Jim Wallace of Seaward Electronic urges employers to take a common sense approach to ensuring the safety of electrical equipment, as any cutbacks on safety procedures carry considerable risks

With HSE reporting around 1,000 workplace electrical accidents and 25 deaths each year, reducing the dangers associated with the use of unsafe electrical appliances in the workplace is of vital importance. Fires started by poor electrical installations and faulty appliances also cause many more deaths and injuries - and considerable disruption to business activities.

Nevertheless, in pursuit of maintaining cost efficiencies during difficult economic times, health and safety procedures are often among the first activities to be reviewed for cost cutting purposes.

However, before taking any action in this respect, company owners should fully understand their obligations and the risks associated with any short circuiting of proper health and safety procedures.

Employers have a duty of care obligation under the Health and Safety At Work Act 1974 to ensure the electrical safety of all those using their premises.
As well as facing penalties from the HSE, those that ignore their responsibilities not only put their employees and customers at risk, but may also invalidate their commercial insurance policies and liability protection.

In addition, the introduction earlier this year of the Corporate Manslaughter and Homicide Act also makes it easier to convict organisations guilty of negligence - with fines of more than 10% of turnover with no upper limit one of the penalties in waiting.
For any organisations contemplating a less rigorous approach to health safety in the interests of cutting costs, the stakes have never been higher.

The legal requirements relating to the use and maintenance of electrical equipment in the workplace are contained in the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 (EAWR).  Regulation 4(2) of the EAWR requires that all electrical systems are maintained so as to prevent danger.
This requirement covers all items of electrical equipment including fixed, portable and transportable equipment. Crucially Regulation 29 adds that a suitable defence is proof that all reasonable steps and due diligence were exercised in avoiding unsafe regulations.
In response to this situation, the IEE's Code of Practice for In-Service Inspection and Testing recommends that maintenance of electrical equipment is carried out in four stages - visual inspection, a test to verify earth continuity, a test to verify insulation and a functional test.
Electrical portable appliances are often roughly handled when moved from place to place, operate in a variety of environments and in many instances have more arduous and onerous usage compared to fixed equipment. As a result, at any time around 20% of electrical appliances used in workplaces could require re-testing to ensure that they do not pose a hazard to users.

Workplace safety programmes must therefore be capable of detecting potential problems with electrical appliances before they occur. For example, how can gradual deterioration in the electrical integrity of power tool, kitchen appliance or piece of IT equipment be diagnosed?

he emphasis on maintaining a safe working environment is therefore constant and some examples of the sort of horror stories uncovered by periodic inspection and test programmes illustrate this point perfectly.

For example, one public sector employer now insists all faulty equipment must have the whole lead cut off as close to the appliance as possible.  This is the result of an earlier situation when a caretaker rewired a plug onto an appliance that had previously had the plug removed after failing its regular test.  The failed but reconnected appliance was then responsible for causing a fire causing thousands of pounds worth of damage.

In an engineering company, factory workers risked their lives by continually replacing a fuse that persistently failed in a power tool with a solid metal bar, rather than raise the issue and question why the fuse was always blowing. The temporary modification was uncovered during a periodic portable appliance test.

Warehouse equipment when left around floor areas can be particularly liable to cable damage from fork lift trucks.  In one case a warehouse operative preferred to continue to use an electric drill with exposed wires rather than admit that it had been left out and damaged.

Even in offices, employees have been found to be taping up cracked power packs with cellotape rather than having them replaced. Elsewhere, in a school laboratory, a safety engineer had to take all the soldering out of service after the students had used them to burn through their own plugs.

All of these highly dangerous situations would not have been detected without the presence of regular inspection and testing procedures. Although many obvious defects can be identified by visual checks, inspection needs to be linked with a programme of testing to reveal potentially invisible electrical faults such as earth continuity, insulation integrity, correct polarity, unacceptable earth leakage and other potential problems.

Of course the need for establishing effective safety measures has to be balanced against practical aspects; realistic precautions for one organisation might be unacceptable for a larger or different type of business. In this respect guidelines on periodic safety testing intervals are provided in the IEE Code of Practice and supported by various HSE guidelines.
Given this situation, companies engaged in cost efficiency introductions need to think very clearly about the potential consequences.

