Idea – How to Safely Rack a Breaker

Chris: 00:30

All right. So today on EECO Asks Why we’re going to be exploring a topic of how to safely rack in and out a breaker. Today we have Mr. Mike Rathbun, who is EECOs Manager of Power Control within our Solution Architecture Group. Very excited to have Mike back. Love to dig in with him through these topics.

You may be wondering why would we want to talk about how to safely rack in and out a breaker? Why is that even a topic? Because the heroes, our heroes, are you guys, the people who are engaging with this equipment and we want you to do it safely. And we quite frankly, with the years, Mike’s got 35 years of experience, I have close to 20, we’ve seen a lot of things in industry that are alarming. We want to talk about openly. You may see these things in your plants. You may not, you may have best practices all the way that everyone can learn from. And we’d love to hear from you on that. But for the individual who wants to learn and wants to make their environment safer we’re hoping this episode is going to dig into some of those topics.

So Mike, let’s talk about some of the crazy things we’ve seen out there just to give the listeners a perspective of what we’re talking about here.

Mike: 01:41

Thanks, Chris. So I spend the majority of my time out in the field: manufacturing, industrial type facilities throughout the Southeast and we see a wide range. I see circumstances that I just want to turn around and walk out the door to situations where I’m comfortable. That I know the people that I’m working with are understanding of what they have their hands on and in and are going to successfully be able to work themselves through that process.

We’ve all seen, I’m sure, plenty of videos online of electrical equipment blown up. There’s some out there of people getting hurt. It’d be nice to see some videos of some of the people we work with out here in industry, doing things the right way. Being confident that they’re going to go home at night to their families and back to work the next day.

Chris: 02:31

Yeah. A lot of times we just hear, like you mentioned those examples of the crazy stuff. Or the guy that’s using broom handles and things out there to not the SOP that we would hope to see, but a lot of times they do it because that’s what they have to do to get the job done. We’re dealing with gear that is a lot of time is old and people just don’t know the risks sometimes. And I think that’s where a lot of the inherent error start.

Mike: 02:57

That’s a great point, Chris. Let’s be clear. I think we all have some level of understanding that the electrical infrastructure throughout this country let alone in our manufacturing facilities is quite old, to be honest. You can find yourself in a situation due to the age and the condition of a lot of this electrical equipment to keep the plant running and a process operating.

You, find yourself in a circumstance where you have to do things, interact with that gear, in a way that may be putting yourself at a much greater risk than obviously having a piece of newly upgraded equipment sitting there.

Chris: 03:30

A lot of times, thinking through experience, those components, they have mechanical where the run life that it’s been in, the environment, utilization, a lot of loose connections that are just inherent to the plants and facilities that the equipment’s in. Debris, we’ve all seen the videos of animals getting inside gear and the havoc take on the equipment. So there’s a lot of outside factors and forces that I think are working against us sometimes.

So just this simple task, all sounds simple, just rack in and out of breaker. This is one of the riskiest action that our heroes are put in front of on a daily basis. I think when those situations occur, Being equipped with the right knowledge. Like you mentioned, the right SOP, the operating procedures will definitely help them.

So if you want to walk us through a little bit, maybe of some things that people should consider from SOP standpoint, that will put them in a safer position moving forward.

Mike: 04:28

Absolutely. That’s critical. Let’s start there with an SOP. It may seem like these operations are fairly simple and common, not a lot of moving pieces, but let’s be clear having an SOP that’s well-defined and clearly states the steps required as well as the personal protection, the safety factors involved that’s based upon the OEM of the gear for the equipment that you’re working with and specifically, NFPA70E, which gives very clear recommendation on the practices and procedures associated with engaging of electrical equipment.

Some of those that should be considered within that as we’re developing that SOP would be, in working with a piece of equipment that I’m going to be shutting off or racking out, the first place that we can manage our risks there is if possible let’s remove the power from that piece of equipment.

Now I know as well as you and people work with in the facilities, generally, this is not an option. Having the opportunity to shut down an entire plant or an entire section of the plant, just to work on a single piece of gear quite often is not feasible.

Chris: 05:39

Yeah. That’s where the risk comes in. This is why if we could shut it down every time there really wouldn’t be a risk involved with this.

Mike: 05:46

That’s absolutely right. So that’s number one. If we can work on or engage with this equipment, when it’s, de-energized, that’s the perfect scenario to be in. Quite often, we can’t. In that case that’s where we need to jump back into our SOP. Clearly defines the steps we’re going to take there. Reviewing that procedure each time and every time that we go through one of these operations, such as racking in, or racking out a piece of gear, making sure that I, as an employee and the people around me that are gonna be involved in that operation, understand the specific risks associated with that.

