UE Worlds 2019: “Electrical Asset Reliability & Electrical Safety” – Q&A with Joe Gierlach, ABM

August 9th, 2019

There are so many opportunities to learn at conferences, especially during the sessions. This month we reached out to Joe Gierlach to give us some more insight on his session from the Ultrasound World Conference in May.

Electric Safety tips graphic

What makes electrical hazards different from others?

The invisible nature of electrical energy tends to give people a false sense of security. There are many employees exposed to these hazards that do not even realize it.

In what ways are workers exposed to electrical hazards in the workplace?

Tasks that are executed with electrical energy present are always a potential hazard. Any interactions with electrical equipment and systems pose a risk to whoever is performing the interaction.

What should plant managers be most aware of when it comes to their employees handling electrical safety?

Recognizing the hazards associated with electrical energy is the main objective. It is impossible to have a safe work procedure without knowing the hazards related to the assigned task and this takes training and qualification.

What is EPdM?

This is the preserving or restoring of electrical assets in the facility to extend the useful service life of equipment through any number of industry-accepted testing methods.

What is the impact on occupational safety?

The statistical data indicates a trend that is increasing in incident rates rather than declining.

How is it different from previous standards?

The 2018 NFPA-70E continues to focus on risk assessment however, there is a much greater emphasis on both human factors and maintenance practices as they relate to safety.

What aspects of the current safety measures will be impacted the most?

The job disciplines performing the tasks will require more training among more job categories. For example, a laborer involved in a LOTO procedure is exposed to electrical hazards and is required to be trained and qualified, provided with and use any appropriate PPE for something as simple as interrupting a load if the risk assessment deems necessary.

How can gaps in the maintenance of equipment make incidents more likely?

There is statistical data that indicates the long periods between required maintenance and unsafe equipment conditions is an exponential relationship. With overcurrent devices in particular, (i.e. circuit breakers, protective relays) inadequate maintenance will always increase the operating time of these devices under a fault condition. Small delays in this function can increase worker exposure to much higher incident energy levels.

Under the new procedure, what should workers be taking note of?

They cannot simply assume donning PPE or “doing it the way we have always done it” will be acceptable. There needs to be a plan on each an every task undertaken in a facility, and this needs to be documented, trained on, and audited periodically, and sometimes the answer will be to de-energize.

What should plant managers be most aware o funder the new guidelines?

Managers should know that in addition to their workforce, any contractors performing work in the facility or plant will be subject to the same requirements if their job assignments expose them to electrical hazards. The manager also has a responsibility to inform contractors of electrical hazards in that plant related to the contractor work.

What should workers be most aware of under the new guidelines?

Nobody likes change, however, the dynamics of how we do what we have always done have changed in that we are required to have the plan in place before any person does work within the prescribed boundaries using both shock and arc flash risk assessments.

You mentioned that 70B recommends an annual house-cleaning. Are there any areas you think should be given extra attention?

House cleaning is only one consideration of a multi-faceted program. Each facility must determine a strategy for maintenance that both meets the needs of the standard requirements and stays within planned budgets. The main components to controlling incident energies in an arc flash are the overcurrent protective devices. Sadly, these are the most neglected components for a myriad of reasons, particularly in the 600 volts and below class where more people are interacting more often.

What risks are most commonly overlooked but need more attention?

I believe “normal operation” of equipment is the most underrated tasks. The simple act of switching something on or off is a change in the state of that equipment that increases the likelihood of an event exponentially. Most people have a false sense of security the equipment enclosure will contain the energy during an event and it will not unless it is specifically designed for that purpose.

How can plant managers be convinced to adopt higher-order controls despite the costs?

Every employer has a statutory requirement to conduct hazard assessments, train affected personnel performing tasks exposed to these hazards, and provide PPE where deemed necessary. This should not be viewed any differently than lockout/Tagout programs as they go hand in hand. The real questions are, can you afford the costs of inaction when an accident does occur.

Can you explain the method of PPE selection you outlined in your presentation?

