Some Data Center Personnel Lack Needed Electrical Background For Arc Flash Safety
Another arc-flash safety problem sometimes seen in data centers arises from the personnel who are calling the shots lacking the needed electrical background.
What might seem like routine work installing or removing equipment can expose IT employees to hazards they don't appreciate if that works occurs in proximity to exposed, energized equipment, Smith says.
“What you find,” he says, “is that you have non-qualified, non-trained individuals working in and around this energized equipment, a lot of times not understanding that they may not just be plugging in a server rack or a data port but are just inches away from energized conductors and maybe a UPS (uninterruptible power supply) system or the live feed that’s going to the server rack or what not.
“Plugging in a cord in most cases is not hazardous, yet working within inches of exposed conductors is; installing whips (connectors that provide power to individual servers) or removing electrical connections while energized is dangerous. Exposure to arc flash is not always the sole hazard; many times it's a shock hazard.
“It's basically just a lack of education a lot of times … A lot of times you’re going to have an IT guy with a polo shirt and khaki pants on, which obviously are not arc-flash-appropriate gear to be worn working inside an energized cabinet.”
In data centers, IT people are usually the ones directing what an electrical maintenance worker will do, Tellin says. “If a contractor comes in and says, ‘OK can we shut this down?’ they’ll say, ‘No, we cannot shut this down — you’ll have to work it hot or we’ll find someone who can work it hot.’
“That's where the culture and the pressure comes in. A lot of times they contract out the work when it comes to power distribution, and the contractors kind of feel a sense of ‘If we don't do it, they'll find someone else who will and we won’t have a job.”
The National Fire Protection Association’s 70E, a standard for electrical safety in the workplace, focuses on having only qualified workers being in energized environments, Smith says. Such workers are trained and knowledgeable about arc flash, and know what protective measures should be used.
Chris Crosby, a veteran of the data center industry and the founder and CEO of Compass Datacenters, says the two cultural problems Tellin and Smith referenced — the pressure to keep a data center operating and the inadequate background of some data center personnel — are “dead on” accurate.
“This is the largest life safety risk we have as an industry,” Crosby says. “Many data center environments perform live work at great risk to the personnel involved. It is a moral fallacy that a business interruption is worth more than a human life.”