Extreme Weather and Time Pressures Undermine Safety

Over the past months we have had the pleasure of enduring another winter, and in the electrical industry this can always pose many challenges. Often workers are required to work in some of the worst conditions of extreme rain and wind and, unfortunately, they always find many time pressures on them to restore power, whether they are the distribution company linesmen working on the distribution system or the general electrical contractors working on the electrical installation.

In all states of Australia this has been the concern of the electrical regulators, along with the question of how do they communicate to the electrical industry that personal safety must never be compromised. Too often they are called to incidents where either a worker has received severe burns or at times has resulted in a casualty.

As Australia comes out of the winter months and we reflect on what has occurred, we have seen two distribution company workers become fatalities; so it has become a timely reminder to use the resources available to help us reduce the risk and to always take time prior to commencing work to consider the work to be undertaken.

For the general electrical contractors there was an Australian Standard developed called AS/NZS 4836:2001 that outlined the requirements for safe electrical work on low voltage electrical installations. The objective of the standard was to provide the electrical worker with (a) the principles of safe working practices; and (b) recommended procedures for safe working practices.

This standard addresses the areas of risk control, safety measures required, test equipment, personal protective equipment and some case studies. This was developed following the production of similar documents by many of Australia’s regulators; however, even though it was produced, many workers still do not know of its existence. Many of the regulators have also chosen to retain a similar document to this standard and allow this to be available on their website at no cost, which has then allowed the training providers to make use of these documents to ensure that safety is retained for the electrical worker.

Distribution company workers are usually working on circuits above low voltage, which in Australia are commonly 11 kV, 22 kV and 66 kV. Safety documents in this area have traditionally been the domain of the electrical regulators and in Victoria there is a document that is called The Blue Book and its title is,Code of Practice of Electrical Safety for Work On or Near High Voltage Electrical Apparatus. This document is available free on the Energy Safe Victoria website at www.esv.vic.gov.au.

This document outlines the requirements for general safety, training and authorization, working in the vicinity of electrical apparatus, approach to apparatus, operation, earthing, access for work on or near and placing back into service of high voltage electrical apparatus. Since the production of the document, there has also been an increase in use of this document by companies that operate their own high voltage systems, such as the petro-chemical industry, car manufacturers, etc.

These documents are only of use if they are communicated to the intended users and made readily available; for this reason alone, many electrical regulators are using their websites to communicate this information.

Darren Margerison
Darren Margerison has been an electrical inspector for 29 years in Victoria and is currently working within the mining industry in Western Australia. Darren is the senior consultant at Audit National and the Senior Electrical Compliance Inspector for CITIC Pacific Mining. Darren is committed to the electrical inspection industry and is currently the chairman of the Australian Institute of Electrical Inspectors; he is also a strong advocate of ongoing continual professional development of electrical inspectors. He can be reached at +61 488 036 211 or darren@auditnational.com.au