Avoiding electrical hazards: Stay safe, not sorry - Part 2: How the IIoT is changing electrical safety

This month’s three-story package covers electrical safety developments you need to know about, from OSHA updates to the impact of the IIoT.

By Sheila Kennedy, contributing editor

Read Part 1: Compelled to stay safe in confined spaces

Read Part 3: How context-aware technology is helping protect workers

Most maintenance teams and environment, health, and safety (EHS) officers consistently look for ways to improve team safety. While it’s often hard to justify changing existing practices and tools, when it comes to electrical safety, there’s a clear exception. Noncontact tools have measurably improved electrical safety, but new opportunities afforded by the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) heighten their potential.

Wireless tools are an example. Because they place greater distance between technicians and potential hazards, the changeover to wireless tools that began several years ago is likely to accelerate as more tools become wireless. They usually don’t cost any more than regular models do, and they are no more complex to use.

Electrical safety technology providers are also adding cloud connectivity to their tool catalogs. For instance, certain multimeters, clamp meters, power quality meters, and infrared cameras are IIoT-enabled by a radio that connects to a smartphone via a smartphone app. The test tool live-streams its readings to the app, from which the user can read the measurement in safer surroundings as well as tag and save the measurement to a cloud database for later reference by the entire maintenance team.

Early adoption of IIoT-enabled tools reflects a company’s risk profile and how heavily regulated it is, suggests reliability specialist Paul Dufresne, CMRP, CRL. “The nuclear and pharmaceutical industries tend to be more advanced in the technologies they employ, such as safety tools tied back into the DCS through smart controllers and things like that.”

Not every company is at that point. Dufresne said that to date he has used a kaleidoscope of tools for electrical safety – grounding systems, electrical motor testing, partial discharge testing, and infrared testing among them – but they all were standalone. No IIoT-enabled tools have yet been used by his team, and there was no live, active tracking of electrical safety system monitoring results.

Corporate security policies also influence tool decisions. “As a rule, we don’t use any outside Internet vehicles such as the cloud,” says Russell Flagg, CBM program owner at Duke Energy’s Smith Energy Complex. “We are a regulated utility that must comply with the NERC/CIP network security requirements, so that pretty much rules out that method of data transfer and review.”

The Smith Energy Complex is instead leveraging the IIoT by installing continuous motor monitoring sensors on all of its medium-voltage switchgear so the gear can be monitored 24/7. This eliminates having to open energized switchgear and attaching clamps on meters. “The continuous motor monitoring will be fed into our SmartGen program and will be part of our M&D center monitoring regimen,” says Flagg.

At The J.M. Smucker Company, ultrasound, infrared, and motor circuit analysis are among the most useful tools for monitoring and maintaining electrical safety, says Joe Anderson, CMRP, CRL, and a former reliability leader at Smucker who joined the Schwan Food Co. as senior reliability manager earlier this year. Anderson predicts that all such tools soon will be IIoT-enabled. “This will be driven by customer demand and to help them maintain a competitive advantage,” he says. 

Read Part 1: Compelled to stay safe in confined spaces

Read Part 3: How context-aware technology is helping protect workers

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