Overcoming Experience

This Oregon mill has installed a "living" electrical safety program that closely follows the NFPA 70E playbook.

Editor's note: How can a safety manager persuade both corporate management and workers to comply with NFPA 70E, the consensus standard addressing electrical safety requirements for workplaces? Read on to see how Gary McGuire solved the problem. McGuire is safety coordinator at the Newberg, Ore., mill of SP Newsprint Co. (www.spnewsprint.com), which is based in Atlanta, Ga., and produces more than 1 million tons of newsprint annually. He discussed the genesis and development of the mill's 70E compliance program in this June 2, 2005, conversation with Occupational Health & Safety's editor.

What are the elements in your company's 70E program? How many workers does it cover?

Gary McGuire: We've had our 70E program developing since late 2002. We started looking at what we needed to do, and it is evolving as we speak. It's a work in progress. And we have 16 electricians, instrument people, that this process covers. We have instrument shop people, but according to the Oregon License Code, they can only handle up to 90 VA, and that falls outside of the parameters NFPA 70E has laid out.

So it's just these 16 workers who are covered by it. What percentage is that of your site's total workforce?

McGuire: We have 240 hourly, 16 of which are electricians. It extends to our site, which covers many acres. We have many different buildings.

Primarily where this fits into the process is in the MCCs [Motor Control Centers] for each of the departments. Each department has their own building, and they have their own set of MCCs. We have one hogfuel boiler that feeds two generators, and then we have two co-gens that are gas-powered and have 747 turbine engines in them. They produce power through two generators. We produce enough power to run our own site plus power up a small city the size of Newberg. We handle up to 115,000 that is on the line coming into the mill. And what we send out is 115,000 when we sell out.

You run three shifts, and there is always an electrician on duty?

McGuire: We run 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. We have no downtime period.

Are these 16 at all times wearing apparel that is 70E-compliant?

McGuire: Yes. The mandatory apparel for them is Category 2, so they wear Category 2 one hundred percent of the time. Depending on the exposure, we go up to Category 4 next, and then anything that is beyond that, we don't do.

I thought the categories only went up to 4. I didn't know there was a higher category.

McGuire: Category 4 is the high one. You can get into wearing the moon suit, but my thought there is that the apparel can save you from the fire, but the concussion of the blast will make your insides jelly. So all you do is preserve the body for burial.

We don't mess with anything like that. Everything gets shut down, or we won't touch it.

As for the tasks your workers engage in that bring them within the ambit of 70E, it's maintenance work?

McGuire: Yes. We do our periodic maintenance, and then there are some installations. Installations are much easier to handle than maintenance because installations are, for the most part, all cold work.

Right, unpowered. I would think so.

McGuire: The maintenance is where you come into the biggest problem. The most frequent exposure that I believe any maintenance electrician has is during lockout. Even though you pull the handle on a Motor Control Center, it's still considered hot until you've proven otherwise. So you have to dress accordingly to protect yourself.

I see what you mean. Of course the obvious strategy is, whenever possible, don't do hot work. What you're saying is you don't do it, but you also have to prepare as if you were.

McGuire: Exactly. We wear the helmet and faceshield. Depending on the voltage, we wear voltage-rated gloves [for] whatever that voltage is. And then the proper test equipment to test for the voltage, to make sure the voltage is not there. We will test an instrument to make sure that it works before we do verification. Then we do a verification the power is not there. After we do that, then we take the instrument and test it immediately to make sure the instrument is still working.

It sounds like you're very thorough.

McGuire: We've had failures. I've been an electrician since 1965, and so I've seen the full thing. I've pulled [testers] out of my back pocket, checked 'em, they worked, and then I'd go to take another check and then the wire had just broken.

Tell me what started you down the path of 70E compliance in late 2002. Was there an incident that caused you to realize this was necessary?

McGuire: I went into the full-time safety business in 2001, and I started reading more into NFPA 70E [and] realizing what they were suggesting that we do. From my past experience and my personal experience of dealing with arc blasts, I know their potential.

Before I came to this mill, they had a 2,300-volt starter blow up. The door was partially open, and it sent three of their electricians to the hospital from the arc blast.

But they did survive?

McGuire: Yes.

So have you seen an arc blast?

McGuire: I actually spent a short period of time in the hospital with patches on my eyes from a blast in a 400-amp breaker.

