The shock of quitting the EU may not be too bad for the electrical safety and testing industry – provided the UK leaves with a deal.
That’s the view of Andrew Holland, director of marketing at Martindale Electric, who believes, ultimately, withdrawal from the union will not have a great impact on the industry in the UK.
Holland said: “It probably won’t have a great deal of impact because the safety standards used by maintenance teams in the UK are derived from international standards.
“The international standards are the basis for European standards and the UK standards are in line with the European standards, so in fact it is more than just Europe.”
Fines have trebled and chances of imprisonment for breaching regulations are much higher because of law changes
Andrew Holland, director of marketing, Martindale Electric
However, he said that if inconsistent standards occurred between Britain and the European Union, it would make trade harder and costlier for UK electrical safety and testing manufacturers.
“Our biggest market is in the UK, so, in that respect, we are not overly worried about Brexit,” he said.
“But while saying that, it is a real benefit for us to have Europe-wide regulation because it allows us to enter markets in other countries in Europe and have equipment which complies with their standards, so we don’t have to do something special for the European market.
“If we diverged from European standards, we’d have to produce special versions for European markets. It’s in our interest to align with European standards. And if the UK crashed out of Europe without a deal, it would result in tariffs on our equipment, making them less competitive. It’d make it more difficult for us, but, if the UK leaves with a deal, I don’t see very much changing.”
Simon Wood, European distribution manager of electrical testing equipment manufacturer Megger [pictured], is also not particularly worried about the future.
Wood said: “I don’t believe that Brexit will have any shortterm impact on either electricity safety or testing. We work to international standards and do not see this will change should we break all ties with Europe.
“If British companies wish to export items into the EU, they will be required to maintain the CE mark. For products being imported, short term I would envisage the CE mark being retained, but this may be replaced with a unique UK mark at a later date. However, I do not see any appetite to bring in additional standards and marks.”
Rather than worry too greatly about the wider political and business environment, says Holland, the focus as ever should be on improving electrical safety and testing.
Stay switched on
Despite widely available advice and regulations to provide guidance, there are still too many accidents that could be avoided by better attention to seven key electrical safety principles. Namely:
Isolation: This is not just about turning off the power but also ensuring it is locked off so that it cannot be turned on again while maintenance work is taking place. Isolation needs to take place in line with electricity work regulations. Electricians generally know these regulations but other maintenance staff may not. l
Compliance: The equipment used to ensure the circuit is dead must comply with the latest standard for that gear, summarised in the Health and Safety Executive document GS38. Non-compliance can happen when people buy the cheapest tester on the market which may not comply with the latest safety requirements. GS38 brings together all the relevant standards for test equipment in the UK.
Multimeter risk: Multimeters may not be suitable for testing high-voltage equipment because if the batteries are flat, the circuit may appear dead – when it’s still live. And if the multimeter is turned to its resistance setting, users also might erroneously believe there’s no voltage because the meter shows nothing. It is vital to use the right kind of tester. DIY market multimeters, ‘mains screwdrivers’ and non-contact voltage detectors should be avoided. Professional voltage indicators are much more reliable, not needing batteries, nor having the confusion of other ranges.
Proving: Prove the voltage indicator is working before and after you test the system for any high voltage. This is in case something has failed which you might not know about. A proving unit is used to do this. It’s a separate device that produces the same voltage as the mains supply. The proving equipment tests the testing equipment and is, in fact, safer to use than the mains supply.
Procedures: Robust procedures should be adopted to ensure safety. Procedures include isolation, labelling that is clear, and locking off physically using padlock devices attached to the switch to prevent it being switched back on again.
Training: Everyone working with electrical equipment needs to be trained in the procedures. Accredited safe isolation one-day courses are available from specialist training companies for anybody carrying out maintenance on electrical equipment. They provide the theory and practical experience and are to be recommended.
Employer assumptions: Employers should not assume that their employees always have the right equipment they need to work safely. Firms should also carry out regular inspections to ensure equipment is not damaged or faulty in any way. It is the employer’s responsibility to ensure this maintenance takes place and that the correct locking off devices and tags are available.
Holland adds: “Around 1,000 serious accidents at work due to contact with electricity happen every year in the UK – people being electrocuted or burnt.
“There are also second-degree accidents. For example, someone up on a ladder working on cabling getting an electric shock because it’s live, falling off and breaking their leg. That’s obviously an accident that’s been caused by not carrying out safe isolation. There are 10,000 second-degree accidents at work involving electricity a year in the UK.”
He added a reminder that, not only are there clear regulations for guidance, but also considerably harsher penalties for failing to abide by them.
“Fines have trebled and chances of imprisonment for breaching regulations are much higher because of law changes in February 2016 and changes to corporate manslaughter guidelines in 2018.”
I don’t believe that Brexit will have any short-term impact on either electricity safety or testing. We work to international standards and do not see this will change should we break all ties with Europe
Simon Wood, European distribution manager, Megger
Mark Lant, technical sales manager at ProGARM, flags up a specific issue he believes employers can underestimate: the dangers of arc flash.
Arc flash involves the heat and light coming from an electrical discharge, or arc fault, through a low-impedance connection to earth. Lant characterises it as “hotter than the sun and louder than a bullet”, adding that it constitutes a far greater risk than some companies realise.
“Super-heated air causes pressure waves that can throw individuals across rooms and create deadly molten shrapnel.
“Within a fraction of a second, an arc flash can burn clothing and human skin, even if the operative is five or six metres away. The sound blast can rupture eardrums and the flash can cause temporary or even permanent blindness.”
He recommends that workers wear protective clothing designed to protect them from fire and the heat generated by flashes, which can cause external and internal burns. This includes donning heat-resistant underwear, adds Lant.
Lant adds: “The flames caused by an arc flash may not actually come into contact with skin through the protective outer layers, but the extreme heat can melt the materials used to manufacture everyday undergarments, including nylon, cotton, and polypropylene.
“This will inflict burns on an operative and potentially cause non-arc flash protective undergarments to melt into the skin.”