Arc Flash
Proper electrical grounding and wiring not only protects your business continuity and the sustainability of your business it protects workers39 safety and health Thinkstock

Proper electrical grounding and wiring not only protects your business continuity and the sustainability of your business, it protects workers' safety and health.

Grounded in Safety: Preventing Electrical Catastrophes

To ensure a relatively smooth operation in mission-critical facilities like data centers and 9-1-1 operations, exceeding the minimal requirements of the National Electrical Code is essential, says David Brender, the national program manager for electrical applications at the Copper Development Association.

Arc flash and other electrical hazards can have a devastating impact on workers. Not only can electrical hazards cause fatalities, they can cause disabling, debilitating injuries that can cost up to $1 million to treat, creating a huge financial burden for injured workers and their employers.

“I have come across too many instances when an individual’s life was put at risk because of a flaw in the electrical systems,” said David Brender, the national program manager for electrical applications at the Copper Development Association (CDA) and a principal member of Panel 5 of the National Electrical Code. “The codes are fine standards to go by; however there are limitations.”

David Brender

Brender, who also is a senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and a life member of the Association of Energy Engineers, recently participated in a Q&A with EHS Today about electrical safety and the mitigation of electrical hazards and the need for employers to go beyond the National Electrical Code in an effort to protect workers and property.

EHS Today: Can you give our readers a little background information about yourself and about the Copper Development Association?

David Brender: I am the national program manager for the Copper Development Association (CDA). My duties involve directing and managing the electrical programs at CDA, including their power quality initiative and research activities, among others.

I have given various speaking engagements around the country on topics related to power quality, particularly the importance of grounding and bonding, and installing lightning protection systems to protect your most critical facilities. I have also authored numerous magazine articles and white papers on grounding and other power quality subjects. I am a licensed profession engineer, a Certified Power Quality Professional from the Association of Energy Engineers and a member of Panel 5 of the National Electrical Code.

EHS Today: What are some of the most-common electrical hazards or safety concerns for building maintenance personnel?

David Brender: In my experience, too many business lack the proper grounding and bonding systems, especially data centers and emergency response facilities. Without the proper systems in place, these facilities could experience downtime or worse, an electrical fire; something emergency centers cannot risk.  

Simple upgrades can save a business from having power issues; it can also save them money in the long run. It’s crucial for building professionals to understand the proper grounding, powering and bonding practices when dealing with emergency situations so that they don’t turn into catastrophic ones down the road. I have come across too many instances when an individual’s life was put at risk because of a flaw in the electrical system.

EHS Today: Can you offer our readers two or three real-world examples of how lives (workers or building occupants) were threatened by flaws or hazards related to the electrical system of a building?

David Brender: Following the National Electrical Code, or NFPA 70, helps to ensure the safe installation of electrical wiring and equipment. Equipment downtime for a 9-1-1 center or touch-potential in any facility can certainly be life-threatening. However, for sensitive locations, it is important to go beyond the codes. Exceeding the minimal requirements of the NEC helps to ensure reliability and safety. In my experience, one of the greatest risks a business can expose itself to when it’s a sensitive location is failing to exceed the NEC.

After approximately 14 years of spending between $8,000 and $10,000 each year in costly lightning damage repairs, and dealing with potentially fatal outages to the station’s radio and communication system, the Cunningham Fire Protection District’s (CFPD) Fire Station No. 1 in Denver, Colorado, upgraded its system. By including copper upgrades, the fire station not only saved money, but it most likely also saved lives, since as an emergency response organization it is critical that the station responds every time.

Time has proven again and again that a proper grounding and bonding electrical system, often exceeding code minimums, is an easy and cost-effective solution to ensure continuous operation for facilities where lightning does strike more than once.

EHS Today: Can you recommend training or education for maintenance personnel? What information do they need to perform their jobs safely and maintain a safe environment in the buildings where they work?

David Brender: The Copper Development Association offers free educational courses to engineers, electrical contractors and facility managers through a host of different seminars and presentations focusing on a wide range of electrical applications. Our topics include, but are not limited to, power quality basics, better wiring and grounding for data centers, 9-1-1 and broadcast communication centers and others; connectability testing of copper and aluminum wiring systems and sustainable electrical distribution systems in lightning-prone environments. You can visit www.copper.org/electricalseminars for additional information.

EHS Today: In a presentation slated for the 2017 Building Operating Management’s NFMT Conference, you’re going to talk about proper grounding, bonding and wiring. How much of an issue is improper grounding, bonding and wiring? What should facilities managers and building owners be looking for to ensure their wiring, grounding, etc., is safe?

David Brender: Proper grounding, bonding and wiring are essential to ensuring power quality for sensitive locations, including 9-1-1 and broadcast communications and data centers, etc. While the National Electrical Code is a minimum safety standard, it does not adequately address reliability.

Since downtime of equipment can be expensive or disastrous, designing or retrofitting for power quality considerations is often very inexpensive compared to the alternatives, and is considerably cheaper when introduced at the start of construction. Solutions may be as simple as moving some loads between branch circuits, some minor rewiring or additional branch circuits. In difficult cases, professional engineering assistance is recommended.

EHS Today: You are a principal member of Panel 5 of the NEC. What is the responsibility of Panel 5?

David Brender: Panel 5 is principally concerned with the sections of the National Electrical Code related to grounding and bonding.

EHS Today: Our readers reference OSHA standards frequently as it’s the law of the land. But many of them believe that compliance with OSHA should be the starting point, not the goal, of their safety programs. Is the same true of the NEC, and if so, please give a couple of examples of areas where companies, maintenance personnel or facility operators should go above and beyond the NEC.

David Brender: Grounding and bonding are prime examples. CDA published a case study on copper.org involving a 9-1-1 facility in Orange County, Fla., that was suffering over $1 million per year in equipment damage. An investment of approximately $500,000 almost totally eliminate the problems. Six-month or less payback is common.

The NEC is not a power quality code. The NEC is not a lightning code. The NEC is not a design manual. The NEC does provide “practical safeguarding of persons and property from the hazards arising from the use of electricity.”

The code admits it is “not necessarily efficient, convenient or adequate for good service” Thus, it should be considered a minimum document that often is insufficient for sensitive installations like emergency communications, data centers or others. Meeting the minimums of the NEC is necessary, but exceeding the code is frequently recommended. Proper grounding and bonding is the “foundation” of any electrical installation, and can be very cost-effective, even when retrofit is required.

Editor’s Note: CDA offers seminars on grounding and other topics to electrical groups, most at no charge. Visit www.copper.org/electrical seminars for more information about copper grounding systems, and to access a variety of CDA’s electrical case studies, please visit www.copper.org.

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