Electrical Hazards in Warehouses, Silos, and Logistic Operations

large, mostly empty warehouse

Warehouses, silos, and logistic operations are exposed to the electrical hazards of arc flash and electrical shock.

In fact, unique risks are present when the electrical utility bill is one of the smaller budget items, as is the case in warehouses, silos, and logistic operations.  This, together with the rather infrequent performances of electrical operations, leads certain businesses to underplay the true risk of injury due to electricity.  It sometimes creates a belief that they do not have to hire a qualified electrician or a qualified and legally compliant electrical contractor for such simple tasks.

It has been observed (via auditing) that non-electrical, unqualified personnel have been called upon to perform electrical work. This is indeed a recipe for disaster!  Some nationwide organizations hire a single electrician to service multiple facilities; this also presents its own risks.

Risk

An unqualified worker may not be aware of the life-threatening risks from a task perceived to be “simple” or “routine.”  Further, how can there be an expectation for an unqualified electrical worker to identify specific maintenance criteria for electrical equipment?  Also, allowing unqualified electrical workers to undertake troubleshooting and repairs exposes the organization not only to risk of damage, but also possibly tort in the event of an incident.  

Having one electrician service a geographically wide area implies that there will be travel time between sites.  This can lead to protracted outages.  In such cases, it is possible that a warehouse would rather ask an unqualified worker to perform a “simple” electrical task than wait several hours or a day for the electrician to arrive.  

Hiring a local contractor instead?  How would an organization verify that the contractor is indeed less of a risk and has all legal requirements in place?  There are contractors that don’t meet these minimum legal requirements!

Remediation

Fortunately, if an incident has not already occurred, there is time to remediate–but businesses should act in haste. Persons who operate electrical equipment such as breakers, disconnects, and similar equipment should attend Task-specific operator training.

The electrical safety training is followed up by an arc flash engineering study. This study quantifies the possible arc flash energy capable of being released from electrical equipment.   One of the outcomes from the engineering study is equipment labeling.  This will inform unqualified electrical workers of the dangers of possible arc flash energy release and possible exposure to shock.  It also supports management in determining whether arc rated protective clothing and personal protective equipment (PPE) may be required.     

Responsibility

Keep in mind that it is not the duty of the unqualified workers to bring these electrical risks to the attention of management. It is actually management’s responsibility to create awareness of such electrical hazards and address these appropriately. Article 100 in the NFPA 70E®-2015 refers to the property owner as an authority having jurisdiction (AHJ).  The AHJ is responsible for enforcing consensus standards, codes, and operational procedures. The Canadian equivalent standard, CSA Z462-2015, states the same.

With the uptick in electrical consulting work in the areas of warehousing, silos, and logistic operations, a more detailed article is being drafted to address several factors that were not addressed in this write-up.  Keep a lookout for that article!

Zarheer Jooma

Zarheer Jooma

A registered Professional Electrical Engineer, Zarheer brings a unique perspective to the classroom having helped develop SANS 724—the South African National Standard for Protective Equipment against the Thermal Hazards of an Electrical Arc. Read more about Zarheer.

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4 Responses

  1. Accidents in the warehouse could be very dangerous which could cost a lot of money and threatens the safety of the workers. So, suitable initiatives need to be taken to prevent such kind of accidents. The workers should be properly trained in different types of safety guidelines issued by OSHA. Electrical wiring could cause a fire brake out in the warehouse. So, the condition of such electrical wires needs to be inspected at a regular interval and damaged wires should be replaced with suitable substitutes to prevent any kind of accidents.

    1. So true, but having done many industrial and commercial electrical inspections and audits over the years, I have found a serious lack in finding that “highly skilled electrician.” I could go on and on about things I have seen from supposedly reputable electrical contractors all across the USA, but suffice it to say that not all electricians are good electricians, much less highly skilled. I think it is more in line with people not having a professional work ethic, as I was taught very early in the trade. It all works together – good design and quality execution make for an electrical installation that is not only code-compliant, but as you say, user-friendly for the residents. This includes those fine touches like panel circuit labeling, ensuring electrical installs are done in a neat and workmanlike manner, and all those other concepts that “highly skilled electricians” should always strive for. Thanks for your comments – I couldn’t agree more!

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