And that’s identified as incident energy level. The PPE or personal protective equipment that we’re going to be wearing to help manage that environment and things such as approach boundaries. We have limited approach boundaries that kind of define the area at risk. That should be well understood in each and every case where we’re engaging with this equipment.

Chris: 06:42

Mike, one second here, you mentioned a few things that I’m not sure if every listener would be in tune with. Incident energy level, PPE, limited approach boundary. Where do you find that information at? If you’re walking into an electrical room and you’re walking up to a piece of equipment. Where is that data typically found?

Mike: 07:02

So there is an expectation that information would be posted on a equipment that we’re working with. This should be established from a survey that is conducted on that facilities distribution equipment. Really is required by NFPA70E. So we would expect a sticker on that piece of equipment that would identify these areas. The incident level energy, which basically tells you the level of force that you could be dealing with under a short circuit condition.

Chris: 07:32

Okay. That makes sense. And would that also give you the boundary, the limited approach boundary to restricted approach boundary? So you’ll know the distances that essentially you’re safe or that you’re at risk?

Mike: 07:43

Absolutely. Those three basic pieces of information are what is mandated within these labels. The level of energy that you could be exposed to. The PPE or personal protective equipment that you should be wearing in the case of an energy release and the approach boundary. The limited approach boundary and restricted approach boundary, which basically identifies who and what conditions need to be in place as you become closer to that gear.

Chris: 08:11

Gotcha. So you mentioned PPE, so let’s dig there for a second, just with your experience. I’ve been in electrical rooms and plants before where you can walk in with just the basic cotton t-shirt. There’s no restrictions. But we’re also not doing work to be fair. If you’re going to be doing any level of work, what’s a minimum just for you, you want to go home at the end of the day, that you would expect that, or that you require for yourself from a PPE standpoint to feel safe in front of that equipment?

Mike: 08:40

So start from the basics of an E room. Regardless of what type of activity may be going on. Controlling the entry to an E room is critical. It starts from the basis of is their basic training in place for an individual to understand the environment when he walks in there. Once that’s established, controlling that entry goes a long way to the PPE required.

So at a minimum, I would be looking at a uniform as based on an eight calorie pants and shirt. That’s your minimum level just to walk in now, obviously I don’t want to go beyond that in determining the exact PPE that would be required. That’s really going to be dictated by this information we discussed. Particularly each piece of gear. So that ultimately would define the equipment required.

Chris: 09:28

Very good point, Mike. I’m glad you went there. We don’t want to put people in a bad situation but we’re also just trying to get people to think and to look and to understand their environments when they’re going into them. What other tips would you have?

Mike: 09:43

Here’s an oldie, but a goodie. Anytime you’re engaging with a breaker or a large piece of electrical equipment that you have to turn on, turn off, Rack in, Rack out. Let’s not stand right in front of it. That’s a very simple thing. Regardless if we have all the protective equipment we need in place, turning your head to the side and standing to the side of the device that we’re operating is always a great step.

Chris: 10:05

Good point. And it’s very simple just to keep in mind, but a lot of times you find the more and more repetitive that you do any action, the more chances go up that you’re going to forget the simple steps, right?

So I’m really glad that you went there with that tip, because I’ve seen it before too, you have to rack out 30 breakers. A lot of times you get to 17 or 18, you just want to get it done. So good point on there. Anything else?

Mike: 10:33

Here’s something that we see commonly, and it goes back to the point of not everybody is utilizing brand new up-to-date modern gear. Is in a process of opening, closing, racking in, or racking out during that process if you’re feeling resistance to the movement. Or it feels like something is not seating. That’s an indication that there is a mechanical issue possibly within a piece of equipment. You need to stop right then and there. A large breaker is not something we want to force close.

Chris: 11:03

So we don’t need to just go get a bigger hammer.

Mike: 11:05

No, let’s not get the bigger hammer and it’s these types of evolutions that really lead to some of those videos we’ve seen online. Where the explosions occur and people are hurt. If the equipment does not appear or feel to be operating normally and smoothly. Let’s stop. Let’s investigate why that is before moving forward.

Chris: 11:26

Very good. So technology has come a long way, right? Are there things out there that I can, as an end-user invest in to maybe make this process safer for me?

Mike: 11:40

Absolutely. And let’s speak to the most common fundamental here. Is if we can remove ourself from the immediate area while these operations are happening. We’re obviously going to be in a safer situation. So a most common type of device we see in use out there as a remote racking device.

There’s many different variations of these types of devices. But at the end, what they allow us to do is mount a tool to a breaker that is going to perform the actual racking operation. Allow us remotely, typically through a pendant and a cable that may be 20, 25 feet away, allow us to be out of the immediate area as we’re engaging in that opening, closing racking in and racking out process. But getting us out of the immediate risk area.

