Recently, we had an enquiry from a student that attended L1 many years ago. His organisation is focussed on building inspections and his request was “What Certificate will I need to carry out electrical inspections?” Although the student is well experienced in building thermography, my concern was that he may not fully understand the implications or ‘risk’ involved working on or near live electrical systems.
My reply to him was not directed towards the type of certificate, but listed the minimum knowledge I would expect a technician to have prior to conducting any electrical work.
- Good grasp of general HSE requirements – (specifically working in an industrial environment)
- In-depth knowledge of Electricity at Work 1989 (Working on or near live electrical equipment)
- Ideally conversant with NFPA 70B & 70E (Understand Arc Flash and safe working distances)
His reply “Thanks for the insight – I don’t think I will take it any further”. Probably a wise choice!
25 years ago there was limited numbers of trained thermographers so they were asked to carry out many different applications. Some like myself, with a mechanical background working in-house for a large Petro/Chemical company, were asked to do regular electrical inspection and I dare say that these days I can do a pretty good job. However, the company employed a very robust safety campaign that ensured that procedures and processes were followed in line with current safety regulation and there was always an experienced qualified individual to help with the inspection and guide me through the process.
These days, there is more of an expectation that an Electrical Thermographer has at least a trade background in the electrical industry. They will then be aware of safe systems of work, understand electrical components and how they operate and have a knowledge of typical electricl faults and how they would appear thermally.
Insurance companies often ask for electrical inspections to be carried out prior to issuing the insurance certificate. This could be viewed as a good thing, but they do not specify who should carry out the inspection. Unfortunately it often end up the cheapest daily rate that gets the job rather that the highly experience guy with the right equipment who understands how to work safely in an industrial environment and has access to the required level of Personal Protective Equipment.
So what does ‘Electricity at Work’ say?
Regulation 16 Persons to be competent to prevent danger and injury
No person shall be engaged in any work activity where technical knowledge or experience is necessary to prevent danger or, where appropriate, injury, unless he possesses such knowledge or experience, or is under such degree of supervision as may be appropriate having regard to the nature of the work.
236 The object of the regulation is to ensure that people are not placed at risk due to their own lack of competence in dealing with electrical equipment, or that of others.
It carries on:
Technical knowledge or experience
239 The scope of ‘technical knowledge or experience’ should include:
(a) adequate knowledge of electricity; (b) adequate experience of the electrical work being carried out; (c) adequate understanding of the system to be worked on and practical experience of that class of system; (d) understanding of the hazards which may arise during the work and the precautions which need to be taken; (e) the ability to recognise at all times whether it is safe for work to continue
Another guidance issued by the Health and Safety Executive HSG230 (2nd edition) Published 2015 states:
Thermographic surveys 69.
Thermographic surveys to identify the surface temperature of components can be undertaken using infra-red thermal imaging equipment or non-contact thermometers. One of the strengths of this technique is the ability to monitor equipment while in use. The techniques are useful for detecting overheating conductors, connections and hot fuses or circuit-breakers, but only in
circumstances where it is possible to safely gain access to make the measurements. Quartz glass viewing windows may be incorporated into equipment to allow external temperature measurement, although such modifications may affect the explosion containment capability of the enclosure in which they are installed. This technique has limitations with high-voltage, metal-clad switchboards where the risks associated with opening compartments and the potential for exposure to live parts must be carefully evaluated against the benefits and reasonableness of such actions. In most cases, if a hot component is detected, the equipment should be isolated to make a repair. Consideration must be given to undertaking inspections, with equipment isolated in the first place if risks are created by taking measurements live.
While these documents are the primary piece of legislation covering occupational health and safety in Great Britain, thermographers in other regions may have different regulation. In the US The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) is a global self-funded nonprofit organization, established in 1896, devoted to eliminating death, injury, property and economic loss due to fire, electrical and related hazards. Publications include NFPA 70B & 70E from which extracts contain some information on how inspections are carried out in North America
Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicate that there were nearly 6,000 fatal electrical injuries to workers in the U.S. between 1992 and 2013. BLS data also indicates that there were 24,100 non-fatal electrical injuries from 2003 through 2012.
The inspection regulation are different in the US than the UK with a greater focus on removing panels, but also including the use of Arc Flash PPE during inspection activities. While most of the above statistics are not related specifically to IR inspections, it does highlight the increased risks involved in these surveys.
So – Can anyone carry out electrical thermography surveys?
Companies employing individuals to carry out electrical inspections have a duty of care to ensure that either their own staff or contractor are suitably qualified to do the job. Just because an individual or company happen to own an infrared camera, does not necessarily mean they have the expertise to conduct a professional inspection using safe systems of work and understanding all the risks associated with electrical systems.
However, the value of in-depth electrical thermography inspections should not be underestimated, according to the UK government statistics:
FIRE STATISTICS TABLE 0301: 2015/2016 (www.gov.uk)
Primary fires, fatalities and non-fatal casualties in other buildings by motive and building type, England (Industrial premises)
Primary fires Fire-related fatalities Non-fatal casualties
Total – Accidental – Deliberate Total – Accidental – Deliberate Total – Accidental – Deliberate 2,131 1,870 261 7 7 0 120 115 5
Approximately 62% of all fires involved electrical equipment issues.
The statistics indicate that there is still a long way to go as many of the potential defects can and should be detected using the technologies that are available to us employing skilled technicians that have many years experience to ensure the job is done correctly first time!