How far away were you?

McGuire: I was right outside the door. It blew the door off, and all I got was the remainder of the blast. The door was shut.

That's fortunate.

McGuire: When it happened, it blew the door open, and then I got a little bit of the blast. I had my safety glasses on, but that was back in the '70s.

Did you fully recover?

McGuire: Oh, yeah.

I've only ever seen one of these in a test. Schneider Electric/Square D was doing one, and I went up to see that. It's an impressive sight--like a lightning bolt. You're not kidding about the power of it.

McGuire: I've seen the arc blast take a quarter-inch bolt hole in the side of a 4160 starter and blow that hole open to where it was almost 18 inches in diameter. And when that's pointing out to an aisle path in a Motor Control Center, and you realize you just walked past that . . . . It makes you stop and ponder a few things that happened.

70E isn't new, but there's a perception that many employers are still learning about it and may be confused about it. Have you found it difficult to understand and apply?

McGuire: I think because of my background, it wasn't as difficult for me to understand it. Applying it was selling it, and that was a little bit more of a challenge for me.

Do you mean selling it to management or selling it to the electricians?

McGuire: Selling it to management and selling it to electricians, too. It was one of those things that you had to sell in both directions.

I believe you. What were the challenges in each direction?

McGuire: In management, it's understanding why do we have to do this. You can go in and tell a management group anything you want to--but if all you do is tell them it's just the right thing to do, it's pretty difficult to get that across. We are very fortunate at this mill in that our Management Leadership Team is very pro-safety. I was able to share with them some of the hazards that I had personally known and then relate back to the hazard where we had put people in the hospital here at this mill. And then from this they could fully understand this truly was a hazard that could be controlled.

I just told them, "There is a cost involved, but safety is an investment. It's not an expense." I said, "You're putting money into an investment that is going to yield a very positive return that you may never be able to see."

That's a very good argument. And it worked, I take it.

McGuire: Yes, they came on board with it. The next one I knew was going to be much more difficult, and that was selling the need to the electricians. And the problem there is that you have to overcome experience. Their past experience has said, "I have not had any problems doing this." And when you're talking with people who have been electricians for 20-plus years, you have to have a good, solid argument to present to them. I knew I had to get them to say, "We want this." I couldn't say, "You have to wear this." So the first thing I did was, I brought in the [moon] suits. I showed them the moon suits then showed them the blast video, did the presentation and everything else.

When you're telling electricians that they're going to have to start wearing these moon suits, I knew that was going to be a big no.

But you expected that, and that was okay, right?

McGuire: Yes. My next step was bring in the type of material that doesn't breathe, and it's quite hot. I showed them the things that are out there to do wearing those suits. They said, "Gary, we can't do this. We have to live, we have to work." I said, "Well, what do you guys want?" They said, "We want to work in our work clothes." I said, "Okay, if I can get you work clothes like you work in, then you're all over this?" They said, "Yeah!"

Okay, that sounds good to me. We use Cintas. And the reason I had them come in is, they have the jeans and the long-sleeved shirts that don't look like uniforms. And they had bib overalls, which are a big plus for a lot of paper mill workers. So now I've brought in the same clothes that they wear every day. And I said, "Now, if you will wear these, the company will furnish them for you. They will launder them for you. If they get holes and need to be repaired, they will repair them for you. If you happen to change sizes in the waist, like some of us do from time to time, we'll replace them also." All of a sudden, they saw that they're going to get the same clothes they'd wear anyway, and now they don't even have to launder them? Or buy them? At that point, it was a pretty easy sell. There was still pushback in summer wearing the shirts, because of the heat.

Are they working outside?

McGuire: They work inside and they work outside. They work all over. It's hotter inside than it is outside.

That's a very interesting story. A lot of managers could use that method to try to sell their own programs. Maybe others have tried the same thing and had it work.

McGuire: I don't know. I didn't have anybody else that I could talk to that had any strategy in selling the program. I just had to figure out what it would personally take for me to buy into this.

Ultimately, they knew they needed to do it for their own safety. When I showed them the clothes they could wear, I said, "Hey, guys, you sent three of your people--and some of you know 'em--to the hospital with burns. Do you want to be one of them? Then what about your family? Don't you owe it to them?"

That's an excellent argument. I gather an electrician can work a whole career and not see one of these, but as you say, they'd had an experience where some workers they knew had been injured. So they knew what it could do.