In considering any cost reductions a clear distinction needs to be made between, for example, what might be regarded as potentially unnecessary and costly advice against those potentially vital life (or business) saving procedures.

This particularly applies to in-service electrical safety testing and ever more at a time when companies may be tempted to delay the replacement of older or damaged equipment with new tools and appliances, which so often happens during difficult economic conditions.
Where electrical safety is concerned, there is absolutely no room whatsoever for taking risks or adopting dangerous cost cutting practices.

The Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) is due to unveil its impact assessment report on smart metering next month. Decision makers across the utilities industry are on the edge of their seats, as the Government is expected to decide on a UK-wide smart meter roll-out based on BERR's December report. However, it has recently been suggested there isn't enough data for the Government to make its decision on time. David Hughes, utilities practice director, ABeam Consulting, discusses why the industry should move ahead with smart metering regardless of a public mandate

As UK plc prepares for an energy efficient future, the utilities industry is under the microscope. While using green energy sources is important in the long-term, empowering customers to be more energy efficient is part of the solution in the short-term. It is clear smart metering technologies will play a crucial role in this, enabling customers to better understand and regulate their own energy consumption.  Providing customers with real-time visibility of the energy they use enables them to see how they can save money, which is the ultimate incentive to change their behaviour. 

At first glance, the introduction of smart metering within the UK energy market could be viewed as extremely problematic. The installation of 26 million new smart electricity meters across the country will be costly, time-consuming, and complicated from a logistical perspective. There is also the immediate and very real impact on revenue: customers using less energy and ultimately paying less - which will hit the bottom line. An increasingly competitive market also creates issues around capital investment, ongoing asset ownership and supplier switching.

Then there are the customers, who are becoming increasingly intolerant of poor service. This is driving the need to focus efforts on external change, managing customer expectations and communication, to avoid additional costs associated with unplanned customer contact and complaints.

Yet, there are massive benefits that can be achieved with smart metering. Aside from the environmental advantages, it enables on-demand meter readings whilst eliminating manual meter reading costs. Smart meters eliminate the human error in meter reading and predicted costs based on previous history.  Removing such errors also eliminates any room for disagreement about billing, saving the customer time.  The cost to serve the customer will be reduced further, as customers tend to respond well to more accurate and frequent billing.  In fact, when tackled in the right way, smart metering can be seen as a huge business opportunity, which suppliers should take advantage of regardless of the Government's pending decision. ‘Smart' suppliers should look beyond the basic logistics and economics of implementation and begin to exploit smart metering as the catalyst for really getting to grips with their customer relationships.

Smart metering can provide a unique source of real-time customer information, which can be used across a retail energy providing organisation to drive efficiency and guide each individual customer journey. It also marks a shift in the evolution of customer management, from a reactive relationship that is geared towards problem solving, to a proactive relationship aimed at continually realigning and improving the customer experience. In the future, customers can expect to have personalised conversations centred on their individual tariff, product and service needs. 

The real-time consumption data provided through smart metering can also go a long way to address ‘green disadvantages', such as reduced revenue. It is important that tariff development taps into this detailed consumption information. This enables the delivery of a range of flexible tariffs that suit the needs of the customer, whilst supporting the revenue needs of the business. If applied intelligently, tariffs that help to control consumer demand can be developed, without a hugely detrimental impact on energy sales. Additionally, when combined with effective back office processes aimed at identifying the customer, real-time consumption information can be used to confront energy theft and minimise unbilled periods.

The advanced metering technology itself offers network maintenance benefits that often exceed expectations. For example, it enables auto and remote diagnostics, which support field force optimisation. This enables meter faults to be identified centrally, tapping into the work management system to send the right operative to complete the job. Additionally, smart metering enables some meter problems to be fixed remotely, eliminating the need for a visit completely.

In parts of the US and Europe, smart metering is delivering considerable benefits already. In Italy for example, the introduction of these technologies has resulted in customers making fewer unnecessary bill enquiries and paying their bills more diligently. To reap the benefits of smart metering for business and customers alike it is crucial that suppliers treat it as a fundamental catalyst to business-wide change.  Merely tinkering with smart metering will lead to creating inefficiencies in processes, systems and working practices.  Smart metering should be seen as a driver for standardisation and simplification - both internally and for the customer. Moreover, it should be regarded as a business transformation programme with the customer at the heart of future operating models, not just an IT project.

