Safe as houses: implementing safe isolation procedures

Martindale Electric’s Managing Director, Steve Dunning, outlines safe isolation procedures and looks at how wholesalers can respond to help keep contractors and maintenance teams safe.

Implementing safe isolation procedures is essential to achieve compliance with the Electricity at Work Regulations. In terms of the wholesaler, this means that customers must be able to confidently and conveniently select the right tools for the job to implement an effective procedure.

With around 1,000 serious accidents in the workplace each year and 16% of all fatalities linked to electricity, it is clear how important it is for contractors to follow simple safe isolation procedures and to use the correct equipment to keep safe and avoid heavy penalties of up to £10m for non-compliance.

So what can wholesalers do to ensure they provide cost-effective tools which respond to these issues, without compromising on quality?

Ensuring the right tools are available for the job might seem like common sense, but it’s becoming an increasing issue among customers, who may be potentially putting their lives at risk whilst working with electricity.

For example using a multimeter to prove a circuit is dead is not permissible when implementing safe isolation procedures as it could easily give a misleading reading if set to the wrong range or the batteries needed replacing. A dedicated voltage indicator with no ranges, switches or batteries is essential for reliably proving dead. Having the right locking off device to hand for all types of common circuit breakers or fuse holders is a must.

Being face to face with contractors every day, electrical wholesalers can help to raise awareness with their customers and stock and display the essential kit to stay safe on site.

Any internet trawl or visit to a local retailer will leave a customer in no doubt that there is definitely no shortage of electrical testing equipment to choose from. However, addressing key developments and providing a comprehensive solution without compromising on quality, in terms of products stocked, can have a huge impact on customer loyalty and repeat business for the wholesaler.

Making sure test equipment meets current regulations

According to Electrical Safety First, using the right equipment is one of the most important parts of the safe isolation procedure. But with such a wide range of equipment available, the choice of product can be overwhelming. However, what is clear to customers is that the essential test tools and equipment needed to lock off and prove dead before carrying out maintenance is a dedicated voltage indicator, a proving unit to verify the voltage indicator, locking off devices with unique keys and a clear method of labelling the hazard.

Over the last few years many of the standards have changed to ensure the correct levels of safety. The latest 2015 edition of HSE GS38 guidance note makes it clear what test equipment can and can’t be used to carry out safe isolation procedures and what standards it must meet to stay safe.

Comprehensive kits provide a complete solution

Many customers are now turning to safe isolation kits which include all the necessary equipment to lock out the circuit being worked on. Suitable for all installation categories, kits such as the new LOKKITBASE and LOKKIT2PLUS kits from Martindale Electric both include standard miniature circuit breaker (MCB) locking off devices and the miniature LOK10 and LOK11 for when access is limited and there is not enough space for a conventional lock.

The kits include a PAD10R padlock with a unique key plus a marker pen and tags to ensure immediate and clear identification of circuits, work areas and personnel. For added safety, each lock is supplied with just one key, to ensure that a circuit cannot be unlocked by another user.

For contractors and maintenance teams working on industrial and commercial sites, the new LOKKITPRO is the ultimate safe isolation kit providing a locking off solution for all sites and applications from mcbs with integrated test buttons through old style fuse holders, to switchgear requiring a cable lock approach.

Proving a circuit is dead

Locking off the circuit correctly is just one part of the procedure. Before carrying out any work, an electrician must also verify that the circuit is dead before proceeding and in order to do so, a dedicated voltage indicator and a proving unit is a must!

In terms of the use of voltage indicators to prove dead, guidance from Electrical Safety First addresses some key points:

“Following isolation of equipment or circuits and before starting work it should be proved that the parts to work on, and those nearby, are dead. It should never be assumed that equipment is dead because a particular isolation device has been placed in the OFF position.”

With this in mind, it is not enough to simply lock off the breaker and assume that the circuit is dead. Contractors should use a dedicated voltage indicator and a proving unit when carrying out this procedure, such as the Drummond MTL10 and MTL20 Test Lamps, or a two-pole voltage detector, such as the VII3800 or VI-15000 voltage indicators.

Whilst customers can use a known live source to test a voltage indicator, it is recommended that a dedicated proving unit is used. The reason being is that the known live source will only light some of the LEDS on the tester, whereas a proving unit will ensure that all the LEDS on all ranges are working, again safeguarding against incorrect readings due to a blown LED. In addition, there may not be a known live source close by, so by having a proving unit, the contractor will not have this problem.

The key elements that wholesalers should consider

Arguably the most important factor is the ability to provide quality functional tools to the customer. However, perhaps more important is the ability to offer tools which can be relied upon to offer significant time-saving properties which can easily equate to increased productivity and in turn, profit.

In order to achieve this, companies have simplified selecting the right tools by offering complete solutions, such as the VIPDLOK138 and VIPDLOK150 kits from Martindale Electric. These kits include an industry standard voltage indicator, proving unit, locking off devices and hazard warning labels.

In line with guidance that a voltage indicator must be able to work without the need for a battery, many voltage indicators, such as the VII-3800 and VI-1500 do not require batteries and are dedicated to measuring voltage only, which avoids any potential errors which may occur from using a tester on the wrong setting.

Cost is another factor that wholesalers need to take into consideration. As tempting as it might be for a customer to buy a cheap tool which “does the job”, purchasing decisions are more often than not based on industry recommendations and brand loyalty, which is often associated with company reputation and experience in the electrical test market.

Taking all this into consideration, stocking innovative, quality products that will help to save the customer both time and money, can help wholesalers dramatically increase profits and achieve repeat custom, whilst keeping their customers safe and compliant.

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