Sessions on Safety

A workshop tackles how to eliminate electrical hazards

5 November 2010

When the electrical gadgets most people handle deal only in millivolts and milliamperes, it’s easy to forget that electricity can be hazardous. But out in the world of power distribution, industrial electrical equipment, and even home appliances, the hazards deserve attention and respect. The annual Electrical Safety Workshop (ESW), sponsored by the IEEE Industry Applications Society (IAS), aims to help instill that respect and to minimize and even eliminate the hazards. The 2011 workshop is scheduled for 24 to 28 January in Toronto.

“A heavy emphasis on attendee participation distinguishes our workshop from most electrical safety conferences,” says publicity chair David Pace, an IEEE senior member. To foster such participation, the ESW’s program has a single technical track with 26 consecutive sessions, so that everyone can attend each session, with everyone focused on the same topic.

“That fosters cohesiveness, synergy, and networking,” says Lanny Floyd, an IEEE Fellow and a member of ESW’s steering committee. “For example, sometimes when a question arises in the audience, the speaker will realize someone else in the audience is better able to answer it and passes it to him or her.”

Sessions are devoted to hazards (including static electricity discharges and stray currents), protective systems and equipment, and technologies for safe testing and inspection. Human factors—the multidisciplinary field that tries to match human capabilities and foibles with the safe operation of technical equipment—also will be emphasized, including reasons why electrical workers and service people take risks and how innovative safety training can reinforce a culture of electrical safety.

A number of case histories will illustrate “practical examples of accidents and accident avoidance, and recommended solutions,” Floyd says.

“We don’t just focus on high voltage and talk to engineers,” adds organizing chair Eva Clark, an IEEE senior member. “Presentations are aimed at all levels, from construction workers to electricians, safety professionals, risk managers, and physicians.”

The main conference sessions will be preceded and followed by tutorials, organizers say. Preconference tutorials include a basic introduction to electrical safety and a session on electrical safety management for safety professionals. The postconference tutorials are more advanced and more narrowly focused, tackling subjects such as facilities design, systems safety techniques for hazard analysis, and creating an effective electrical maintenance program.

There also will be an expo of protective clothing, switchgear, tools, explosion-proof products, and more, says the exhibition chair, IEEE Senior Member Scott Seaver, who expects about 60 companies to participate. “Each one will be highlighting new safety products,” he says.

Exhibitors are encouraged to attend all the workshop sessions. In Floyd’s view, “this gives them a unique opportunity to understand the needs of their customers.

“We have seen several exhibitors get ideas for innovative new products that they’ve later brought to market, particularly in the area of arc-flash mitigation,” he says. “The expo is not just a trade show. It’s also a unique way for exhibitors and users to engage one another.”

Adds Clark, “Participants have expressed a need, and manufacturers have in the past produced a product to fill it.” She notes that such sessions have led to breakthrough improvements in human factors (particularly in understanding human errors, including how even highly trained, skilled, and qualified people can make mistakes), inherently safer electrical technology, and management systems that reduce injury risks.

“Our primary mission is not to duplicate the many conferences that help people understand and apply current safety requirements, vital as that is,” Clark says. “ESW’s mission is more about changing the electrical safety culture and bringing about sustainable changes in preventing electrical accidents and injuries.”

Clark is an electrical designer for the National Ignition Facility and Photon Science Directorate at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. She says that ESW’s biggest impact has been on updating standards such as the National Fire Protection Association’s 70E Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace. Many ESW participants are on the committee developing the standard. According to Clark, they often see new information and thought-provoking presentations at the workshop—which have then been introduced in the updates.

Working groups for three IEEE electrical safety-related standards plan to hold committee meetings in conjunction with ESW; the gatherings are open to anyone with an interest. The three are IEEE Std. 1584 on electric-arc hazard calculations, IEEE P1814 on electrical system design techniques to improve safety, and IEEE Std. 1683 on enhanced safety in motor control centers.

A downloadable index of the more than 300 ESW papers and presentations since the first workshop was held in 1992 maps out the topics that have already been addressed, Floyd notes. “This helps us see what areas require further exploration.” Papers from workshops held in 2008 and after are available in the IEEE Xplore digital library. Papers from prior meetings are being assembled on a DVD to be issued to participants at the IAS-ESW conference to be held in 2013.

ESW has partnered with IEEE Region 9 and its IEEE Industry Application Society chapters to hold a sister conference, ESW Brazil, every two years. The next one is scheduled for October in Salvador.

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