Maintenance-Driven Safety, Part 1 of 2

Part 1 of 2

By now, most of you know I choose to live in my hometown of Turtleford, Sask., population 500. I started my company in 1980 in Calgary but, for family reasons, relocated to Turtleford in 1995. And, just like Dog River, if you haven’t heard a rumor by 10 am, you start one!

As in any small town, it’s easy to be a hero…but you’re lucky if it lasts for 15 minutes. A number of years ago, the scoreboard went down at the community centre while I was out of town, and people were becoming frantic at the cost of buying a new one. The arena manager called me, and I said, “Get the control boards out, and let’s look at them when I get back”.

When we looked at the control boards, I could see some burned diodes and a suspicious transistor. With just $5-worth of parts and some soldering, we had the scoreboard going again.

I was just at a facility where one of the electrical trainers showed me a control box that had been sent to him from the field, with the urgent request to send back his training control box to be installed. He showed me the burnt resistor and some smoked electronic parts in the one from the field; again, for a few dollars’ worth of parts and some soldering, the unit that was frantically shipped from the field because it could neither be diagnosed nor repaired was put back into action in the training department.

But why, you may ask, is this information in an electrical safety column? The fact is we depend on our systems to provide a significant amount of protection, and maintaining them effectively is directly related to our human safety.

When I asked a crew doing infrared scans on switchgear whether they were going to scan their printed circuit boards, they looked at me as though I had just landed from Mars. I2R losses cause system failures as easily in PC boards as they do in bus work; not as dramatically, but certainly as effectively, and an IR camera will detect this and other problems. Many PC boards are difficult to access, but many are easily scanned with an infrared camera. This technology should not be restricted to only high-current concerns; they can be used anywhere there is heat.

IR cameras are now common in industry, with many large facilities havening them in each of their departments. With such popularity, the prices have dropped dramatically while usability has increased substantially. I have had many non-electrical managers express great pride in the thoroughness of their electrical maintenance program because they conduct regular IR scans.

But while IR detects, there are also serious problems to which the technology is blind. For example, at 2.4kV and above, corona and partial discharge will slowly destroy insulation, and these problems require different detection methods. When they go undetected, explosions and injuries can result.

There are a host of specialty tests that can be done on electrical systems, but they are restricted by knowledge, commitment and budgets.

Our new Canadian maintenance standard, CSA Z463 “Guideline on Maintenance of Electrical Systems”, will be soon published. Our national team of experts began working on this in March 2011, and we just had our final meeting and voting in June.

The need for this standard became apparent with the advent and roll out of CSA Z462 “Workplace Electrical Safety”, which was borne in 2008 out of its American counterpart, NFPA 70E “Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace”, which has been broadly adopted by Canadian industry.

These standards both became necessary after decades of electrical incidents killed or permanently disabled workers, and it became overwhelmingly obvious that policies, standards, procedures, practices and PPE (personal protective equipment) needed to be adopted and used.

With these standards came the ugly realization that adopting and implementing these safety standards means very little when an electrical system is not properly maintained. Hence, CSA Z463.

Until next time, be ready, be careful and be safe.