By Jim Hazelwood
Everyone who must use PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) for arc-flash and shock protection will gripe and complain. Maybe that is a bit extreme, but follow me here. Some will complain about heat of the coveralls, or worse, the moon suit. How about the face shield? All scratched up maybe? Hearing? Hard to communicate with these earplugs in isn’t it. Nearly all your senses are dulled within the PPE. The obvious exception is your sense of smell, which is a bummer if you must share sweaty gear! Phew.
But these are minor issues compared to the mother of all complaints for electrical PPE requirements. The GLOVES! Per the NFPA 70E 130.7 (C) (a)(b) and (c)…Don’t worry I will paraphrase: Rubber gloves with leather protectors are required for where there is danger of electric shock due to contact of energized equipment. Remember, this starts at 50 VAC! Sure, you can wear just the rubber gloves, but they will then need to be electrically retested before re-use, so let’s not go there. Remember that if we are at a negligible arc-flash hazard, we still need the gloves for shock protection. In a nutshell we must wear gloves when we are working on energized components.
Did I forget to mention what a swamp those rubber gloves become in about 30 seconds? Wait, we all know the chances of picking up a small component in these gloves are that of a miracle, so how can we adapt to this situation? First thought, if it is not energized, NO GLOVES! You must like that idea, but I know it isn’t always feasible.
Working on Energized Equipment
There are two conditions that require us to work on equipment while energized: If it creates a bigger hazard if de-energized (think ventilation for example), or if we need to perform diagnostics. Those represent ninety-nine percent of the reason why we need to work on energized gear. Many believe there is a third reason: it will affect production.
Let’s look at this in detail. If your company is truly abiding by NFPA 70E standards, then this is a no-go for hot work. Let me take a moment and talk to production supervisors. Let’s pretend you are behind in production; you’re getting push back to keep all machines and lines online. Why wouldn’t you impress on maintenance to perform this work (let’s say a breaker changeout) as hot work? Let’s look at the three things that can happen here:
- Breaker Changeout successful, no loss in production…violation of NFPA70E and if this a company policy, then violation of company policy.
- Unsuccessful breaker changeout, uncontrolled shutdown of all production lines affected for the electrical panel.
- Worst case, injured worker…who you coerced into breaking company policy. These days this is not just a job ender, but criminal legal action begins.
I lied, it took a little longer than I thought to show the actions that can cause a breakdown in hazard risk assessment. You have read this far! I’m impressed, so I will point out how we can minimize the amount of time we are in the swamp, err, gloves.
- Hello, De-energize McFly. (sorry, I use dated references).
- Ninety percent of the time you are working on the same ten percent of the equipment. Let’s look at how to minimize our glove time with most of your hot work.
- Bring test points to the door of the panel, so you don’t have to open the door!
- Bring VFD displays and other operational panels to the front of the panel, or interface to HMI to allow the door to stay shut!
- Make things easier, plan ahead. Will you have to take a nut or bolt out of the panel? 3/16”? Good Luck! You might as well plan on dropping it. If this is a panel you have to get into while energized, lets think how we can do it while wearing NASA gloves! Magnetic tools are a start. How about replacing these teeny tiny components with more user-friendly items, like large wingnuts, captive components, and hinges? Look at the tool you have in your hand; if it is a pair of wire strippers or a chainsaw (excessive elaboration I know), then you are probably not performing a diagnostic function.
Wearing gloves will be with us until the robots take over. Until then, we can try to minimize this time, and use the spare time to repair the robots!