An Essential Tool for Every Contractor: The Electrical Installation Risk Assessment

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Opinion

  Posted by: electime      6th December 2021

By Stewart Gregory, VP Power Products at Schneider Electric UK&I

Electrical professionals are faced with serious health and safety risks on a daily basis. You only have to look at stories like these, from The UK Health and Safety Executive, to understand the risks associated with working with electricity. Clearly, thorough risk assessments for electrical installations are extremely important – not just to keep on the right side of safety standards, but to genuinely protect contractors and their teams against injury.

While electrical contractors may feel confident working with electrical equipment, the potential risks of the job, including shock and arc flash, warrant extra precautions. In many cases, safe electrical work practices, such as performing a risk assessment for circuits and other electrical installations, can help contractors avoid both shock and arc flash events.

Not just a tick box exercise

There is, of course regulations in place that contractors need to abide by. This guidance is in place to ensure the necessary planning and preparation goes into every installation, to secure safety for all involved. However, the workplace safety standard that requires this risk assessment, NFPA 70E, doesn’t actually detail the specific procedure needed. It is up to the contractor to establish and continually update their own assessment plan. 

So, although it may seem obvious, it’s important to have a strong foundational understanding of electrical installation risk assessments, and how to complete them. An electrical installation risk assessment is a preventative plan of action that aims to identify hazards, assess risks and execute procedures prior to the actual installation. Throughout the assessment, electrical contractors must determine the likelihood of an incident, and the gravity of the potential injury.

Despite the lack of specificity, there are key steps required as part of any risk assessment for electrical installations. Every contractor should ask themselves these three questions before starting an installation:

1.      How likely is an incident?

How likely an incident is of occurring will vary depending on the work performed. For example, there’s a higher chance of an electrical event when performing voltage testing on energised conductors than when operating a circuit breaker handle.

Equipment condition is also a factor that may impact the likelihood of an electrical occurrence, especially if the equipment is improperly rated or maintained. Contractors working on legacy systems, need to consider the potential risks associated with aging equipment.

Because of this, equipment maintenance documents and any relevant safety information are, therefore, a must-have for electrical workers.

2.      What’s the gravity of a potential injury?

The gravity of a potential injury depends on the type of electrical occurrence.

For example, for shock hazards, this is simple to determine. The severity of an injury relates back to the voltage and the path that current will follow as it travels through the body. However, for arc flash hazards, the severity gravity is based on the available incident energy at that point in the electrical system. So, being able to identify and understand the incident energy is another key capability.

Incident energy is the amount of energy generated during an arc flash event. Electrical contractors can estimate this by accessing circuit-specific information in the equipment documentation, such as the clearing time of the upstream overcurrent protection and the available fault current.

Once the incident energy level is known, equipment should be marked according to NFPA 70E requirements, so future workers can quickly identify the incident energy level during servicing.

3.      What should you do to mitigate these risks?

After determining how likely an incident is to occur, and how severe the fallout may be, the last step should be implementing the relevant risk controls. These include:

Elimination: Temporarily eliminate the hazard to establish an electrically safe work condition

Substitution: Substitute less-hazardous equipment, such as using non-electrical or battery-operated tools instead of cord- and plug-connected

Engineering controls: Choose options that automatically reduce risk, including GFCI protection or factory-installed barriers

Awareness: Alert people to the hazard by installing permanent or temporary signs, labels, barricades, etc.

Administrative controls: Complete all front-end work, such as establishing planning processes, attending training, obtaining permits, and clarifying work procedures

PPE: Ensure personal protective equipment (PPE), such as insulated tools, clothing, and gloves, are available when needed

You should keep in mind that these risk controls will always vary depending on the site and the work being performedthis is why each installation requires its own, unique assessment to be truly safe.

It’s undeniable – increasing safety in electrical environments helps in preventing and reducing the risk of injuries. It is up to contractors to be able to identify the hazards related to electrical energy and to take the necessary precautions to avoid them. The best tool for this is an electrical installation risk assessment. In fact, it’s probably the most important implement you need working around electrical equipment, to ensure you stay both safe and compliant.