Prevention is better than cure

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With a consistent, reliable power supply critical for most UK business operations, the ramifications of any incurred downtime can be catastrophic, both in terms of cost and productivity. There are some key considerations for businesses when reviewing electrical safety to implement a robust maintenance programme.

In this modern, digital age, there are few businesses and organisations that do not rely heavily on a consistent, reliable power supply. From data-driven manufacturing and internet-connected factories, through to corporations using technology to help automate basic back office functions, the digital revolution has had a huge impact on virtually every domain.

With this comes an increased reliance on electricity, with businesses often quick to buy or install the latest electrical equipment or technology that will help to enhance their offering. But little thought is paid to what happens to electrical equipment and installations after the initial purchase and commissioning stage – and who’s responsibility the after care should fall under.

The reality is that a robust electrical safety and maintenance programme is a must. Business interruption caused by electrical failure is a risk which most businesses can ill afford.

When talking to businesses, be it the business owner or facilities manager, I always ask them three questions; what is your dependence on critical electrical supplies; what would be the consequences of unplanned downtime of your electrical systems and how can you improve the reliability and safety of your electrical systems? The reason I ask is because it makes it easier to understand that any error or disruption to the electrical system will generally have a significant impact on business.

Electrical systems begin to deteriorate once they are built or installed, while performance and life expectancy decline as a result of a number of factors including environmental conditions, overload and duty cycles. The principal reason for electrical system failure is the failure to maintain – and herein lies the solution.

A robust maintenance programme

With many other roles and responsibilities involved in the day-to-day running of a property, the facilities manager may not have either the skills, competence or time to put an effective maintenance programme in place on their own.

As such, in the first instance, it is useful to bring in an external third party to audit the electrical management system, from an authorised testing and certification perspective. An audit involves an in-depth look at an organisations’ electrical system, in particular at safe working policies, competency, training and adequacy of maintenance, then putting recommendations in place for areas that need to be assessed and, if requested, a scheme of regular maintenance activity can be put forward. External audits for electrical systems should be carried out at
least every five years, if not more regularly depending on the business type and dependence on complex electrical systems.

Following completion of the maintenance scheme it is vital that it is adequately and consistently applied throughout the business. The delivery often falls to that of the facilities manager, who must be technically competent and have a strong knowledge of the electrical and instrumentation disciplines. After all, they will be the first point of call within the business to deem what is or is not safe according to electrical regulatory standards. As such, regular training should be considered to ensure they have a sound and up-to-date level of knowledge in this area. 

In addition, as the key stakeholder, the facilities manager must ensure the programme is adhered to at all business levels. This should involve communicating with management, customers and technicians; supervising contractors on site; following up on action items and keeping track of budget.

Conversely, when outsourcing this role it is imperative that the technician or contractor is adequately vetted. This role requires a high level of knowledge of electrical systems, the ability to analyse the critical nature of equipment and undertake appropriate tests.

Routine inspections by third party contractors should be scheduled regularly. However, it is the responsibility of the organisation itself to carry out a daily checklist and walk through, looking out for physical signs of damage and burning smells. The first stage of maintenance should be followed up by a detailed inspection, if issues of concern are raised.

Whether an assessment has been carried out externally or internally, a recommended actions list should be produced and issued to the business, supported with a thorough implementation of corrective measures and record keeping.

Ultimately, the importance of a consistent, reliable electrical power supply is only going to become greater in the modern business world. Through a robust maintenance programme, supported with careful monitoring and evaluation, businesses can ensure they are prepared and minimise the risk of failures.

Mahendra Mistry is technical manager (Electrical) at Bureau Veritas 


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