Electrical safety is a major topic of importance in any industrial setting. Regulations exist to keep workers safe and processes running efficiently. We discussed this issue and how permanent electrical safety devices (PESDs) fit into the discussion with Bhanu Srilla, director of product marketing at Grace Engineered Products Inc.
1. Should facilities go beyond National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) or Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) compliance to keep workers safe? Are the requirements enough, usually?
A: Safety and compliance are very different concepts. OSHA provides the safety framework and acts as a governing body for enforcing the workplace safety, while NFPA 70E standard outlines the minimum performance requirements for implementing electrical safety at the workplace. Most safety-conscious facilities go beyond the basic compliance measures and reap the benefits of enhanced productivity gains, reduced downtime, reduced accidents and increased employee morale. With the proper interpretation of OSHA regulations and the NFPA standards, the "minimum" requirements are usually sufficient to comply with the codes and regulations; however, going beyond compliance truly reflects the safety culture of the organization and shows their care toward workers.
2. What is the main function of permanent electrical safety device (PESDs)?
A: Simply put, permanent electrical safety devices or PESDs serve as a layer of protection between the maintenance electrical worker and the hazardous voltage. These devices are permanently installed, hardwired and mounted outside an electrical cabinet and are predominantly used in the electrical and mechanical lockout/tagout (LOTO) process. PESDs greatly minimize the risk of workers’ exposure to hazardous voltage and takes the guesswork out of the equation while enhancing the task productivity.
3. What are some common barriers to proper use of PESDs? How widespread is adoption or lack of adoption?
A: Users sometimes misunderstand the concept of risk reduction principles and hierarchy of controls in safety and expect the installation of "one device" makes the system absolutely safe. For instance, installing a PESD on an electrical cabinet ensures that a voltmeter test "always" yields a zero-voltage reading when combined with certified installs and included in the LOTO procedure. With the recognition of permanently installed devices such as PESDs in the NFPA 70E, 2018 standards makes it more compelling for the end users to adopt PESDs at a faster pace.
4. Are PESDs a replacement for personal protective equipment (PPE)? Why or why not? When should works use PESDs?
A: Most maintenance workers performing tasks in low voltage environments requiring only 8Cal PPE are already donned in 11Cal PPE today. PESD function ranks much higher up in the risk control hierarchy as an engineering control or as a substitution method and is not a replacement for PPE. PPE is always meant to be the last line of defense in risk control hierarchy when all other methods fail to protect the worker. Installation of PESDs per manufacturer guidelines with qualified electrical personnel, documenting and certifying the installations through a certified safety professional (CSP) greatly help in reducing the amount of PPE as workers can preverify the presence and absence of voltage from outside the panel before performing the task.
5. For what applications are PESDs most suited/effective?
A: PESDs are widely used in mechanical and electrical LOTO applications. In a typical mechanical LOTO application, a task qualified person/machine operator can visually verify the voltage present at the motor disconnect switch using a flex-mount voltage indicator and perform a measured test using a voltage portal and a noncontact voltage detector pen. In an electrical LOTO application, a qualified electrician can visually verify the voltage presence with the voltage indicator and perform the absence of voltage test using an adequately rated test instrument from outside the door using safe-test points. Installing a voltage test station (VTS) with high-impedance protected (102kΩ) test points on an MCC bucket or low-voltage cabinet enables the qualified electrical worker to perform the three-point-test from outside the electrical cabinet for establishing an electrically safe work condition per Article 120.5 of NFPA 70E, 2018.
6. What are some simple best practices facilities can implement to ensure electrical worker safety?
A: Identify the risks associated with the tasks and implement safety-by-design concepts and engineering controls that inherently reduce the risk of electrical exposure. Measure and evaluate the overall system effectiveness on a regular basis and provide employee training and most importantly involve the affected employee in the decision-making process. Include permanently installed devices such as PESDs in LOTO programs that support the best practice of ALWAYS doing the OSHA-mandated voltmeter test.
Bhanu Srilla is the director of product marketing at Grace Engineered Products Inc. He is responsible for developing the marketing strategy for new and existing products as well as overseeing implementation of the marketing strategy including campaigns, events, digital marketing and public relations. Bhanu has more than 20 years of progressive experience in the power generation and distribution industry and has led diverse programs in electrical power distribution and control system projects in IEC and ANSI applications for low and medium voltage systems. Bhanu is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) and holds degrees in electrical engineering, manufacturing systems and technology management.