The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has released the new standards for electrical safety. Part of the standards requires inspection of electrical equipment and test that equipment. Besides the fact that as an employer, you are responsible for your employees’ safety, there are other signs to look for that let you know you need to have your electrical equipment tested.

Have you been doing the required maintenance and testing?
The 2015 release of NFPA 70E 90.2 addresses the requirements for safety and electrical testing. More than likely, you have not been doing the testing that you should. NFPA 70E Article 110 covers employer responsibilities for implementing electrical safety programs and identifying risks. If you do not have the required records, it is a major sign that you need electrical equipment testing.

Electrical equipment must be within normal operation ranges. The definition of normal operation is equipment that has been installed correctly and properly maintained. Testing is part of maintenance and you are responsible for meeting the safety requirements.

The 2015 release includes several changes, and you must be aware of the changes to remain in compliance.

What is the condition of your electrical equipment room and transformers?
When you walk past your electrical equipment, do you notice that it seems warmer than usual? Newer transformer installations often include analog or digital devices to alert you to the temperature of your equipment. If your equipment is suddenly overheating, it is time for electrical equipment testing.

One thing we frequently find is electrical rooms that are turned into storage facilities. One employee leaves a broom behind, and the next worker thinks the area is a great location for last year’s holiday decorations.

The National Electric Code requires clearance in panel rooms and electrical stations. The equipment must have adequate airflow in order to operate correctly. NFPA 70E has been updated in Section 130.6 to align with OSHA standards. Clear spaces are now defined and working space in front of electrical equipment cannot be used for storage of any kind, even temporary.

Are your circuit breakers working correctly?
When a circuit fails or a short occurs, the breaker must react immediately. This is critical when it comes to GFCI circuits. Breakers wear out as they age and response time can be reduced. A delay of even a quarter of a second can mean the difference between life and death.

Even if workers are using the right PPE, it may not be rated for the duration that a faulty breaker could allow. A worn-out spring or hardened grease may be all it takes to slow down the operation. Without electrical system testing, you do not know if your breakers are responding the way they should.

Odd electrical failures
If you have been experiencing unusual failures, it is time to test electrical equipment. Random malfunctions are often related to failures in the electrical system, not failures of the equipment itself. Southwest Energy Systems, LLC has run into this type of problem frequently — you experience problems and call the equipment manufacturer; your machinery is inspected and nothing shows up as a problem.

Then, we come out to your facility for electrical equipment testing. Your electrical supply is fine, but the return path to ground has been compromised. When your grounding fails, your equipment fails. Power cannot flow correctly if it cannot return. These intermittent failures are often traced back to loose conductors, broken connections or sudden resistance surges.

For example, if a portion of your equipment is overheating, it can create a greater resistance. Your system fails. Once it cools, the resistance returns to normal and everything operates correctly. No one can find the problem, because by the time the investigation begins, the problem has corrected itself. We have the experience and equipment to locate these abnormalities.

What is the general condition of your electrical equipment?
As mentioned, the 2015 NFPA requirements include electrical equipment operating within normal ranges. Your equipment may look fine, but on closer inspection, you have a problem just waiting to create chaos. For example, look at your electrical panels. Are they all in good repair, without missing pieces?

Over time and use, panels may be missing screws or protective inserts for open slots. Circuit indicators may be missing. All these items add up to a system that can fail an inspection.

We investigated a bakery that was having random electrical problems. One of the items the bakery produced was pies baked in tin foil pans. It seems that the employees were fond of the pies and would frequently sneak outside to enjoy a treat. In an effort to hide the evidence, the pie pans were discarded underneath the electrical equipment. Yes — these pie pans are conductive and the accumulation began randomly arcing, causing the unusual failures.

While you may be surprised at some of the things we find when we test electrical equipment, you are not alone when it comes to meeting the new regulations. Southwest Energy Systems, LLC can help you navigate the requirements to maintain safe and operational electrical equipment.