12.04.2017 : Tim Dunn

Maintaining the safety of electrical installations

Electricity – it keeps our lights on, our food and drink cold and speeds up our ability to perform work related activities. But all too often we fail to effectively monitor and maintain the source that enables our daily activities – particularly in the workplace, where risks of electrical-related incidents are increasing. All too often electrical compliance and safety reviews are only initiated following an incident where the local workplace health and safety regulator has been involved – this is not the time you want to find out you have unsafe electrical installations.

Just like any other asset such as a building, road or bridge, electrical installations need to be maintained over their lifetime. Too often this type of maintenance work falls through the cracks due to resource and cost implications and a failure to understand the regulations.

Your local health and safety, and electricity acts and regulations put the onus on a business owner (PCBU) to understand the risks associated with electrical assets, to ensure electrical installations and equipment present no risk to persons or property. Understanding the requirements of these acts and regulations can be a challenge due to their complexity and often risk and compliance related advice can be limited and from varied sources. In Australia, each state has its own specific work safety laws and this can be complex to manage if you have assets in more than one state.

Obtaining professional, independent and impartial electrical safety advice from those with deep knowledge of the regulatory framework, and with experience across a wide geography and industry, can be a more effective way of helping you to improve safety and reducing compliance costs.

We take a look at three ways to ensure the ongoing operation and safety of your business.

1. Maintain good practice

The best way to ensure you are compliant is to maintain good practice. If your electrical installations are well maintained over their life cycle, with good quality records and documentation, you’ll find your assets will generally continue to be compliant and electrically safe as per the intent of the original design. This doesn’t just mean electrical safety is maintained, but it can also minimise operational downtime, positively impacting your company’s bottom line.

2. Set up regular internal reviews

Set up regular internal reviews and external audits of your installation’s electrical safety. Reviews may happen during your pre-planned annual shutdowns, when any modifications are made to your plant or if there are any concerns about electrical safety.

If you have an installation in a hazardous area then a review needs to be undertaken at least every four years. Your high voltage assets should also be reviewed periodically with earthing systems inspected every one to three years.

Reviews of your assets should consider at least the following items:

  • Condition of switchgear
  • Overloading of switchgear and/or transformers
  • Fault protection and settings
  • Electrical rooms (fire protection, dust protection, HVAC, and documentation)
  • Safety of machinery (conveyor controls, emergency stops)
  • Consideration of arc flash risks
  • Earthing and bonding
  • Access and egress from switch rooms
  • Lighting and emergency lighting
  • Test and tagging of portable electrical equipment
  • Procedures – isolations, high voltage work
  • Documentation and Verification plans
  • Condition assessment / potential risks
  • Unauthorized electrical work
  • Need for a lightning assessment

3. Older facilities present more risks – act now

Over time, modifications, additions or expansions to facilities happen, and with good records these modifications can be assessed in conjunction with the original design to ascertain if the requirements of the current regulations and standards are met.

Owners of older installations, for example over 30 years old, should consider an electrical safety review immediately. Older facilities are at a greater risk of electrical component failure which can lead to fires or a higher risk of arc flash during switching or fault conditions. These are a risk to personnel and potential damage to plant leading to operational downtime and repair costs.

If you are concerned about your installation, or would like to seek independent professional advice on this matter, contact Tim Dunn on +64 7577 1131 (New Zealand), Rob Mikleus on +61 3 9272 1558 (Australia), Tom Robertson on +61 3 9944 1671 (Australia), or talk with your local Beca team.

About the Author

Tim Dunn

Technical Director, Compliance Services

Tim has over thirty years’ experience in electrical and control systems engineering. He provides technical and project management inputs to an extensive range of projects in the water and industrial industries, including oil and gas, pulp and paper, mining and metals, chemicals, manufacturing, and food and beverage.

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