Minimizing risk while doing live Electrical Work

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Minimizing risk while doing live Electrical Work

Live work is electrical work where some part of the equipment being worked upon is still energized. This can pose many risks to anybody in the vicinity, and it’s essential to follow a procedure when approaching such a task. The dangers involved with live work can vary hugely. For example, opening a household appliance with the power on to test specific components may have a significant risk of low-consequence hazards such as an electric shock and possible minor electrical burns. Still, severe harm and fatality are a low probability. On the other hand, a high voltage situation with a large amount of energy transfer (a common occurrence on an industrial site) can damage somebody and has a high chance of fatality should an accident occur.

A commonly overlooked danger with live work is when the energized equipment is not the equipment being worked on. In many situations, workers working on equipment near exposed live electricity have overlooked electrical dangers and suffered because of it. It should be remembered that whatever you may be working on, especially in industrial situations where high energy lines are pretty standard, electrical dangers should always be considered. One of the most obvious tips for staying safe is working on a powered-down system. It is rarely more dangerous to shut a system down before doing work, so if it is possible to shut it down, that should be the course of action to take.

Live work should be considered a last resort. Also, don’t leave testing equipment until something goes wrong. A lot of the time, live work must be performed because of a fault. By carrying out safety checks and simple maintenance before something is likely to have gone wrong, issues and potential risks can often be avoided. Many precautions must be taken when it has been determined that it is unreasonable for the work to be done with the power down. Assessing the level of risk is the first step. In high voltage systems, specifically those over 400v, arc flashes become a real risk. On such systems, even when working with hot sticks and hydraulics a distance from the actual live equipment, there is still the risk of the blast wave – molten metal exploding out from the source and (easily overlooked) high energy Electromagnetic (EM) radiation. The molten metal can still easily ignite non-flame-resistant clothing, which is a significant cause of significant injury and fatalities in arc flash incidents.

It should also be remembered that Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) does not offer universal protection. Many systems operate at huge lower loads and, during an arc flash, can reach temperatures exceeding 20,000 degrees Celsius, at which point there are no known substances that don’t vaporize. Finally, it must be taken into account that everybody who happens to be nearby is potentially at risk from all of the dangers coming from an arc flash, so where applicable, safety barriers and warnings need to be put up to make sure no more people than necessary are put at risk and that all those people are aware of the dangers around them. Knowledge is vital, and these steps save lives, so keep everything in mind when working on dangerous electrical systems.