As the World Gets Hotter, There is a Push to “Electrify Everything”

But If We Do, Workers Must Be Protected.

By Kevin Pietras, Contributor

Electrification is a critical part of any plan to cool the planet and would quickly cut the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere by curtailing our reliance on fossil fuels. That’s why local governments around the U.S. are now placing bans1 on natural gas in new construction.

The math shows carbon emissions in the U.S. could be reduced by as much as 80%2 by 2035 through rapid expansion of already existing electrification methods. McKinsey says3 power plants could immediately cut their fossil fuel use in half by using electrification technologies available to them now. Data from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) suggests that, by transitioning to electricity, our homes and businesses could cut 306 million metric tons4 of CO2 emissions by 2050—the equivalent of taking 65 million passenger vehicles off the road.

Clearly, electrification is a game-changer. But it also changes the rules for employers. As industry and other major users shift to electrification, they’ll have to reckon with the electrical hazards that are presented by the increase in high-voltage lines, including shocks, disabilities, burns, and fatal electrocution. Today, electricity causes approximately 30,000 shock incidents5 and 350 job-related fatalities6 in the U.S. annually, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The proper protective equipment and accessories

As the nation transitions to electric, the numbers of shock incidents and job-related fatalities have the potential to rise, and new safety measures are needed to limit them. People put in the position of working around electricity every day would have to be provided with the right protective equipment by their employers. Employers need effective plans to reduce the risk to workers. Aside from providing workers with a wide range of protective equipment on the job site such as proper gloves, sleeves, and footwear, there are various accessories available that help ensure the safety of workers on the job.

Key accessories that contribute to safety include:

  • Insulating blankets: Protect workers from electrical hazards by covering energized components and supplying a barrier for electrical equipment.
  • Line hoses: Help to protect workers from coming into accidental contact with high voltage linesand live conductors. Line hoses remain flexible in cold weather and are not damaged by ozone or ultraviolet rays.
  • Insulating saddles: Ideal for temporary or emergency line jobs like stringing light conductors over short spans. These saddles should hold bare or insulated conductors in either an upright or inverted position and have a voltage rating of 15kV.
  • Plastic covers/guards: Provide temporary electrical insulation and visual warning of power lines and wires.

The danger of static

Before you can choose the correct protective equipment and accessories, you must first know the risks that your workers face. For example, many job environments pose the risk of static-charge accumulation. This static, if discharged, can cause sparking, which in turn can cause an explosion under certain circumstances. Another risk of static discharge is disruption of your tech network and downtime for machines or for your entire production process.

Here, protective gear must be chosen carefully. Some protective equipment, including eyewear, face shields, footwear, and hardhats can themselves cause sparking that could lead to fires or explosions. So, any equipment used in places where explosion is a risk should be tested and rated for its electrostatic potential. This equipment should be made of materials that will not cause the release of static electricity.

Antistatic vs. insulated equipment

The proper safety accessories for environments where static is a risk are those that allow conductivity. When conductivity is high, static will not build up. Instead, charges will be dissipated immediately and go to the ground. This will prevent electrostatic discharge and sparking that could be caused by low conductivity.

Traditionally, the approach to protection against shock has been the use of insulated clothing and insulated tools. Insulation blocks charges and properly insulated clothing and equipment won’t transmit electricity. This helps protect workers. Rubber is the best-known insulating material. Rubber in the soles of footwear and rubber layers in gloves are still common lines of defense against electrical shock on the job.

Insulating rubber gloves and sleeves are vital pieces of protective equipment for many electrical workers. Insulating gloves and sleeves should be chosen based on the rating for the voltage that their wearers are exposed to, and this rating should be clearly indicated on the clothing.

But keep in mind that there is no perfect insulator, and this is why antistatic clothing is also essential for workers who are often around electricity. Clothes made out of antistatic materials don’t allow static to accumulate and thus can help prevent electrostatic discharge.

Antistatic footwear limits the static electricity that builds up as workers walk. It constantly dissipates any static from the wearer to the ground and prevents static discharge. Depending on your voltage and application, look for footwear that has an electrical-resistance rating between 0.1 and 1000 MegaOhms (MΩ). Class 4 footwear has the highest rating. It protects against voltages as high as 36000V.

In addition to insulated rubber gloves and sleeves, as well as antistatic footwear, grounding equipment helps to prevent electrical hazards caused by static. With electrical installation, enhanced protection extends beyond the physical garment adorned by the worker. Static hazard concerns can be mitigated through the use of proper grounding equipment, which connects electrically conductive materials to help mitigate the difference of potentials between the two, ultimately developing one conductive mass and neutralizing charges.

Grounding equipment accessories include:

  • Grounding cables: Send the electrical current safely to the grounding. It is important to use the proper type and length of grounding cable to withstand the maximum system fault current for the maximum amount of time needed to clear it.
  • Grounding clamps: Connect electrical systems to the ground to safely dissipate electricity to the earth, preventing shorts to connected equipment. There are numerous types of grounding clamps, each being used for a specific application.
  • Ferrules:Typically made from copper or aluminum, these connect the grounding cables to the clamps.
  • Shrink tubing:Provides insulation where the cable connects to the ferrule.
  • Cluster or 4-way connector: Pieces of equipment with multiple connectors for grounding cables. These are used to connect multiple cables coming from the power source to channel the electrical current into one cable that takes it to the ground.

Final takeaway

According to many reports, the planet is now heating up faster than even the most-dire scenarios predicted a few years ago. Witness the recent heatwave that baked Europe and North America in an atmospheric oven of record-high temperatures. The time for solutions is not tomorrow—it’s now. One practical, immediately available solution is a transition to electrical power. But as we make the shift, employers need effective plans to identify hazards, determine risks, and reduce the risks to workers who will be around electricity every day. They must choose the proper equipment and accessories to keep themselves safe in an increasingly electrified world.

  1. To Cut Carbon Emissions, a Movement Grows to ‘Electrify Everything’ – Yale E360
  2. Climate change: How to drive fossil fuels out of the US economy, quickly – Vox
  3. How electrification can help industrial companies cut costs | McKinsey
  4. Electric Buildings – Frontier Group
  5. Microsoft Word – ArcFlash_Instructor_Manual.docx (osha.gov)
  6. Alarming Statistics | Electrical Contractor Magazine (ecmag.com)

Kevin Pietras is the Director of Offering Management, Honeywell Electrical Safety (https://ppe.honeywell.com).

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