Electrical Safety in the Workplace interviewed Rachel Bugaris, Distinguished Engineer and Business Development Manager at Panduit Corp, about Prevention Through Design

Rachel has a background in R&D, designing products ranging from absence of voltage testers to arc resistant equipment, she has multiple patents and has written several technical papers on electrical safety topics. She also participates and has held leadership positions in several IEEE committees, including the Electrical Safety Committee, Petroleum and Chemical Industry Committee, Pulp & Paper Industry Committee, and standards working groups (IEEE C37.20.7, IEEE 1683, IEEE 1584, UL 1436).

What is Prevention through Design (PtD) and what are its benefits for the safety and plant engineering community?

Prevention through Design is the practice of anticipating and designing out hazards as early as possible in the life cycle of a product or process. This practice can also be applied to equipment, tools, and work methods. The goal of prevention through design is to eliminate the hazard whenever possible or mitigate exposure by substitution, minimization, or the application of engineering controls rather than relying solely on administrative controls such as warnings, procedures, and personal protective equipment.

What are some common electrical safety hazards that Prevention through Design can help solve or alleviate?

Electrical hazards include arc flash, electrical shock, and fire. Both arc flash and shock can be caused by contact with energized conductors. De-energizing and verifying the absence of voltage before performing any work is the best way to mitigate these electrical hazards. Other ways to reduce risk include incorporating design features that mitigate exposure to energized parts (guards, barriers, and use of remote monitoring to keep enclosure doors closed).

What type of facilities are a perfect fit for Prevention through Design? Can you share some specific examples how a company benefited from PtD?

All facilities! Although it’s often easier and more cost effective to mitigate hazards with design controls when they are identified early, it’s never too late for safety. The prevention through design methodology can be applied to new designs as well as exiting processes and equipment. Often hazards are not identified until later in the product lifecycle or new hazards arise after changes or modifications are made.

How have Absence of Voltage Testers (AVTs) enhanced safety protocols for Plant Operations, Electrical Workers, and/or Safety Professionals?

Absence of Voltage Testers provide safe, reliable, and easy way to test for absence of voltage without exposure to electrical hazards. After an electrical source is isolated and locked/tagged out, and AVT can be used to test for the absence of voltage. The test is initiated by pressing a button on the AVT that is mounted on the outside of an electrical enclosure. When the absence of voltage is confirmed, a green indicator will illuminate.

How have you seen AVT evolve and grow over time via your work and research? Describe a moment of discovery for something that led to one of your patents.

Testing for absence of voltage is sometimes referred to as the “live-dead-live” test because a live voltage source is required to prove your test instrument is functioning before and after checking for voltage. It was ironic that the safest way to work on equipment is while it is de-energized, but proving equipment was de-energized required exposure to electricity. This struck me as an ideal process to re-imagine by using prevention through design techniques. By permanently mounting the tester in equipment, rather than using a portable tool, exposure to the hazard could be significantly reduced. In addition, automating the testing steps ensures a consistent process that is less susceptible to variations due to human performance.

What are the most important benefits that come from the VeriSafe Absence of Voltage Testers and why, for Plant Operations, Electrical Workers, and/or Safety Professionals?

Because the test is conducted while equipment doors and covers are in place, there is no exposure to electrical hazards while testing. AVTs also significantly increase productivity. It takes less than 10 seconds to test for absence of voltage with an AVT, a process that typically takes 10-20 minutes with a portable test instrument. In addition, AVTs are recognized by NFPA 70E and CSA Z462 as a method to test for absence of voltage.

What factors are important to continue the advancement of safety technology? How do those lessons manifest themselves within VeriSafe and other electrical solutions?

Safety is a continuous process – there is always room for improvement! It’s important to perform a risk assessment as part of every job. Even though a task may be routine and performed countless times, safety is not guaranteed. If continuous improvements are not applied to a specific task, there is still the same amount of risk whether you are performing a task for the first time or hundredth time. Advancing safety requires us to avoid complacency and continue to look for better tools, methods, and technology.

How much time, effort and energy does Panduit expend with its R&D teams to develop industry leading safety innovations?

Both safety and innovation are core tenets of the culture at Panduit. Panduit has a long history of investing in research and development in support of existing products and emerging technologies. In the case of VeriSafe Absence of Voltage Testers, they are not just a product we make, but also a tool that is now used in our own manufacturing facilities to help keep our employees safe.

What was the reaction from the industry when VeriSafe Absence of Voltage Testers entered the market? What was the sense of accomplishment among the Panduit team when it first was launched?

Developing a new-to-world product like Absence of Voltage Testers truly takes a team effort. Everything is new–not only the product itself, but also the standards and test methods that are used to evaluate the product. We have a best-in-class team of researchers, electrical, mechanical and reliability engineers, safety and quality professionals who work together to develop and advance AVT technology. Our development team collaborates with our sales and business teams, standards organizations, electrical equipment manufacturers, and customers across multiple industries including Panduit operations to define key product requirements and functionality. The entire team is very proud of our accomplishments and excited to see the enthusiasm for AVTs from our customers.

Describe the benefits and opportunities that come for an end user/company to work with Panduit in this PtD space and how they can mitigate risk while improving safety.

It’s critically important for end users and manufacturers to work together, particularly when safety is involved. Panduit values feedback from our customers and uses that voice of customer to direct development resources towards new products and features. Prevention through Design works best when hazards are recognized early. Countless decisions go into making a product, so it’s vital to have first-hand feedback about how it is used. This applies throughout the product lifecycle and includes considering how people install, commission, operate, maintain, and dispose of the product at end of life. At Panduit we want everyone who is involved with our products to have a great experience.

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