A Flash in Time
By: Fred Bothwell
While working as warehouse manager for one of the nation’s largest tire companies back in the early 1990s, I had requested getting the roof-top unit checked out by our A/C company. As the A/C guy was checking voltage, he lets out a yell. Then he gathers himself, starts doing the same thing and lets out another yell. It turns out that through perfect timing, at the same moment he touched the two leads to the unit, his beeper--on vibrate in his shirt pocket--was signaling him. He thought he was getting shocked. Later that year, when this same A/C guy was checking an industrial battery charger, he did get shocked for real. We had to call the emergency squad. He was okay, but it was a real “shock” for all.
At Speer Mechanical, the mechanical contractor for whom I work now, we have a Construction division, a Special Projects group, and a service department. We do everything from demolition to installing units inside mechanical rooms and on rooftops.
For roof-top installations, we use RT forklifts, cranes, and helicopters to place the units on the roofs. Our Construction workers set the units in place and connect them to the building, and Service Techs connect the units to the power. Later on, it’s the Service Techs who get the call when a building is either too hot or too cold.
Service Techs are the workers with the risk of being directly affected by an Arc Flash. Their training in NFPA 70E shows them that their lives can be changed in the blink of an eye. As their safety coordinator, my job is to impress upon them the seriousness of these situations.
Since 2006, we started holding NFPA 70E classes, purchasing Arc Flash suits, and getting everyone set up so they can follow the rules. The Arc Flash suits were really stiff, bulky, and had the “beekeeper” hood. You can bet everyone couldn’t wait to wear that outfit in our 90-degree humid Ohio weather. We held about five Arc Flash classes to cover the entire Service department. Speer has one of the largest service departments in the Central Ohio area, and we were one of the first companies to get set up for this topic.
That year, I got the opportunity to present our NFPA 70E program to the local union hall to which our Service Techs belong. It was a fairly new topic in the area, and I think some of the information was surprising to those who attended. I reviewed cost, time spent, and what would be required in the future. Some of those things have since changed somewhat, but the importance of the training has not.
Our Service Techs are not always working with electricity. They have many other tasks throughout the day. Training, following, and observing some 70+ Service Techs is my challenge.
We work on 480 volts or less. Our work opportunities can occur at any time, at any job site, and on most any type of equipment. Therefore, all Service Technicians are trained and tested to prove they know what they’re doing. They take classes at the union hall and attend training sessions held at Speer. In addition, some vendor companies want our workers to have specific knowledge of certain equipment, which can have inner workings that change over time. Our Service Techs do a good job of working safely on all equipment and following the rules to continue being safe.
In February 2020, we received new Arc Flash suits purchased from Enespro and the difference is astounding: no more stiff, uncomfortable outfits, but more like putting on regular clothing. As we continue to utilize the updates we all get from NFPA, the training we get from vendors and other outside sources, and the experiences we encounter on the job, we give ourselves the guidance and education necessary to be safe and successful.
The times may change, but the need for safety is a constant element. Not just safety first, but safety always.
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