A resource for safe and effective troubleshooting from the leaders in simulation training.

Hello again, Troubleshooters! Welcome back to Troubleshooting Thursdays. If you’ve been following along with us, you’ll know that last week we talked about troubleshooting your training processes. Today on TsT, it’s going to become pretty clear why training is so important for electrical troubleshooting and troubleshooters: without it, bad things happen. Electricity can be deadly, and maintenance professionals who don’t know how to protect themselves from it are sitting ducks.

Last year, OSHA recorded 1530 electrical safety violations in the US that resulted in accidents, injuries, and deaths. The Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) keeps track of fatal and nonfatal electrical accidents, and reports that in 2016 there was a 15% increase in fatalities over the previous year (to 154). Exposure to electric current became the sixth most common occupational exposure leading to death on the job, overtaking aircraft fatalities. And those are just the fatal accidents. Nonfatal accidents may still result in horrible injuries such as severe burns or amputations.

Today we’re going to show you the 5 most common mistakes that maintenance professionals who have not had proper training make when they attempt to diagnose and repair electrical faults in production line machinery.

Top 5 Rookie Mistakes when Working on Electrical Equipment

  1. Failing to lockout/tagout (LOTO) and verify.

Inadequately isolating circuits and switchgear before working on them is a very common rookie mistake that unfortunately can result in severe electrical shock or death to the maintenance professionals themselves, or to other workers who attempt to use the equipment. Circuits must be LOTO’d and then verified to be sure they are safe before working on them. Warning tags must be affixed to the place of disconnection so that others know the equipment is being worked on. Rookies may also be unaware that equipment capable of storing a charge must be safely discharged.

  1. Working on live equipment unsafely.

Sometimes (though rarely), it’s necessary to work on live equipment. It is extremely dangerous, and usually only happens when, for a number of reasons, it would be disproportionately disruptive or impossible to make the equipment dead. Most electrical accidents happen because people are working on or near equipment that is live but they think is dead, or they know is live but for which they have not taken proper precautions.

Rookies may not know 1) that the equipment is actually live, 2) the risks of working live; 3) how to make the call whether it is reasonable to work live, and 4), if they must work live, how to protect themselves and others from potential hazards.

  1. Not using the proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

When electrical equipment fails, or when a test probe is used incorrectly, electric current can flow through the air, through the gap between conductors, causing an arc flash. Anyone in the vicinity, usually the maintenance professional, can be severely burned in the superheated air and/or injured by the impact or by molten metal shrapnel during the explosion.

Personal protective equipment (PPE) can help prevent or lessen these injuries, but the troubleshooter must be aware of the level of the arc energy that could be generated in a particular situation in order to choose the proper kind of PPE. The arc energy (measured in cal/cm2) can be calculated if you know the available fault current, the voltage, the clearing time for the protective device, and how close the body part is to the arc. Once you know the arc energy, you can choose the appropriate PPE. (NFPA 70E is a workplace electrical safety standard that outlines various levels of PPE required for different types of tasks. OHSA also has recommendations.)

Untrained troubleshooters may walk right into a flash hazard without knowing what PPE is required.

  1. Touching poorly insulated electrical conductors.

This type of hazard really should not exist, but the fact is that sometimes electrical conductors in electrical equipment are not maintained safely, and may not be insulated properly. In other cases, decades-old equipment was not designed with shock prevention in mind and can also present a hazard.  Untrained rookies may touch an open conductor, receiving a deadly shock.

  1. Not being aware of safe/unsafe working zones or confined spaces.

Sometimes unsafe zones in workplaces are not clearly marked. That is management’s responsibility, but untrained maintenance personnel may not spot the dangerous conditions in the area, such as live current. Confined spaces can also be extremely dangerous and present many hazards, for example, gases may accumulate inside and create a fire hazard. Confined spaces must be inspected by people qualified to perform a confined space hazard assessment, and proper regulations must be followed. Rookies without appropriate training may enter these areas without realizing the danger.

Create a Culture of Safety

These risks are real. Real people lose life and limb because they have not been properly prepared to work with electricity.

Beginners are always going to make mistakes. Simutech Multimedia’s Troubleshooting Skills Training System helps to create a culture of safety in your workplace because it provides a realistic but completely safe environment where rookie troubleshooters can learn from their mistakes. Each lesson emphasizes safety precautions such as lockout/tagout, and they are continually reinforced in the practice faults.

It’s management’s responsibility to ensure that workers are properly trained and prepared to face the very real hazards of working with electrical equipment. We’re going to look at that topic next Thursday – the most common mistakes that supervisors make when their staff is working with electrical equipment.

Thanks for joining us, Troubleshooters! See you next week.

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