Canadian Contractor Kicks its Program Up a Notch

By protecting its employees from electrical dangers on the job, Syntech Enerflex leads the way for Canadian employers

AS dangerous jobs go, the world of working with electricity might not seem the most romantic. Unlike firefighting or law enforcement, electricians are not often featured in blockbuster movies as heroic, brave saviors of the street. But working with electricity can be comparatively dangerous, and the injury rate for electricians is high. People who work on or near electrical sources have to be extremely careful to avoid electrocution and arc flash incidents.

An arc flash is a devastating outburst of energy that can range in temperature from 2,800 to 19,000 degrees Celsius. It sends a concentrated wave of radiant energy, hot gases, and melting metal outwards from its source. The effects on those nearby can include death, radiation burns, brain damage, and hearing and vision loss. The arc flash affects everyone in the immediate zone, and flying shrapnel from the blast can even harm those at a distance.

In order to prevent such a tragedy, more and more companies are working to prevent arc flash incidents. In Canada, the efforts are still quite new because the awareness of the dangers of arc flash is not as widespread as it is in the United States. But one company, Syntech Enerflex in Alberta, is taking the initiative to protect its employees from arc flash now.

Syntech Enerflex is one of the largest electrical and instrumentation open shop contractors in western Canada. It has developed a brand-new safety program targeted at reducing the likelihood of an arc flash incident. In doing so, Syntech Enerflex is leading the way toward increased awareness of the phenomenon in Canada.

The program hinges on the adoption of a new minimum standard for digital multimeters (DMMs). New DMMs, purchased by Syntech Enerflex but owned by the individual workers, were needed because the previous DMMs were not of the high quality the company needed, said Larry Johnson, Syntech Enerflex’s health, safety, and environment (south) coordinator. So they sought out new products that came with comprehensive educational tools. Most importantly, said Johnson, they wanted a tool that was proven to be safe and effective in the workplace.

“One of the key reasons [for the new units] was Canadian Standards Association approval. Our previous meters were not CSA-approved, and even though the tool was built to

standards, it was not tested, and we felt this was one of the most important aspects to consider when purchasing a meter,” Johnson said. He added it was also important that CSA independently verifies that the test tools meet the requirements of International Electro-Technical Commission (IEC) 61010, which is the basis for CSA C22.2 No 61010-1-04 (Safety Requirements for Electrical Equipment for Measurement, Control, and Laboratory Use Part 1: General Requirements).

70E is Program’s Foundation
But finding and buying the new meters was only the first step. A meter is only as good as the person operating it, so Johnson and his team set forth to investigate everything they could about arc flash. Fluke provided part of the research materials in the form of training seminars and training videos. The other half of the research delved into the standards set in the United States that are specific to arc flash.

“Once we determined there was an existing meter that was tested and met CSA standards,” said Johnson, “we learned more about arc flash and National Fire Protection Association 70E Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace. It’s a standard in the States that talks about how to mitigate the risk around arc flash. We put it to practice around here.”

Together with the meter training tools and the information on NFPA 70E, Syntech Enerflex’s safety program was devised. The centerpiece of the policy is the DMM pre-use inspection procedure. It has 10 steps and focuses on making sure the test tool is in good condition, it is right for the job, and the meter and leads are functioning properly (see “Syntech Enerflex Safe Work Practice: Multimeter Pre-Use Inspection,” page 83).

The third component to Syntech Enerflex’s multimeter safety program is called Energized Work Authorization. It outlines the protocol employees have to follow when testing energized equipment. The protocol was based on NFPA 70E, as well; this standard requires the calculation of a flash protection boundary, inside which workers must be protected with personal protective equipment, such as an arc flash faceshield, eye and hearing protection, insulated hand tools, insulated gloves, and fire-resistant clothing.

Johnson said feedback about the program from the employees has been good. “Most of the employees have always checked their meters before they use them, but the new procedure lays it out better for them,” he explained. “It’s their own meter, and they look after it as an important tool. They use these ideas to kick it up a notch.”

One of the most important elements of this new training is how it promotes respect and awareness of the dangers arc flash poses to electrical workers. They form the critical bridge between electrical power and the society and businesses that depend on it. Their safety is important not just to Syntech Enerflex, but also for the trade as a whole. Electricians do not need glamour; they need a safe and healthy workplace in which to perform their jobs.

This article originally appeared in the June 2007 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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