Chris: 12:32

Gotcha. If you had that remote you’re out of that area. And that is to the point where things could go wrong is when it’s going on the bus and coming off the bus.

Mike: 12:41

That’s it. That’s it.

Chris: 12:42

Very good. So give us an example. We hear so many times about, and you mentioned a YouTube videos, there are no shortage of those of things that go wrong. But we’re talking about our heroes at EECO Asks Why. We want to talk about the things that go right. Oftentimes the things that go right, they don’t get mentioned other than you see a lot of times of plants, they really promote their safety and how many days without an incident. And we’d love to see those numbers climb through the roof. I’ve seen the numbers up in the years without an incident. And that’s great.

So do you have a personal example of a positive engagement where you were using the right SOP, maybe things didn’t exactly go right. But because you were using this, you’re sitting right here today and could talk to us about it.

Mike: 13:28

I can speak to that, Chris. And let’s be clear, even when we’re doing things the right way, we have the appropriate knowledge and understanding of what we’re doing. Things go wrong. There’s just some things we’re not going to be able to see or understand as we’re interacting with some of this equipment.

I have been a part of a couple of arc flash incidents in my career. Fortunately, I’m still here working in the industry, but I think that came back directly to what we’ve spoke of. In a, an automotive plant that I spent many years of my career operating medium voltage breakers, exactly the topic we’re on and probably the gear older than it should have been, but it was common for my team to operate these breakers manually and perform racking in and racking out operations.

Oh, I had a circumstance during a maintenance day. No different than any of the others. I was outfitted in PPE that was appropriate for the situation and probably three-quarters of the way through today, might’ve been the 30th breaker that I was operating on that given day, two things I clearly remember as I was standing there preparing to operate the breaker, I had come accustomed to not standing directly in front of it and turning my head when I did that. The next thing I remember was a very loud boom and a very bright flash. That actually forcibly removed me from holding the breaker and pushed me probably four or five feet away down the area in front of the switch gear.

Obviously that was an arc flash. For whatever reason, the operation of that piece of equipment resulted in that condition. But it was a clear example when you’re in that situation, you thank your lucky stars that you did it the right way. You were knowledgeable. You had the understanding, and you took the appropriate steps to be in that environment and that was a case for me personally.

Chris: 15:22

That’s a great story, Mike. It just goes to show when you do things the right way and you follow those procedures and you take care of ultimately yourself, when things go bad, it can’t have a good outcome. So really wish we could see more of those types of videos out there, but that’s okay too.

We’re educating people here and hopefully this is bringing some value. So any other topics or tips that you would give people when they’re engaging with equipment like this racking in and out or breaker?

Mike: 15:51

I think there’s one we really didn’t touch on. And that’s the pressure of the situation. Quite often, we’re involved in these type of activities of operating or racking in and out breakers when something is going wrong. We generally just don’t do it for the fun of it.

So maybe there’s a circumstance where there’s been a trip on a breaker. Part of the process in our plant is not operating. We have potentially operations manager, operating personnel that are very concerned and typically apply a lot of pressure to quickly get that situation resolved. And that’s the time to be level-headed.

Having the procedures in place and sticking to that process every time, regardless of those outside influences that are trying to push you through that scenario are huge. So just be prepared to stand up to that pressure, follow the appropriate processes.

Chris: 16:47

Absolutely. That in itself, that’s what we’re after. We want our heroes to come home at the end of every day. We want them to be safe. We want them to obviously get the job done and that’s what makes America keep going as number one in manufacturing. But ultimately we care and we want to, to educate the best we can. So Mike, thank you so much for your insight. That personal story was amazing.

How many people can say they’ve actually experienced an arc flash event to that degree that you did, where you got thrown back, but you’re sitting right here talking about it. Obviously you have a lot of experience in this area, and I think hopefully this will help someone. Maybe there’s that young ENI technician who’s listening right now.

And he’s smiling because he’s going to have a few tips when he walks into that next electrical room on top of his mind, that will keep him safer. So thank you, Mike.

Mike: 17:39

Hey, you’re welcome. One last parting piece of advice to the technicians that are out there in a plant. If you walk into an environment like this, where you’re asked to operate or engage with some equipment, and that you just are not comfortable with the level of your knowledge on what you’re doing. That’s the time to raise your hand. Get that instruction, be comfortable, be understanding of what you’re dealing with.

Chris: 18:01

Absolutely good point. Great feedback again, bring us any feedback on this topic or any questions you have. We’d be glad to assist where we can. So thank you again for listening, and we hope that you have a great day.