12 Jul 2024

Electrical risk mitigation

Electrical Risk Mitigation in Manufacturing Facilities

In the article below Simon Concar, Managing Director of adi Electrical, shares key steps that must be taken in manufacturing facilities to minimise the risks associated with electrical systems.

Manufacturing facilities rely heavily on electrical systems to operate efficiently, and are home to a range of electrically powered equipment and installations. When it comes to electrical systems, ensuring that risks are managed effectively is imperative: every year, around 1,000 workplace accidents and 30 employee fatalities are reported to the Health and Safety Executive that involve electric shocks or burns.

Building an in-depth understanding of the risks

The first step is certainly to gain a thorough understanding of the electrical hazards that can occur in manufacturing facilities.  This can be achieved by conducting a full risk assessment focusing on the industrial electrical safety elements.

The primary purpose of risk assessment and hazard identification is to explore the dangers of electric shock, identifying hazardous areas, factors affecting its severity, and potential consequences. They identify common electrical hazards in the workplace, including faulty wiring, overloaded circuits, and inadequate grounding.  Risk assessments are pivotal in assessing electrical hazards and implementing risk management strategies in response.

One specific area that should be assessed is electric arc flash. An arc flash risk assessment determines the incident energy found at each location, in turn helping establish what actions are required to reduce this and what level of personal protective equipment (PPE) must be used by the employee.

Be compliant

Compliance is a key area to consider. Facility owners should maintain compliance with the Electricity at Work Regulations, BS 7671, as well as have regular checks and inspections of electrical wiring, often through an Electrical Installation Condition Report, or EICR.  This provides evidence that systems have been checked and are considered safe. For industrial applications this can often be done whilst systems are energised if you work with the right experts.

Conduct regular testing

It’s also vital to ensure that electrical circuits and systems are tested regularly, as this can help to identify faults that could become bigger problems in the future.  Crucially, testing should be carried out by what we refer to as a ‘competent person’. Normally this implies a qualified and experienced electrical engineer, accredited by a recognised trade body and familiar with applicable codes of practice.

Proper earthing and bonding

Ensuring proper earthing and bonding of electrical systems is equally essential. Earthing is intended to limit the duration of touch voltages, such as if someone were to make contact with an exposed conductive part. The earth creates a safe route for the current to flow instead of causing electric shock.

The purpose of bonding is to reduce the risk of electric shock if someone were to touch separate metallic parts when there is a fault somewhere within the electrical installation.  Both elements are required to ensure a safe environment, and in certain production facilities such as electronics, they need to be enhanced to ensure static electric shocks do not harm people or products.

Standardise procedures

Standardising procedures is another important piece of the puzzle. In most manufacturing facilities, there are often changes being made to processes or equipment, but every time a change is implemented, even if it’s a retrofit, a new evaluation of risk should be carried out.  This includes looking for loose connectors or cables, potentially damaged plugs and adapters, unsteady fastenings, bare wiring and more.

Human error is what most commonly causes accidents, meaning standardising safety procedures can significantly help mitigate the risk of electrical hazards.  Standard procedures should also dictate that electrical equipment is de-energised and ‘locked out’ to prevent re-energisation during maintenance work.

What are some other elements to consider?

There are, of course, other factors that come into play which should be carefully considered. For instance, electrical panels, switches, and equipment should be clearly labelled with appropriate warning signs. Workers should always use the correctly rated, non-conductive tools specifically designed for electrical work when working on or near live electrical components.

In any facility, it’s also important to make sure that any electrical panels and equipment are easily accessible and not obstructed by other process machinery, conveyors, or materials. Additionally, implementing a lockout/tagout procedure if any work is conducted on electrical systems or equipment can verify they are safe to work on.

And although this is the last line of defence, appropriate PPE should always be provided to workers where needed.