Effective electrical safety starts with maintenance

Understanding standards critical to efficient operations, worker safety.


Even with equipment in a de-energized state as shown above, the importance of following all the fundamentals of a sound electrical maintenance program cannot be overemphasized. Courtesy: Emerson Network Power)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.

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