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How to Stay Safe When Working with Switchboards

Working with switchboards can be highly dangerous and all necessary precautions should be put in place before work starts. That’s why it’s essential to carry out a thorough risk assessment before removing any switchboard panels.

The purpose of a risk assessment is to identify the potential hazards and put control measures in place to manage the risk of explosions, fires and electric shocks.

Removing the escutcheon panels from a switchboard that is energised has resulted in serious injuries to electrical workers. These injuries occur when the cables become dislodged as the panels are removed. The resulting arc flash can lead to severe burns.

Electrical Safety Laws

Electrical safety laws are in place to ensure that electrical workers are protected. They prohibit work on energised electrical equipment except in the following circumstances:

  • Health and safety are at risk if the work is not carried out on energised equipment. This can occur in emergency situations where medical equipment must be energised and operational while electrical work is being completed.

  • In exceptional circumstances where equipment must be energised for work to be completed on it

  • Testing requires the equipment to be energised

  • There is no other alternative but to carry out work on energised equipment

To minimise risk, it is never appropriate to work on energised equipment simply for the sake of convenience. There are simply no excuses for ignoring safety guidelines.

Control Measures

When considering the appropriate measures for a job, based on the environment and work required, the guidelines are clear. The strictest control measures should be put in place when dealing with a high fault level. This means completely eliminating hazards by de-energising the switchboard.

When working on a switchboard that is supplied from a 500kVA transformer, the fault level of close to 14,000 amps could potentially cause a deadly arc flash with a temperature of 19,400 degrees Celsius. As this clearly demonstrates, sometimes working close to live parts is just as hazardous as live work, and the switchboard should be de-energised before work commences.

Further information about mandatory controls is available in the Electrical Safety Regulation 2013

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