Danger, danger, high voltage

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Surprisingly, despite the dangers, high-voltage electrical engineering can often be one of the safest areas to work. While it might sound like a daunting way to spend your nine-to-five, John Smith, managing director at Smith Brothers, looks at some of the sector’s stringent health and safety regulations which protect workers – both on- and off-site.

This year, we’re celebrating 20 years in business at Smith Brothers. From humble beginnings as a pair of small connection contractors working from the back of their van, founders Richard and John Smith have built a brand which now offers a range of services from LV up to 132,000 volts. 

Although the firm has had to move with the times and has faced some significant obstacles along the way, whether we’re working on a high or low voltage distribution system, a simple assignment or a complex turnkey project, one thing has always taken precedence above all else – health and safety. 

As with most areas of the construction industry, health and safety is at the very top of internal priorities within the electrical engineering arena. The mitigation of risk is heavily audited and there are stringent rules and regulations in place to protect engineers, with a large percentage of project time spent on this alone.

Although perhaps best-known for their work on high-voltage engineering projects, Smith Brothers’ portfolio also covers low voltage distribution systems and complex turnkey projects – meaning they are involved in the construction-side of the project too. As a result, risk-management is not as simple as ‘black and white’. 

Health and safety planning begins well before work commences on-site, and one of the core elements of ensuring projects are carried out safely is through the completion of risk assessments and method statements (RAMS).

Regular RAMS ensure all necessary steps are taken – at each stage, and in every aspect of the project – to protect those on the ground. By logically looking at how work is going to be carried out, each job can be properly planned and resourced.

Once on-site, people who regularly work in construction will have noticed how heavily protected the electrical works are. The areas in which equipment is housed and upgrades or installations are being conducted are always securely locked, to ensure only trained personnel are granted access. Those admitted must hold a permit-to-work issued by the authorised party, be thoroughly briefed and have read, understood and signed the associated RAMS documentation and safe work instructions prior to entering.

Workers in the electrical sector need the right credentials too, and there are various industry-recognised certifications a company can hold. For instance, the Electrical Contractor Association (ECA) provides assessment and certification services for those working across all building services, whilst Lloyd’s Register operates a National Electricity Registration Scheme (NERS) on behalf of UK Distribution Network Operators (DNOs). 

At Smith Brothers, we’ve worked hard to uphold a series of industry standards and have an enviable health and safety record. As a registered UK company holding BS-ISO 9002, quality is always a high priority. All work is carried out under a risk assessment and method statement as required by law, and as part of our commitment to health, safety, and the environment, we also hold OHAS 18001 and BS EN ISO 9001 certification too. 

All employees/contractors are given a NERS passport which they must always carry on-site, and every member of staff involved in the project should carry a Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) and/or Electrotechnical Certification Scheme (ECS) card. Our team is also given continuous trade-specific training, which is rigorously monitored throughout.

Smith Brothers hosts a weekly ‘toolbox talk’ session with workers to run through safety requirements in accordance with our RAMS. A typical meeting usually covers what is expected from them, often including topics such as personal protection equipment (PPE)/abrasive wheels.

Regular equipment inspections and maintenance, thorough training of staff and the safety precautions taken before and during an assignment all help to minimise hazards. Therefore, the sheer number of regulations and processes in place within the electrical engineering industry, probably makes it one of the safest areas of construction.