Safety in Electrical Engineering

We don’t talk enough about the Electrical Engineering and Electrician professions on Planet Analog. My first job out of NYU in 1972 with a Bachelor of Engineering in Electrical Engineering was with a company called Lord Electric. Mr. Juras hired me as an apprentice engineer (I later joined the Local 3 International Brotherhood of Electrical workers—the IBEW) I worked on a drafting board with blueprints and learned how power distribution worked in buildings. I was there a very short time and worked in the field for George Wintermuth, the Electrical Engineer in charge. We were in a trailer at the Lincoln Memorial Medical Center job site in the Bronx. This was an excellent opportunity for me to learn an important side of engineering.

This month is National Electrical Safety Month. The Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) is the premier non-profit organization dedicated exclusively to promoting electrical safety at home and in the workplace and they publish some really great articles and tips to promote safety through education, awareness, and advocacy.

Safety is also a big part of design in engineering. This is true for electrical and electronics disciplines. I remember a course I took back in the 70’s with Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) that showed a large Power Circuit Breaker Box and how improper design of the box or improper specification of such a box by an electrician or electrical engineer could be deadly. They showed us a video of the main breaker switch in the box being mechanically opened via a long mechanical device from a safe distance.

The switch was opened and a huge fireball exploded from a tremendous arc due to the fact that the breaker switch was not correctly sized in the initial design or the box ratings for the breaker not being rated high enough for the voltage and current coursing through it. It was frightening and could have seriously burned or killed a person turning it off.

That image stayed with me through all my years, even today, when I work with electricity. We, as professionals, must all have great respect and a full understanding of the basics of electricity which are sometimes taken for granted. Mistakes happen, accidents can happen, but we must understand and be aware about such things as Arcs in a Circuit Breaker and so many other areas of importance to safety in our engineering or electrician profession.

Be safe out there my brother and sister Electricians and Electrical Engineers and have a happy National Electrical Safety Month as a constant reminder.

3 comments on “Safety in Electrical Engineering

  1. eafpres
    May 5, 2015

    Hi Steve–great reminders about safety.  For a period of my career I worked in a lab that previously had been used for Hydrogen research.  All the electrical power in the room was Explosion Proof (EP).   I've never done EP designs myself but the fixtures were impressive; the picture of a metal cage surrounding a glass dome over a light bulb, with a rubber compression gasket sealing the dome against the metal base, is one that comes to mind frequently.  Every time I flip a light switch at home and hear a “pop” as the switch arcs a bit I'm reminded about what would happen if such every-day electro-mechanical components were used improperly.

  2. Steve Taranovich
    May 5, 2015

    Thanks @eafpres1—Another excellent example where safety is critical in electrical and electronics development and work space.

  3. Victor Lorenzo
    May 5, 2015

    Hi Blane, dealing with smartcard readers design and industrial instrumentation or medical research was fun for me and gave me the opportunity to stay at very safe voltage values. Now I've moved to kind of a little bit higher voltages and currents, indeed it is far beyond a little bit as I deal with devices that must survive to direct lightning impacts. That remainds me every day how important safety is.

    The high current generator in our lab uses two spheres spaced in the air for producing the current pulse, 100kA@10/350us. Tha arc between the spheres, combined with the arc in the crowbar, produces a very loud noise, like an explosion, and a very intense visible light, EMI and UV radiation.

    After testing any specimen, and BEFORE touching anything, we MUST ensure nothing remains charged.

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