The question of if and how the Government eventually decides to move ahead with a smart meter roll-out should therefore be almost irrelevant for suppliers. The industry should start pushing for smart metering adoption before it becomes a legal necessity, because those that won't wait for Government enforcement will ultimately have the competitive edge. Suppliers need to remember that they dealing with increasingly demanding, price-sensitive customers in an extremely competitive market, and plan accordingly. To make the most of smart metering, suppliers need to be smart about it.

Anyone involved in specifying or installing lighting needs to be aware of who is responsible for what under the WEEE regulations, says Lumicom chief executive Ernest Magog

While the WEEE (Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment) regulations have introduced a valuable ‘imperative to recycle' that will make a positive contribution to sustainability, they have also created some confusion. In particular, many of the people involved in the procurement and disposal of WEEE such as lighting are often unclear about their own responsibilities.

This is an area where specifiers and installers need to have clarity with regard to their own involvement and can also guide the end user to the most straightforward solutions.
My organisation - Lumicom - is a not-for-profit organisation that has been created to manage the recycling of luminaires under the WEEE Directive. It works closely with Recolight, which is responsible for light sources such as discharge lamps. And while our experience is with lighting products many of the general principles apply to all types of WEEE and serve to help clarify the situation.

As far as the WEEE Directive is concerned there are two categories of waste - historic waste, installed before 13th August 2005, and future waste, installed after that date. Future waste is marked with a crossed out wheelie bin to indicate that it cannot be consigned to the general landfill waste stream.

With historic waste, the producer of any replacement equipment is responsible for facilitating an infrastructure that will accept historic waste. In the case of future waste, it is the producer of the discarded waste that bears this responsibility. This effectively means that lighting manufacturers are responsible for the disposal of the majority of discarded light fittings from refurbishment and refit projects.

Similarly, suppliers of lighting equipment for current new-build projects will be responsible for disposing of those products when they are removed in the future. In most cases this will be through an accredited scheme such as Lumicom. However, if there are no replacements, such as in a demolition project, then the responsibility for disposal falls to the end user if the products were installed before 13th August 2005.

As with other forms of waste disposal, the building operator has a responsibility to ensure that this is carried out by whichever contractors or sub-contractors are involved. This means that while specifiers and installers do not have any direct responsibility for the disposal of light fittings, other than ensuring that waste is sorted properly on site (see below), there is an implied responsibility to the client.

Many would argue that it's reasonable for the client to expect and receive specialist advice on such matters from the experts employed to do the work. There is certainly a benefit to adding value to the service in this way and could be beneficial in terms of future work from that client.

For example, the high proportion of lighting projects will use light fittings from a number of different manufacturers to meet the needs of all the spaces. However, at the end of life of those fittings, which manufacturer will be responsible for disposal? Or will the building operator have to deal with a dozen or so different suppliers to dispose of used fittings. This is one of the reasons for the formation of schemes such as Lumicom as it brings manufacturers together under a single umbrella. So as long as all of the fittings are sourced from members of the same scheme there is still just one disposal body to deal with. Nor should this mean the designer's flexibility is hampered, as any such scheme ought to incorporate a significant number of the key players. Thus far, Lumicom is the only such scheme to have the necessary infrastructure in place.

In all cases, the contractor would be well advised to draw the client's attention to the need to have the discarded equipment transported to bulking up points established by recycling schemes as the cost for doing this will be additional to the stripping out work. If the client or specifier is unwilling to source all luminaires from members of a single scheme, contractors should also protect themselves by amending terms and conditions of trade. In particular, they need to exclude themselves from any WEEE responsibility for either the old luminaires coming out or the new ones going in. Such actions by contractors could have an impact on the design and specification of the lighting scheme, so specifiers also need to be aware of the implications of this.

Sorting on site
Another issue to be aware of is that the key components that make up a light fitting need to be recycled through different waste streams, so these have to be separated before being sent for recycling. Some waste disposal contractors will collect the entire fitting and separate the components themselves, while others will require the separation to be carried out before collection. In the latter case, this has implications for the waste management on site and the project managers responsible for this.

The three most important components that need to be handled separately are lamps, batteries in self-contained emergency luminaires and liquid filled power factor correction capacitors. Ensuring this separation is carried out is very important.

