Conference Focuses on Preventing Electrical Accidents

The IEEE Industry Application Society's 15th Electrical Safety Workshop is being held from 18 to 21 March

7 January 2008

An IEEE event in March in Dallas could save your life. In fact, its predecessors may have already saved yours without your even knowing it.

That event is the IEEE Industry Application Society's 15th Electrical Safety Workshop (ESW), being held from 18 to 21 March. Devoted to preventing electrical accidents and injuries in the workplace, it serves as a forum for exchanging ideas and practical experiences among 500 engineers, electricians, scientists, safety professionals, risk managers, and physicians.

“In the last 15 years, electrical occupational fatalities in the United States have been cut in half,” says IEEE Fellow Lanny Floyd, a member of the workshop’s steering committee. “That wasn’t just ESW’s doing, but it was one of the most significant forces driving change.”

Because many electrical injuries stem from unsafe work practices, the workshop’s agenda will include information on safe practices and the latest in protective gear, as well as technical developments.

NOT A CONFERENCE As a workshop, ESW differs from conventional conferences. “From the very beginning, we wanted it to be interactive—not just speakers delivering papers but participation and questions from attendees too,” Floyd says. “Instead of parallel sessions, we hold 26 single sessions, with lots of breaks to stimulate interaction.”

The interaction goes on among attendees that include representatives of standards organizations, such as the National Fire Protection Association, and government safety agencies, including the Occupational Safety and Health Agency and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Accordingly, the workshop has also pushed, promoted, and helped develop guides to safety standards. Some of the most important of these are IEEE’s Yellow Book; Guide for Maintenance, Operation, and Safety of Industrial and Commercial Power Systems (IEEE Std. 902-1998); Guide for Performing Arc Flash Hazard Calculations (IEEE Std. 1584); and the National Fire Protection Association’s Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace (NFPA-70E-2004). On the workshop agenda are revisions and practical applications of codes and standards and a preview of the revised NFPA-70E, which will be issued late next year.

“The workshop has made more people aware of the content and value of 70E than NFPA could have through traditional marketing methods,” says IEEE Senior Member David Pace, another steering committee member. “The same is true, to a slightly lesser degree, for related standards published by the IEEE, ANSI, ASTM, and others.” The workshop isn’t trying to achieve consensus, as standards development groups do, notes Floyd, but rather to become “a forum where new possibilities can surface and be a catalyst for accelerating change.”

Other topics include advances in design safety and the latest results from arc flash hazards testing. Arc flash, a hazard distinct from electric shock or burns, was not widely recognized when the workshop was created, in 1991. Since then, the workshop has promoted the need and the means to mitigate this hazard, and several sessions will be devoted to it.

A faulty understanding of these hazards can lead to many unsafe practices and behaviors, notes Pace.

“Clearly, things that were considered acceptable 15 years ago are not acceptable today,” he says. “There’s been a culture shift.”

That’s what ESW is all about. While other IEEE events may adopt a new mission statement each year, the purpose of the ESW workshop has remained the same: to change the electrical safety culture, for the better.

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