Risks from outdated electrical equipment labels

Photograph by Ellen Jaskol.

Jeffrey Engelstad, PE, MBA
Electrical engineer, Encore Electric

If you are responsible for a hospital, health care facility or senior housing property, you know it is vital to prioritize the health and safety of everyone in your facility. It is critical that you are aware of the most recent updates to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers 1584 Standards that govern the calculations for arc flash potential within an electrical system. This should help you reduce the risks inherent in energized electrical work and prevent electrical incidents from happening.

What You Need to Know

Jack Cain, CSP
Health and safety director, Encore Electric

If your facility performs any energized work, note that according to the IEEE 1584 Standards updated in 2018, all arc flash studies and labels currently on your equipment calculated using the IEEE 1584 Standards from 2002 could significantly understate the proper Personal Protective Equipment required for energized work. This means electricians working on the systems using those outdated calculations may not be properly protected from a potential arc flash, which could lead to serious injury, death or damage to property. One area of significant change in the IEEE 1584 Standards applies to all equipment on the load side of transformers with secondary voltages of 250 volts or less and power of 125 kVA or less.

Here are some critical requirements to follow while energized work is performed:

• Notify anyone who may work on your electrical system of the changes to the IEEE 1584 Standards so they can be sure to wear the appropriate PPE.

• When calculating arc flash hazards, follow the most current IEEE 1584 Standards to ensure proper personal protection is used.

• Review calculated arc flash labels and/or studies at regular intervals to ensure the electrical system or the calculations standards have not changed in a way that will impact the calculated values for determining proper PPE.

With the recent changes to the calculations in the IEEE 1584 Standards, one way to mitigate the risk of work being completed with insufficient PPE is to identify labels that are at risk of being incorrect and to cover those labels with new generic labels warning the electrician to evaluate the risk on a case-by-case basis. These labels should warn individuals to refer to NFPA 70E Standards for Electrical Safety in the Workplace for proper safety and personal protective equipment.

Understanding Energized Work Requirements

Unfortunately, there is often confusion and a lack of understanding of when it is acceptable to work on energized circuits, and it is a bigger problem than many in the industry realize. It is important to understand that you should only work on energized circuits when there is no other alternative.

For the majority of facility service circumstances, an electrically safe work condition is ensured by turning the power off and implementing a lockout/tagout process and by verifying with a zero energy process. However, there are rare circumstances where work must be done on energized systems.

Article 130.2 of NFPA 70E – 2018 Edition states that energized work can be permitted in specific situations. One such situation is where de-energizing introduces additional hazards or increased risk, such as the interruption of life support equipment in a hospital or other health care facility.

In these situations, where working on energized electrical systems is necessary, it is critical for facility managers and their electrical contractors to fully understand the risks and necessary safety precautions involved. Devastating cases of arc flash and other electrical incidents can and do happen, posing significant dangers to both people and facility operations. Along with severe injury or even death, an electrical accident also can result in lengthy disruption to facility operations, costly equipment repairs or replacement, irreparable damage to an organization’s reputation and, under some circumstances, significant fines and penalties from regulatory agencies.

We work to educate our customers about energized work. However, sometimes we are asked to do things that are not in conformance and it is our policy that we will not take any action that might endanger the lives of our electricians, the occupants of a building or cause undue shutdown times and costs. We want to protect our customers and help them understand that the cost involved in taking these risks can be astronomical.

Electrical Safety Starts with Design

When planning new facility builds, expansions or remodels, it is best to start in the design and preplanning stages to find ways to complete life support and other critical system electrical tasks de-energized.

Construction or design professionals should design projects with the outage in mind. Attempt to design in a way that all additions to your essential electrical system are as far downstream toward the end of the electrical system as possible. Another opportunity is to find spare distribution that can be de-energized and add new essential loads downstream of these “safe to isolate” circuits.

When planning for any energized electrical work, we recommend the development of a detailed method of procedure. It is best to preplan to mitigate risk. It is important to address what absolutely cannot be de-energized and, if there were to be a loss of power to these systems, how to get the critical circuits refed and back on line quickly. The MOP also should address best practices for safety of patients, health care workers, the general public and the electrician. Planning for known duration, controlled outages is the goal. You want to avoid the unforeseen, unknown outage any way you can.

When it comes to health and safety, commitment starts at the top. We want our customers and all organizations to have a clearly defined and well communicated electrical safety process in place to protect their employees, guests and their company.

Featured in the January 2020 issue of Health Care Properties Quarterly

Edited by the Colorado Real Estate Journal staff.