For example, discharge lamps - such as fluorescent, metal halide and sodium sources - are classified as hazardous waste because of the small amounts of mercury they contain. Consequently, not only do they need to be separated, they also have to be stored carefully on site in compliance with the CoSHH (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health) regulations.

Another reason for separation is that the majority of discarded luminaires are shredded into small pieces of metal and plastic and sold as raw material - much of which ends up in the Far East and goes back into manufacturing. If the hazardous components were not separated first the entire batch could be contaminated. This would significantly increase the cost of disposal and could lead to legal action under hazardous waste regulations.

This highlights a further benefit of compliance schemes, namely that they will ensure all waste disposal in compliance with legislation, backed by a full audit trail. Yet another reason for ensuring that lighting suppliers for the project have a WEEE registration number and are members of a suitable compliance scheme.

As the WEEE regulations ‘bed down' and people are coming to accept waste disposal considerations as an integral part of any project, it is also becoming second nature to address these issues as part of the design and installation process. Equally, taking advantage of the schemes that have been put in place to make disposal safe and straightforward is also becoming the obvious and most sensible way forward.

Pledge to make european system carbon neutral

The European electricity generating industry is currently the beneficiary of what Point Carbon, the research group,  has identified as a stupefying £56bn windfall.

Where has all this money come from? It is arriving simply because to date the generators have received all of their permits to pollute under the European emissions trading scheme absolutely free and gratis. And then factored into their prices the official trading price of the permits - as Dorothy Thompson, the boss of the UK's biggest generating-only company, Drax, unguardedly admitted in an obscure media interview.

To counter the criticism, the industry's trade body Eurelectric is planning a big announcement this autumn. It will pledge that the entire European electricity system will become completely carbon neutral.  All very welcome of course, and guaranteed to bring the power boys lots of unusually positive publicity. Even if effectively we are talking two generations of power stations from now.

Because what will be stated rather more quietly is that this pledge will not be realised until  2050. Getting from the carbon filled present  to the promised Nirvana  40+ years on, will mean a big change from the status quo. There are at present plans to build at least a dozen massive new coal fired power stations like Eon's controversial Kingsnorth, all over Europe.
It would help Eurelectric's credibility if at this stage the industry would at least make provision for these new carbon-guzzlers to be ‘carbon capture and sequestration' ready. Even if the technology in question is still untried, and unlikely to be around for at least a dozen years - if we are lucky.

Of course by 2050 all of today's electric company bosses will be long since off on their retirement yachts. These will of course naturally be solar powered.

A minor detail

Was I alone in finding it ironic it was some of British Energy's private shareholders, like M&G, who rejected Electricite de France's initial bid to run the UK's existing nuclear power station? This thwarted the Labour Party, after 11 years of government, being able at last to respond to the demands of its' principal funders, the trade unions.

Because, after the nationalisation of Northern Rock, some nostalgic trade unionists are beginning to smell blood in the electricity sector, folowing its outrageous price increases. Bring it back into public ownership, they argue.

Electricite de France - which opts to trade in the UK as the much more language neutral EDF - is also known to be circling around Iberduero of Spain. Contemplating a wholesale take-over. If they succeed, that will mean Scottish Power (an Iberduero subsidiary) joining its vast empire, which includes such erstwhile famous - but now forgotten - names as Seeboard, London Electricity and SWEB. As well as British Energy.

All this is very pleasing to  these 1970s-style trade unionists. After all, EDF is still to all intents and purposes a wholly owned subsidiary of government. The fact the government in question resides in Paris rather than London is surely but a minor detail.

Brave new atomic world

The repercussions from the recent contretemps in the Caucasus rumble on. One of the main reasons why the USA is so concerned about little Georgia - which for centuries was very much part of Russia -  is the two oil and gas pipelines which have recently been built below ground, to carry these fossil fuels from the Caspian Sea to the West. During the days of Russian bombardment of Georgia, it was instructive to note how much of it was targeted on these pipelines.

Why? Because they exist to offer the West an alternative source for these hydrocarbons, rather than Mother Russia. Many of the more easterly countries in Europe have grown heavily dependent upon Gazprom, and desperately need to diversify. Hence also the horror with which the news of faults in the Norwegian gas pipelines are restricting supplies for this winter.

