Chapter 10:
Service Providers and Contractors

Having been a service provider, a contractor and a consultant, I feel that I have a good understanding of the difficulties faced by these professionals when entering a site or facility where the electrical safety management system may not be ideal. One of the first hurdles could be doubts over the competence of key appointments such as site electrical duty holder. The site or facility may have suffered from neglect and a lack of maintenance and in fact, your role may well be to improve the electrical installation in these circumstances. This chapter is therefore dedicated to you as a service provider who may be involved in various on-site activities that could be affected by the arc flash hazard. Whether you are an electrical installation contractor, high voltage maintenance company, lift technician, data collector, maintenance technician, refrigeration servicing engineer or a periodic test and inspect engineer, the following will apply whether as guidance, checklist or as awareness of the hazard.

First of all, it is worth reiterating just how important the management of the arc flash risk is to a specialist electrical service provider. I can point to my chapter on myths and mistakes and the times I have seen electrical service providers involved in arc flash accidents and how they could have been avoided. It is surprising just how many common factors there are, and also how many misconceptions of what is reasonable and what definitely is not. The other common thread is the miscalculation of the damage that can be done to a service provider as a result of electrical accidents. There is of course the injury to the person, but there is also the threat of prosecution through the HSE for non-fatal accidents. Then there is brand damage which can be acute for service providers where they rely on larger corporate organisations for their business. Avoiding electrical accidents is a core competence for an electrical service provider and as I point out in my Chapter 12: Myths and Mistakes, a prosecution will stay on record and be visible to your clients. You will also have to declare the fact on prequalification and tender submissions for future work. Not good for business!

By being proactive and knowledgeable about the hazard, this will reinforce your credentials as a competent service provider in the eyes of the client. I recognise that it is not going to be possible for a service provider to be able to turn out an arc flash study on every piece of equipment that is worked upon. You can, however, carry out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment taking into account an estimation of the incident energy and the likelihood of an incident by adopting a practical approach to keep your operatives and others as safe as can be reasonably expected.

10.1 Strategy

When you open that control panel door, you need to know whether it is an opening into the equivalent of a tiger’s cage as explained in Chapter 4: Prediction. If it is, then maybe it is better to leave the door closed and well secured. But how will you know and what should you do?

As a reminder, we have a legal duty to carry out risk assessments in the workplace. We are guided that the risk assessments have to include the following steps.

  1. The identification of hazards.
  2. The identification of those at potential risk from those hazards.
  3. An estimation of the risk involved.
  4. Considering if the risk can be eliminated; and if not go to step 5.
  5. Making a judgement on whether further measures to prevent or reduce the risk needs to be introduced.

Steps 1, 2 and 3 are where we found ourselves in respect of the tiger’s cage that we spoke of earlier. Hopefully, step 1 the identification of hazards, will not require the opening of the cage door. This is where a strategy is required which will be written into safety rules and supporting procedures that were covered in Chapter 6: Process, Policies and Procedures. The strategy will make sure that your workers will know what to do from a system of awareness, information, training and competence assessment well in advance of stepping into a potentially hazardous situation. So, where do we start?

10.2 The 4P Approach for Service Providers

In Chapter 3: Risk Assessments and the Four P Guide, I explained the 4P approach which can be applied to service providers and contractors in respect of the arc flash risk.

To recap, the 4P model starts with a prediction of the incident energy and then a prevention strategy follows to stop the arc flash hazard from causing harm. Once the prevention strategy is exhausted, the process step is necessary to provide or update rules, procedures, competent people, information and training. Finally, where there is residual risk, protection has to be provided which may include FR PPE. By now you should be fully aware of the 4P approach and the chapters that deal with Predict, Prevent, Process and Protect are detailed in this regard. The following is how the 4Ps are applied to service providers and contractors in addition to the other chapters in this guide.

10.2.1 Prediction - Incident Energy

In general terms, the majority of electrical circuits within an industrial or commercial facility, will not have predicted arc incident energy levels that are of an order that could cause serious burns. By serious I mean, when an individual is at a working distance of 450mm or more from a low voltage equipment, a predicted arc flash could cause third degree or full thickness burns. This does not mean to say that no injury will occur, as second-degree or partial thickness burns are still painful events and may still require medical attention. Furthermore, severe burns can still be experienced on the hands which will usually be closer to a possible arc when testing live circuits than the 450mm given previously.

They are often termed as curable burns however, and the incident energy level, which is the threshold of a second-degree burn, is 1.2 cal/cm2 as discussed previously. This is a good starting point for our arc flash strategy and whilst it will not tell us which panel doors contain the tiger, it will tell us where the hazard is less severe.