Q Your career has focused on occupational electrical safety for more than 30 years. Where are we today versus 30 years ago?
A There has been dramatic improvement. From 1980 to 2010, the number of U.S. workplace fatalities from electrical contact has been reduced by nearly 70 percent. The hazards of electric shock and arc flash have certainly not gone away; if anything, the potential for exposure to hazardous electrical energy has increased due to dependence on electrical technologies for energy, control and communications in industrial applications, as well as a more than 30 percent increase in population. Closer to home, in DuPont, we were averaging an electrical fatality every 33 months prior to 1990. It has now been 20 years since an employee or contractor working in our facilities suffered a fatal injury from electrical hazards. Even with this improvement, contact with electricity remains the seventh leading cause of occupational fatality in the U.S.
Q What has enabled this improvement?
A Certainly a number of things. U.S. OSHA regulations introduced in 1970, followed by additional regulations focusing on electrical hazards, was a start. The National Fire Protection Association began development of NFPA 70E, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace in 1976 and IEEE started work in 1982 on IEEE Guide for Maintenance, Operation and Safety of Industrial and Commercial Power Systems. The work on these two standards helped spawn forums and collaborations that impacted technology innovations with inherently safer equipment design and maintenance technologies. The Electrical Safety Foundation International was launched in 1994 to promote awareness and education on electrical safety. These are just a few positive forces for change in electrical safety. The digitally connected world has expanded our ability to collaborate and share problems, opportunities and solutions, and has been a significant factor in accelerating changes and improvement.
Q What do you see as next opportunities?
A I believe there is a real opportunity to examine how we think about electrical reliability, in particular, the equipment having the sole function of preventing or minimizing the consequences of electrical injuries. That is really what brought me to the International Maintenance Conference (IMC) and Reliabilityweb.com. I’m looking for better ways to bring attention to the reliability of equipment and systems critical to the safety of the people who interact with electrical equipment. Much of the focus on electrical reliability is based on uptime objectives. Motors and transformers represent a large investment and unscheduled downtime can be very costly, so this equipment gets a great deal of attention in the maintenance reliability community. The reliability of protective devices, such as circuit breakers and fuses, bonding and grounding, and even the integrity of equipment enclosures, have some, but relatively little impact on uptime, but are absolutely critical to electrical safety. We need to articulate the application of the proven elements of reliability to the unique application of equipment and systems whose function is to be available and perform reliably in the moment an arc flash or electric shock is imminent.
Q You must have some examples to illustrate this. Can you share one?
A One of our plants was experiencing reliability problems with its 480-volt power circuit breakers. The plant had several instances when a circuit breaker failed to trip due to an overload condition. A backup breaker further upstream in the power systems eventually tripped to clear the overload. When I arrived at the site, the maintenance supervisor took me to a file cabinet and said, “I think these files may have something to do with this. The electrician who took care of this retired five years ago and since we weren’t having any problems with our circuit breakers, we didn’t reassign the responsibility.” When I opened the drawer, there were nearly 100 files, one for each of the power circuit breakers in the plant’s electrical system. There was a well-organized record of inspections, tests, as-found conditions and corrective actions. I noticed the last entry on any of the records was at least five years old. Management didn’t understand the risk and the maintenance reliability management system was crude and not robust.
Q One of the current hot topics in electrical safety is arc flash hazard mitigation. What is your viewpoint on this topic?
A Many companies have invested significant resources in performing arc hazard assessments, training employees, changing work practices and using arc rated personal protective equipment. All decisions are based on the expectation that fuses or protective devices that operate circuit breakers will operate as designed. If they do not, the thermal energy from the arc flash event can be orders of magnitude greater than predicted by the arc hazard analysis.
Q This seems like a great application for RCM. Is it?
A Indeed! It is an excellent tool to help an organization sort through the electrical systems to identify the equipment and systems critical to electrical safety and prioritize application of maintenance resources.
Q What do you feel is limiting application of these proven tools?
A I am actively involved in three professional communities. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) provides forums for advancing electrical technologies. The American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) provides forums for safety management systems, risk management and safety competency. Reliabilityweb.com and the Society for Maintenance & Reliability Professionals (SMRP) provide forums for reliability and asset management. To varying degrees, all three communities are addressing aspects of electrical safety, but the dialogue is somewhat stovepiped. There are exciting developments addressing electrical safety in all three, but I feel the potential is dependent on how we can cross-pollinate ideas and collaborations across these different disciplines.
Q Can you elaborate on what you see as positive developments in electrical safety within the maintenance reliability community?
A Well to start with, this interview is an example. Providing the opportunity to make reliability for electrical safety a topic of discussion is wonderful! The body of knowledge that Henry Ellmann shared at IMC-2012 on hidden failures is right on target with addressing reliability for protective devices and bonding and grounding systems. Infrared thermography and ultrasound technologies are well accepted in contributing to electrical safety, but the relatively recent innovations in viewing windows and ports that enable inspection without exposure to electric shock and arc flash are gaining wide acceptance as examples of inherently safer maintenance technologies.
Q What has been most helpful in your professional career development?
A Maintaining a curiosity to learn new things, and understanding the current state of anything is a work in progress and that there is always opportunity to accelerate that progress. Having great mentors certainly is powerful, but those relationships don’t just happen. You have to take the initiative. Networking is essential. It is not enough to be "connected." Being actively engaged in conversation, debate and collaboration with an expanding network of professional colleagues will stimulate and accelerate possibilities and solutions. Building networks entails creating and nurturing relationships with people from a broad range of experiences and disciplines. Don’t limit yourself to maintenance reliability disciplines. Sometimes the greatest breakthroughs in a technology are inspired by people outside the particular discipline. Value other perspectives and look for analogies in other fields of study. Your network may be within your own organization and could extend into different functions. Organizations provide valuable opportunities where others who are dealing with the same problem may be applying different solutions. On that note, I hope to see many of the Uptime readers at IMC-2013.