Next month the French presidency is ensuring the European Union debates a new policy paper, to emerge from the European Commission, on energy security. As far as President Sarkozy is concerned, there is one obvious response to these concerns. And that is for more European countries to follow the example of the Finns. Reject Russian gas. Build more nuclear power plants. And just guess which is the only country will can offer the expertise to deliver this brave new atomic world? Why, you can hear the laughter all the way from Paris.

Credit where it is due

In my August column, I told the happy story about how the arrival of integrated digital tuners upon the market place had reduced the anticipated growth of electricity consumption from the television market. Their success is knocking set-top boxes off the market. And thus reduces the previously anticipated growth in terawatt hour (TWh) consumption from the television sector by an impressive 40%.

I had used this as an example as to how the arrival of a new electricity consuming technology could - contrary to received opinion about gadgets - actually reduce demand. A triumph for the marketplace , I opined. Not so, say the regulators Ofgem. Apparently this only happened because of its specific intervention.

It oversees the Energy Efficiency Commitment scheme. Between 2005 and 2008, this forced the Big Six energy companies to stimulate some 151 TWh of savings in homes. One way the companies were encouraged to achieve this was by Ofgem providing direct incentives to install certain technologies. One of these was integrated digital tuners.

Hence the market transformation. It was obviously Ofgem's masterful insight which achieved this remarkable feat. I am always glad to give credit where credit is due.

A sensible leave of absence

My congratulations to Dr Timothy Stone. Who is Dr Stone, you ask? He has been the head of global infrastructure at consultancy firm KPMG. And is the man chosen by (shortly to be former) DTI Secretary Alistair Darling, to look after the entire nuclear clean-up.
Or to give the task its more formal title, to oversee “arrangements for the costs of new build, decommissioning and waste management.” And with clean-up costs alone now estimated to be well over £70,000m, he will have quite a task before him.
This month’s much delayed Energy White Paper repeats the government’s volte face on nuclear. Having spent the previous nine years bad-mouthing anything to do with the Great God Atom, last summer New Labour suddenly got religion, and declared itself in favour of lots of new nukes.
But with one crucial condition. Any new power stations must not only be built and run by the private sector, these private operators must be prepared to pick up the tab for handling all the consequent costs.
That is the brief Dr Stone has. Were he to fulfil it to the letter, it would undoubtedly infuriate his former colleagues at KPMG. At present, the consultancy makes millions from advising the different parts of the nuclear industry.
For instance, last year the firm won an award for its work on the sale by British Nuclear Fuels of its construction subsidiary, Westinghouse to Toshiba. Working it has to be said for the purchasers. In the judges’ words, “KPMG Corporate Finance used its contacts with the UK Government and BNFL to market (sic) the Japanese player.”
Wisely Dr Stone has not become a full-time civil servant to carry out his new duties. Instead, he has simply taken leave of absence from his former employers. Really, the last thing a consultancy like KPMG wants is somebody intervening on behalf of the UK government, trying to ensure all the relevant nuclear costs are carried by the private sector. I am sure that Dr Stone will bear that particular concern in mind in his new, temporary, role.

Gordon keeps it in the family

In his current seven week round tour of the UK, prior to becoming our prime minister, Gordon Brown has endlessly stressed how ‘family friendly’ his new administration would be. That will come as excellent news for the nuclear industry.
Take for instance Andrew Brown, younger brother of the aforesaid Gordon, who is chief spin doctor (whoops, press officer) for EDF Energy. Which has long been the only electricity company prepared to openly champion new nuclear stations. Possibly to do with being French-owned, and therefore heavily subsidised by the French state?
Or take Tony Cooper, the father-in-law of Brown’s right hand man Ed Balls, effectively our new deputy prime minister. A former general secretary of Prospect, covering employees in nuclear power stations, Cooper is still very active within the TUC, plugging away on the pro-nuke cause. And who should the present construction minister be? Step forward Yvette Copper, Tony’s daughter.
All that is needed now is for Sir Bernard Ingham, the one person member of SONE, Supporters of Nuclear Energy, to declare himself as Brown’s long-lost uncle, and the Happy Family pack will be complete.

