Taking charge of planning for high voltage projects
The saying ‘fail to prepare and prepare to fail’ can be applied to work across a wide range of sectors; regardless of the type of project, effective planning is widely recognised as a key contributing factor for success. However, for those undertaking electrical procedures at high voltages, for example, in industrial plants, the stakes are likely to be much higher.
Ultimately, failing to implement a meticulous and considered approach to conducting electrical work could prove the difference between life and death, so how can businesses ensure they are complying with key regulations in this area and protecting the wellbeing of workers?
In the UK, electrical safety is underpinned primarily by the Health and Safety at Work Act (1974) and the Electricity at Work Regulations (1989). Further guidance, in relation to safe working practices and areas such as keeping switchgear safe, has also been published by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
A fundamental principle for any business undertaking an electrical procedure, regardless of the voltage level they are working at, is to reduce health and safety risks as much as possible by not allowing employees to work ‘live’ unless this is completely unavoidable.
An essential first step before beginning any project is to ensure all parties collaborate to develop a thorough ‘switching plan’. This usually involves collectively reviewing the system in question to arrive upon an agreed methodology for the procedure. Essentially, a switching plan protects worker wellbeing by acting like a traffic light system; unless certain safety conditions are met, the light will remain red to prevent employees from undertaking work. For example, in order to prevent inadvertent switching, blocking coils within circuits may need to be activated.
It’s important to bear in mind that any switching plan should take into account the individual design and age of existing switchgear. In some circumstances, where components such as blocking coils are not available, actions such as engaging primary and circuit earths, to disengage electrical energy from voltage-carrying equipment in the event of inadvertent switching, may be required instead.
Once the switching plan has been approved, it is essential to decide upon and allocate responsibility for different aspects of the job. While ‘permit to work’ systems often vary between plant operators, there is often a hierarchy in place to distinguish between individuals with isolation permits, permits to test and permits to work. To comply with Electricity at Work regulations, it is also vital that workers have valid, up-to-date certification proving their professional competence, and that this is properly verified by the business engaging them.
Both to guarantee high levels of health and safety and to ensure tasks are completed to a satisfactory level, any work undertaken across plants should be thoroughly supervised by a senior member of personnel. A well-structured audit procedure should also be put in place for handing over work between shifts, ensuring that appropriate safety checks are re-made and verified to protect the wellbeing of new workers coming onto electrical projects. In order to comply with electrical regulations, staff should also be required to wear appropriate PPE, for example, gauntlets and flame-retardant overalls and coveralls, to provide an additional level of protection in the event of a fire or similar incident.
Finally, to stay on the right side of the law when working at high voltages, ensuring all equipment used is fit for purpose is key. As well as checking that this is made according to the correct voltage rating, it is essential to guarantee that the equipment is well-maintained and in good condition. High voltage test equipment is often constructed so that while completing a test, the operator is able to remain at a safe distance from any potentially live or charged parts.
While some may assume that the danger for employees has passed once the planned work has been undertaken, it is important that the switching plan is observed again at this point. This will ensure that electrical energy is only reintroduced when plant conditions are deemed safe.
It goes without saying that businesses working at high voltages have little room for error and every possible effort should be taken to minimise potential health and safety risks. By implementing a thorough, planned approach to electrical safety, plant operators can stay on the right side of UK regulations in this area whilst safeguarding worker wellbeing, regardless of the type of protect being undertaken.
Tim McNeilly, managing director at I.C. Electrical.
Nick Brown – firstname.lastname@example.org or 07792 285486
Lucy Blackman – email@example.com or 07792 202941
About I.C. Electrical
I.C. Electrical Ltd are an electrical engineering contractor based centrally in the UK. Capable ofâ€¯providing a complete in-house electrical engineering solution incorporating the design, build andâ€¯installation of Control panels, HV and LV electrical systems, Communication and Automationâ€¯systems along with small power and lighting installations.