role does personal protective equipment (PPE) play in electrical safety, and how do you ensure its proper usage?

Justin Mitchell: PPE plays a major role in electrical safety. Per Stellar policy, we inspect all PPE prior to each use to ensure the individual will receive the most complete protection possible throughout its use.

Question: How do you conduct risk assessments and audits to continuously improve electrical safety practices within an organization?

Justin Mitchell: Electrical safety is built into the daily safety audit conducted by management. Electrical work is added to our daily safe plan of action when performing this work, including plans to mitigate hazards.