Although this remains unspoken, the removal of electrical panel covers is an important topic in electric maintenance and safety. Many workers in the industry have gotten into the bad habit of opening energized, or “hot,” electrical panels for visual inspection. While this has become standard practice, it is not the way it should be done, as there are various risks in removing a panel cover as you never know what is behind it. Continue reading to learn about the dangers of removing energized panel covers and how to follow electrical safety standards.
Electrical Safety Standard
There are many risks with removing an electrical panel cover, as it exposes energized parts and conductors and poses a serious risk of shock, nuisance tripping, or arc flash explosion. You play a game of chance every time you remove a cover on an energized panel, and each time you do so, your odds of electrical injury increase. In fact, according to the latest data from the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI), electrical fatalities increased by 15% between 2015 and 2016; this is not a risk you want to take.
The National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) has a detailed electrical safety standard that states, “Energized electrical conductors and circuit parts operating at voltages equal to or greater than 50 volts shall be put into an electrically safe work condition before an employee performs work if any of the following exist:
- If work is being performed in the limited approach boundary
- The employee interacts with equipment where conductors or circuit parts are not exposed but an increased likelihood of injury from an exposure to an arc flash hazard exists.”
The NFPA standards make four exceptions for working on energized equipment. However, taking a panel cover off or opening a panel cover for visual inspection does NOT typically meet them. These exceptions include:
- Normal Operation: Several determining factors are taken into consideration for this exception, including making sure that the equipment is properly installed and maintained, the equipment doors are closed and secured, all equipment covers are in place, and there is no evidence of potential failure.
- Additional Hazard/Increased Risk: This exception is only permitted where it is demonstrated that de-energizing introduces additional hazard or risk. This may include the interruption of life support equipment, deactivation of emergency alarm systems, or the shutdown or hazardous location ventilation equipment.
- Infeasibility: This is allowed when an employer can demonstrate that the task is not possible to do in a de-energized state because of the design or operational limitations. This may apply to tasks like infrared spectroscopy, or IR scans, where the equipment must be hot to get a thermal image reading and during equipment testing.
- Less Than 50 Volts: The last exception for working on energized equipment is that conductors and circuit parts at or less than 50 volts are not required to be de-energized where the capacity of the source and protection between the source and worker are considered.
Why Workers Take The Risk
With such obvious risk and a high chance of injury, you may be wondering why this has become standard practice in the industry. Simply put, there is an element of inconvenience that comes with shutting off the equipment, and most workers do not want to wait. While safety should be their priority, they feel pressured by restrictions on time and resources and opt to ignore safety protocols to keep tasks moving along. However, this is never the right decision, as this mentality can not only result in compliance issues or equipment damage, but also very serious injuries.
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