In 1989, I was summoned by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to attend court as a prosecution witness in a case against an electrician, which was brought under the Health and Safety at Work Act. The electrician’s apprentice had been injured in an electrical flashover, or arc flash as it is often referred to nowadays and I was the first on the scene to take charge and make things safe. It was over a year later that the case came to court, and I remember feeling compassion for the electrician concerned, knowing that he was a family man who had many years in the industry. At that time, he must have suffered sleepless nights as he awaited his fate. His apprentice went on to make a full recovery thank goodness. I had by that time, amassed 19 years of experience, firstly as an electrician and then as a senior manager and electrical engineer, putting people to work on complex electrical systems. I had knowledge of other electrical flashover incidents and indeed there were the tragic deaths of two electrical workers from arc flash at that same company in the late 80s. A third person was seriously injured in the incident that involved in an explosion to 11,000-volt oil filled switchgear which was being put back in service following maintenance.
In the same year that I was to give evidence in court, the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 were published and 12 months later I was involved in writing and publishing new low voltage codes of practice for my company and training 400 contracting electricians.
My practical background had served me well in my contributions to the new safety rules and I went onto serve related working parties such as writing the National Vocational Qualifications competence standards for the electrical contracting industry and involvement with various apprenticeship schemes in addition to my day job. Indeed, my interest in the safety of electrical workers continued and 15 years later I founded Electrical Safety UK Ltd which became highly successful in writing electrical rules and supporting procedures delivering advice to large blue-chip companies in countries across Europe and the Middle East.
I have been so fortunate in the acquaintances and friendships that I have made over the years of professionals who have been passionate about the subject of electrical safety. My views on the management of electrical safety have been forged by many such people whose own practical experiences and advice have given me the incentive to write this book and pass on that knowledge.
This book is not an academic exercise or about crunching numbers through computer software, it is about identifying real hazards in the workplace and developing strategies to eliminate harm to individuals. It is with this in mind, that I have endeavoured to look globally at research and standards that could be of help. My view has been that arc flash is very simply a hazard which should be approached in the same way as any other, such as working at height for instance. If you were to put somebody to work at height you would need to know what they are doing, how high they are working and what they could fall into or onto if something went wrong. The cornerstone of European Health and Safety Directives and UK law is risk assessment, which should include an evaluation of the severity of the hazard whether it be a fall or the damaging effects of an electrical arc.
It was clear to me that there was not a great deal of research within the United Kingdom into predicting the level of harm from an electrical arc and so began my research further afield. This led me to the United States where I met my very good friend Jim Phillips who is presently the IEC international chair of the Live working committee and vice chair of the IEEE 1584 committee responsible for the guide for performing arc flash calculations. Jim and I co-authored our first article on the subject back in 2007 in the Institute of Electrical Engineer’s Power Engineer magazine. It caused quite a stir at the time among professional engineers and inspired various debates and even conferences on the subject in the UK. I realised then that there was an aversion to the use of US standards in Europe as there was a perception that the first line of defence was always PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). That was never my intention, but my motivation was to use white papers and auditable standards such as the IEEE 1584 Guide for Performing Arc Flash Hazard Calculations to carry out a prediction of the level of harm. It is from that first step in the risk assessment process, that I would advocate the use of a hierarchy of risk controls always removing the hazard as the first line of defence and the use of PPE as a very last line of defence.
I am reminded of a passage from the superb book “Introduction to Health and Safety at Work” by Phil Hughes and Ed Ferrett, which is the NEBOSH National General Certificate textbook. When they address the European Council Directive 89/391/EEC (EU Workplace Health and Safety Directive), they make it clear the need to take into account such globally available information. There are nine principles of prevention specified in Schedule 1 and number 5 is “Adapting to Technical Progress”. Their interpretation of this principle of prevention 5 is “it is important to take advantage of technological and technical progress, which often gives designers and employers the chance to improve both safety and working methods. With the internet and other international information sources available, a very wide knowledge going beyond what is happening in the UK or Europe, will be expected by the enforcing authorities and the courts”. This guide will be based upon the European Health and Safety Directives and will be very practical in approach. It is about identifying real hazards in the workplace and developing strategies to eliminate harm to individuals. It is with this in mind that I have endeavoured to look globally at research and standards that could be of help.