Planning for the future

When a Minister creates a public body to award lucrative contracts to the private sector, he or she will of course never be giving any thought as to whether they might be able to benefit from such contacts when they leave office.
Take Brian Wilson, for instance. When, as energy minister in 2000, he set up the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, it will never have crossed his mind that it might be advantageous to any private sector company bidding for such contracts to have an ex- energy minister on its board.
So it is of course as complete a surprise to him, as to everybody else, to learn the construction company Amec is bidding for clean-up contracts from the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. Well, perhaps not quite as much of a surprise to Wilson as everybody else. Just a few months before the bid was made, Wilson joined the Amec board of directors.

Gas suppliers ignored by Ofgem compensation scheme

Any electricity consumer who spots a billing mistake, is entitled to £20 compensation from their supplier, if the matter is not dealt with speedily. The compensation kicks in if the supplier has not made a “substantive response”, known as an ESG10, to a query on charges and payments within five working days.
At least, that is true if you have remained with your initial electricity supplier. Quaintly, Ofgem only insists upon such compensation being available to those who reside within the suppliers’ home market. At a time when Ofgem seems to believe the main value of its drive to deliver ‘competitive markets’ is the number of households who switch suppliers, this restriction seems utterly bizarre.
But not as bizarre as the compensation levels required for those who find they have been incorrectly billed for their gas consumption. There is absolutely no requirement for Centrica, or indeed anybody else, to provide any such recompense at all.
I do not understand why this occurs. I do think Ofgem should explain.

By Nick Guite, director, Utilities, Construction and Professional Services at BT

For companies with a large number of mobile field workers, to say it is a challenge to keep in touch with their workforce whilst keeping them employed is probably an understatement. Yet, remarkably, many industries – not least those for whom the challenge is most acute, such as utilities, remain unaware of the rapid pace of technological change in this area, and the benefits it can bring.
Traditionally, or at least since the early ’90s, the communication and work scheduling challenge has been tackled by deploying a standard mobile phone coupled with a manual job allocation process back at headquarters. Perhaps not surprisingly, the results over the years have been mixed. Marked variations in customer service experiences and costly internal resource overheads make the traditional solution an inefficient and unsatisfactory one – and therefore no ‘solution’ at all.
Meanwhile, the evolution of technology designed specifically for mobile working – GPS (Global Positioning System) locators, mobile communications, automated work scheduling – has continued apace. Real solutions are out there. The problem has been that, even where they have deployed the technology, the pace of change may have outstripped businesses’ capacity to exploit it and reap the full benefits. Automating a force of field workers, essentially, is about improving service. That’s it. Or is it?
Certainly, getting the right engineer with the right skills to the right job at the right time is about making sure your army of people-on-the-ground are giving the best possible service to customers. As is improving productivity and responsiveness of service contact centres or keeping promises with customers by adhering to well-defined appointment slots.
But is it all about customer service? Is it just the customer that you should be thinking of? Or is the field force automation strategy, which companies like Northumbrian Water are embarking upon, where they are planning to roll-out field force automation (FFA) across the company’s fleet of approximately 900 vehicles and 1,100 field operatives over the next 12 months, slightly more complex?
As you’d expect in the 21st century, technology’s role in that strategy is increasingly critical, but is not in itself where the complexity lies. Behind the jargon and the esoteric acronyms, the technological process is actually rather straightforward. No matter the type of device being used, put plainly, it’s about connecting all the dots to reveal the – until now – hidden picture. The dots, of course, are a business’s field engineers, service representatives, or indeed any workforce that spends a large part of the working day out of the office and physically isolated from colleagues. And today, in 2007, that last aspect of the job is where the complexity of the issue lies. Giving HQ a full picture of where vehicles are, whether their engines are running, where workers are and what they are working on is vital not only for efficiency but also for duty-of-care to staff. The dangers of being ‘physically isolated’ whilst at work represent one of the most compelling drivers for adopting the type of field force technology which BT has developed for a number of utilities companies and fleet operators.
Working in remote or isolated locations or, particularly, working alone, carries inherent risks. Frequently, the areas in which service engineers, carrying money and valuable equipment, have to go to conduct critical repair or maintenance work are secluded and potentially threatening. Working in the dark, in bad weather, or in any unwelcoming environment can and does make field workers feel vulnerable. BT itself allocates 18 million jobs a year to 24,000 engineers and the reality is that as their employer it has a responsibility to ensure their safety.
The technology utilised to monitor field worker whereabouts and improve customer response times can equally be used to increase worker safety. One new solution is a round-the-neck ID card-sized device with an inbuilt GPRS SIM card – exactly like that which makes our mobile phones work. If entering a vulnerable area or situation, lone workers can put themselves on amber alert by sending an instant message that will flash up on HQ or customer screen – “I’m arriving at the back door” – or they can put themselves on red alert, whilst remaining discreet, and open a one-way voice channel that enables HQ to monitor them, and initiate support if necessary.
The value of such a straightforward piece of technology to a worker operating in a threatening environment is incalculable. The technology itself is, as it always should be, relatively simple – but sometimes the simple solutions are the best. And it is the responsibility of the companies developing the technology to explain it in simple terms.
Organisations are recognising the benefits of technology for their field workers. It’s worth remembering that those benefits do not only help customers, but extend to your own workers too.