McGuire: Yes.

It's been more than two years. What do you think this program has yielded? Have you had incidents since you started it?

McGuire: No. We've had incidents where we've had catastrophic failures in switchrooms, and nobody was injured.

They were wearing what they should have been wearing?

McGuire: Yes. We've also had incidents where the guys would've done something one way, at one time in their career, but since this program has started they won't do that any more. They used to plug in 480-volt buckets hot. That's a no-no now, we're not going to do that. If you're going to do that, you have to dress up Category 4; you have to have a spotter; and a hook; and everything else, in case something goes wrong. So they didn't do that. They stopped and said, "We have to wait until we can shut this section down. While we have a little time, let's double-check everything." And found that there was one phase that got wired to ground, which would have failed on them when they were plugging it in. It was one of those deals where because they took a little extra time and knew they weren't going to do it hot, they checked things out and found a failure.

I would guess they've been impressed that this program has been in place because it's made them safer and better, perhaps.

McGuire: You still have people that push back on everything. I call them my cave people: They're certainly against virtually everything.

My questions so far have been about apparel, but 70E is much more than that. Have they educated themselves about it? It addresses work practices, not just apparel.

McGuire: Right. We've actually started an electrical safety committee. That committee is taking what we consider the worst jobs that you have to do, and we're writing documented procedures on how to conduct those jobs. We started off with, if the mill was cold and we had to turn the mill on, cold, what would we do? Who would we have to have? How many people? Where would they be placed? What do you throw on first? What are the dangers if you do this?

That's why I say this is a work in progress. You cannot construct a good program like this and have it done overnight. I don't think you can do it in a year. I think it's one of those living documents, so it will be a lifelong process that we develop. We want to do some different types of studies to enable to place, right down to the bucket, what our potential fault is and then label everything that way. It's taking time to get to that point. We're working off the NFPA 70E guidelines right now--

The 2004 version?

McGuire: Yes, we're working off their charts, and we deal with everything based on that. And in 2006, we're going to [use] a software version that handles one-line drawings and does the calculations and predictions and everything else. That's what we're going to; our next big step is going to that software.

I call it our electrical safety living program. We will be able to have a one-line drawing in electronic format. You run your mouse over this piece of electrical equipment, and it will tell you what the arc flash potential is. You will be able to click on it and print out a safe working procedure to shut it down, start it up, or to do whatever maintenance you needed to do.

That's great. I've seen signage offered to put on a machine that would do the same thing. But to have that kind of a document, which you could consult in your office or out in the plant somewhere, would be fantastic.

McGuire: It'll be on our network. Every switchroom has computers in it, so they would potentially be able to go to every one of those switchrooms and find out what they need to do and what the potentials are there.

Fabulous. You mentioned the electrical safety committee. Are all of the electricians on it?

McGuire: We have people from the electrical group that are on that committee, but not all of them are on the committee.

Do you head it?

McGuire: Yes. It's myself and the electrical supervisor, and then we have three other guys from the department that are on the committee.

Basically, there's no end to this process, right?

McGuire: I don't see how there ever could be. As we become more efficient in what we do, we'll continue to create more hazards. You become more efficient with space, and you change transformers and the way they're constructed, and you change the impedance. Somebody does that, and they do not know about what the trickle down effect might be. But that creates such a huge hazard for us that I think it is part of the main dangers we have now.

Did that have something to do with the incident in which those three men were hurt?

McGuire: I don't think so. I know the lower the impedance, the higher the risk out on the floor for us. Now, in our facility, we have a scenario where we're running both of our co-gens and our No. 10 boiler, and we're not bringing any power in, but that could change in an instant. If a co-gen goes down or the boiler goes down, and all of a sudden we change our power structure on who's pulling what and what refiners are up and running, all of that has a great deal of effect on what your arc flash potential is. So you have to be able to adjust all the time.

Is your electrical safety committee involved in such things and taking an active role to make others aware of the risk?

McGuire: Exactly. What we've been able to do is share with a lot of people what we do, and [tell them]: "If you do this, this is the effect it has on us." We're able to share more with other people as they're making their decisions. It may not change their minds but puts them in a position where they'll give us more of a heads-up on what's being done.

This article appeared in the August 2005 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

This article originally appeared in the August 2005 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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