I sure am glad that I am not a contract employer. Their calls to me often end up with same statement being made at one point or another. That statement is “if I don’t do the work energized my competitor will”. Take the job to get paid or pass up on the job and don’t get paid. That is the decision in a nutshell. Unfortunately, when it comes to electrical safety there is another decision that you are making at the same time. That decision is whether or not to risk your safety or the safety of your employee.
Often the host employer wants energized work to be conducted because they do not want to lose revenue. They have already made their decision that your safety is not as important as their bottom line. That is a scary prospect in its own right. You explain the issues with this. You cover everything from equipment damage, extended downtime, and loss of production anyway. That may not sway them and they may still want to risk your safety. You then cover the lead time in getting the new gear in, the cost of that new gear and finish up with the potential for injury or death. Finally, the host employer sees the light.
This very often leads to the next problem that you often face. A meeting is held to go over the host employer and your duties (Article NFPA 70E®, Article 110 addresses some of the things to consider for each role.) The host not only has no knowledge of any electrical hazards but has no equipment labels, no single line drawings, no safety program and no maintenance program. This concerns you since the seemingly simply task of operating a disconnect switch now presents a far greater hazard and risk of injury then if these things had been done. You show them your lockout/tagout procedure, provide information on the work procedures that you will use and explain the benefits of proper PPE. Luckily for you the host wants to do things right. They now realize that their employees are at risk of injury each time they operate equipment. Not only do they want you to do the original work but want you revamp the entire electrical system during the scheduled week long shutdown. Damage equipment is repaired or replaced. Circuit breakers and fuses are installed with the correct ratings. The short circuit current ratings of equipment are verified to be suitable for that point on the distribution network. All equipment is labeled to facilitate establishing an electrically safe work condition. Before you leave the work site, you educate them on justified energized work, help them establish lockout/tagout procedures, move them in the right direction for equipment maintenance, and leave them a copy of NFPA 70E. From that point on you are their electrical contractor.
We all know this is all too often a fairy tale. Equipment maintenance is sacrificed. What was on the truck has been installed even if it is not quite correct for the installation. In house installations do not comply with the National Electrical Code®. Short cuts are taken to maximize revenue. Someone not knowledgeable about safety may take the job. Safety may give way to receiving a paycheck. Imagine though if everyone did what is right. Everyone proactively implements electrical safety policies and procedures. An equipment maintenance program is not seen as being unnecessary but a critical aspect of safety for anyone interacting with electrical equipment. The default electrical work procedure is an electrically safe work condition. When energized work is conducted, it is justified for the task and protective measures are taken to minimize the worker’s injury if an incident does occur. Both the host employer and you follow NFPA 70E. In that world you do not have to consider risking your own or your employee’s safety to get paid. Utopia. Until then I am glad I don’t have to make the decisions you are faced with.
Next time: Going without an energized work permit.