It takes a lot of work to keep the lights on. Growing electricity demands are creating a need for more electrical substations. Cities throughout the world are upgrading infrastructures and adding more substations to serve rapidly developing areas. While these substations help secure reliable electricity to prevent power outages and support booming large-scale industrial facilities, airports, and the like, they require security and safety themselves. It’s important to mitigate hazards in the electric power substations to keep the workers who maintain them safe.
Safety and Security
Substations can have distribution voltages of up to 33kV and 69kV, which can seriously damage a person or kill them. In 2019, there were 39 deaths in the utility industry, a category that includes substations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Market projections for medium-level (33 kV and 69 kV) global substations show an increase of 5.6% by 2026 as part of integrations of sustainable energy infrastructure alone. With the addition of substations, it’s important to make sure they are safe, compliant, and efficient from the start. Electrical safety requirements are part of OSHA 29 CFR 1910, but there are a lot of other safety elements that go beyond compliance.
One of the top tasks electrical substation workers handle is keeping unqualified personnel out of the substation.
“Over the years, we have had numerous trips/upsets from individuals accidentally tripping breakers/equipment,” said Richard Todd, an electrical engineer in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. “The area should be locked, and only qualified personnel should have access.”
People are not the only invaders of substation spaces. That’s why pest control can sometimes be another mindful activity. Birds, insects, and other small creatures can cause big problems around substations, such as explosions.
Checking the perimeter of the substation is a crucial step before any maintenance is done, said Aaron LeBlanc, a longtime lineman and vlogger of Bob’s Decline on YouTube. He says there are three important steps:
- Notify your company’s dispatcher, if you have one, that you are at the substation. Inform what you’ll be working on. “A lot of substations are remotely operated,” he said. This extends communication for safety. Once you’re finished, he said, let them know you’re leaving and give them the “all clear.”
- Conduct a perimeter check to make sure the grounds are not damaged, debris is clear from walking and working paths, and observe and report anything else that might need repair.
- Perform a general inspection of equipment such as cables, transformers, the sub yard, etc.
Other important steps in ensuring substation safety, efficiency, and compliance are to check the substation’s information and organization. Cleanliness keeps other hazards from rearing. Clean up clutter, keep out combustibles, and do not use substation houses for storage. Personal protective equipment should have its place for proper storage as well as equipment and tools, such as nonconductive ladders, cleaning materials, and supplies.
Make Logical Marks
Substation communication is essential for a responsible electrical safety program. That’s why it’s important to use critical thinking and evaluate where to place electrical safety signs, labels, and even floor marking. They are cost-effective and easy to install on demand. Post signs that alert people to access points, voltage information, emergency information, and more. Labels identify electrical motor controls, cables, wires, panel information, and switches.
“The shutdown units should be well-identified, like with flags, plastic warning ribbons,” said Alain Mosian, an electrical safety expert in Quebec. This goes along with lockout/tagout safety programs.
Additionally, markings can communicate safe distances and reinforce proper security and barriers. Accidents and injuries can be devastating to personnel and hurt a company’s productivity and bottom line. Workplaces should include safety procedures and checklists for all workers. Include them along with frequent training and toolbox talks. Follow up on activity reports, maintenance records, and other documentation. Following safety standards and employing useful communication can help decrease the chances of dangerous events occurring at substations.