Electricity is dangerous: every year in the UK, nearly 20,000 accidental domestic fires are found to have an electrical origin, resulting in over 700 serious injuries and over 20 deaths. When you factor in the 1000s of non-fatal electrical shocks and burns – not to mention damage to property, infrastructure and equipment – poor electrics carry a truly weighty cost.
While it’s understood that anybody involved in electrical engineering is a skilled worker, they have a duty to follow protocols and ensure their work is safe, the scope of this responsibility can often be overlooked. The reality is, faulty electrical systems often take time to display clear signs of danger; it may be long after the installation is complete that the true extent of the problem becomes apparent.
Regardless of the scale of the job – whether a large commercial/industrial installation or a smaller residential project – safety must be every engineer’s number one concern: for the individual engineer on the job and for every end user thereafter.
But what does this really mean? And what should engineers be doing about it?
Electrics ought to be user-friendly; engineers can help avoid a huge percentage of electrical issues simply by thinking about the job through a long-term frame. It isn’t simply a case of adhering to regulation: we have an obligation to go out of our ways to ensure we are installing truly secure systems with clear, intelligent planning. And not only this: we must also ensure existing systems are properly maintained and updated in accordance with changing needs.
The complex dangers of electrics
You’ll know well that electricity can be harmful; what is a little more challenging is to understand what can go wrong beyond the basic dangers of malpractice and incompetence.
Because electrical systems are often complex and intricate, there are numerous ways small design errors, overlooked maintenance or malfunctioning appliances can result in serious health risks, causing damage and potentially severely harming individuals.
Given this complexity, safety must be a constant consideration at every phase of a project, from design to long term maintenance.
Safety begins with design; proper planning and carefully constructed systems are key. Proper tools, cables and accessories to suit the job are vital especially if working in harzardous environments.
The emphasis here should not just be on creating a working system, but one which will be long lasting and be a part of an ongoing planned maintenance programme. Planning carefully what kind of equipment will be used is key, and this involves being clear about what levels of power need to be handled and making sure the necessary tools and accessories will be available during installation.
Ultimately, the costs of poor planning are not just safety related – you can lose man hours, resources and massively diminish the final quality of the project simply by overlooking simple logistical factors. Ultimately damaging your hard earned reputation too.
Safety regulations like the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET)’s Wiring Regulations must be followed at all times during installation; from contact with live parts to sparking a fire or explosion, accidents can happen and are frequently fatal.
It’s also vital that engineers use well-maintained and properly calibrated equipment; appropriately adapt to the environment they’re working in; and label everything accurately as they work. We must remember that the end user probably doesn’t have expertise in electrical safety, and throughout the installation process this must be taken into consideration so that safety factors which are obvious to engineering professionals – but not the end user – aren’t overlooked.
Regular maintenance is non-negotiable; even relatively simple maintenance checks can avert serious danger. While maintenance can feel like an unnecessary expenditure, the damage and safety violations which are likely to occur in its absence inevitably cost far, far more.
Consider insulation: modern wiring uses very durable PVC, but older installations used rubber, which gets brittle with age and often leads to insulation breakdown and ultimately fire; replacing it can avoid serious risks in the long term which never would have been detected otherwise.
This should be noted even during the initial planning and installation: maintenance will have to be scheduled clearly, and systems should be created with a level of adaptability built in that allows engineers of the future to more easily assess and mitigate potential health hazards and safety risks.
Ultimately, the goal must be a fully integrated process which gives everybody a better experience; safety should be embedded into every aspect of the project, not an extra consideration.