PPE selection is the most difficult thing to consider as it sounds over-simplistic, but it’s not. Many variables can make the most accurate calculation incorrect, thereby rendering PPE ineffective. For example, if an employee selects only the minimum level of protection and there is even a slight delay of 2-3 cycles to interrupt the fault, the standard tells you that the PPE will be inadequate at that point. Workers need to be trained on not only how to select, but when to say tasks cannot be performed energized at the working distance in some instances. The risk assessments, competency levels of workers, and maintenance practices are some of the things that can vary the results.

How do all of the different standards rely on one another?

The NEC (NFPA-70, National Electric Code) provides minimum requirements for installations to ensure a safe electrical installation that will not be a fire hazard or reduce reliability. NFPA-70E relies on a “code compliant installation” that meets the most recent revision cycle which is currently 2017. The final component of these standards is the maintenance considerations. Both the NEC and 70E refer to NFPA-70B, Recommended Electrical Equipment Maintenance, for guidance. IEEE 1584-2018 is the most recent standard that provides methods for calculating exposures for specific system conditions however does not ensure exposures would be limited to that level. OSHA is the governing authority that requires workplaces to perform these hazard assessments.

Can you briefly explain the hierarchy of risk control?

This is an ANSI standard that outlines 6 steps of preventive and proactive methods to reduce exposure to hazards in the workplace. It is not exclusive to electrical hazards and lists in order the desired methods to address workplace hazards.

What are the easiest hazards to eliminate? Most difficult?

The easiest “method” to eliminate a hazard is to de-energize the equipment. There are 8 hazards associated with electrical energy and this addresses them all at one time and is the desired method by OSHA. The most difficult thing in any workplace is getting all employees to perform the same tasks, in the same manner, the same way each and every time.

What makes an electrical safety program effective?

The program MUST have “buy-in” at all levels of that organization. Everyone has a voice in the direction of the program and there is accountability for all employees. I have always been a believer that “safety is an attitude”, you either believe in it or you don’t.

What is the connection/disconnect between OSHA and NFPA-70E/B?

OSHA is the agency who defines what workplaces must do to keep employees safe from a statutory level. They do a great job at telling workplaces what they must do, however, they provide little guidance as to what compliance with the regulations looks like. They leave this up to the discretion of the employer to decide what is best. With respect to electrical hazards, 70E/70B provide a blueprint to comply with these regulations as it applies to electrical energy.

What kind of routine maintenance tasks require PPE? Voltage and current testing utilizing multimeters, racking circuit breakers in and out of cubicles, switching operations, replacing breakers/fuses.

What tasks do you recommend PPE for, even if they are not required?

I am an advocate of having PPE for infrared surveys, environments in which the state of the equipment could change unexpectedly such as a motor control center room.

What electrical safety hazards are the most important?

They are all important as most people in some way get victimized by what I call the “killer C’s”

  1.  Complacency
  2.  Cockiness
  3.  Cavalier actions
  4.  Comfort level

One never knows when an incident will occur, similar to driving a car and getting into an accident.

What are some methods for testing electrical safety?

The best method is the periodic audits, employee engagement, self-policing, and bidirectional dialogue with management and employees performing the tasks.

What is most commonly used?

Audits.

What should be used more, in your opinion?

I believe there needs to be more regular competency demonstrations by qualified employees. We tend to get sloppy with routine and mundane tasks.

Who all needs training before performing maintenance tasks on electrical equipment?

Anyone who performs tasks inside the shock and arc flash boundaries, regardless of job title or position. OSHA requires ANY employees to be trained and qualified before exposure to any electrical hazard.

Where can they get that training?

There are a variety of training organizations that provide certain types of training such as safe work practices and maintenance recommendations however every employer must define exactly what it means to be “qualified” for that workplace and outline what training is necessary.

What are the benefits of being a Certified Electrical Safety Technician?

This credential ensures the holder possess and demonstrate practical knowledge of what is in the standard and how to apply that practice in their workplace.

What are the benefits of having one on staff?

It allows for more precise application of the standard requirements and increased credibility in the workplace.

Did you get any immediate feedback at the conference?

This conference is always well received and having attended the past 15 years, I have many interactions with the participants and there is always positive feedback each year.

What do you hope attendees learned from your presentation?

Do not take the hazards for granted, do not become complacent, take a step back and think about the task, and perform your assessments.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

Shameless plug, however, Empower Training Services at our organization would love the opportunity to meet any training needs at any workplace regarding electrical hazards.

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