We Brits know a thing or two when it comes to developing new technology.  After all, Michael Faraday in 1831 discovered electromagnetic induction, the principle behind the electric transformer and generator. Then on 18 December 1878 Joseph Swan demonstrated his incandescent electric light bulb to an audience at the Newcastle Chemical Society. A pedigree such as this makes it all the more perplexing that the UK electrical industry stands so far behind our European colleagues when it comes to adopting a building control protocol that is more flexible, future proof and cost-effective than traditional hard wired systems. Barry Bilclough of JUNG UK offers his opinion

By Terry Cantle, managing director, FDB Panel Fittings

At FDB Panel Fittings we have many years of combined experience in supplying panel hardware, from which we have found the selection process for correct panel hardware is largely to do with the application. For example, there is little point in fitting low cost, light duty locks and hinges to enclosures destined for use in shipbuilding or mining. Of course they will work for a short time but not for very long. Conversely, it should not be assumed fitting expensive stainless steel fittings is the answer. As with most things, the optimum solution is based on more than one factor - and can make very important differences in cost and reliability - this is where FDB is able to provide independent advice and can often act in a project management role - finding an optimal application solution. Balancing weather-ability, corrosion resistance, strength/ruggedness and supply constraints, for example, by matching a stainless handle with a polyamide housing, as a compromise of performance/cost between polyamide at the low cost end and stainless at the high cost end.

A good example is the latest ‘buzz' technology in enclosure hardware - compression locking, which was confined to a somewhat limited range of applications until it recently came out of patent protection, so now a much wider market is finding it beneficial. A number of manufacturers seem to have had their own parallel version of this technology under development for some years and have been able to quickly bring their expertise in design/manufacture to provision of a very greatly expanded range of compression latch variants.

However the question ‘is a compression facility beneficial and where?' stands. The anti-vibration role of these locks is excellent in preventing opening of panels such as on trucks, railway rolling stock gen-sets, air-con and heating and ventilating systems.

Similarly the ability to provide soft gasket compression is valuable on cabinets with EMC gasket to ensure a firm contact, or indeed on large door panels where the closure force needs to be distributed over substantial distances or adjusted to allow for manufacturing tolerances, also compression technology provides several millimeters of soft gasket compression and cam depth adjustment.

The result then is that FDB customers are finding they are also now in a position to consider soft-close compression technology for ¼ turn locks, swing handles, T handles etc, where it may be that the different closure feel is important, or that the additional degree of anti-tamper performance conferred by the design is a valuable security factor.

This is just one of many trends in cabinet hardware which tends to work over fairly long time frames. During recent years there have been many new developments in enclosure hardware and today there are products available for almost all industrial applications. Not just locks and hinges but a whole raft of complementary products including grab rails and handles, stays, door seals and numerous accessories.

IPxx degree of sealing is, by now, a well recognised front line consideration and most engineers will be aware, for example, IP54 or IP55 - while potentially suitable for external use - is not weatherproof or waterproof. FDB has become adept at looking beyond this to the complete picture including: frequency of use, ease of operation, degree of corrosive environment, the cost/material balance, key possibilities, zonal security requirements, walk-by clothing entanglement, gloved hand usage, vibrational considerations, for example where vehicle mounted, wash down and pressure hose use, type of gasket used, door type and opening required, special industry standards, for example in railway, offshore, mining, machine tool guarding.

A major long term trend is toward greater use of stainless steel hardware; consequently FDB Panel Fittings has a  range of stainless steel locks, hinges and handles suited to petrochemical plants, hospitals, food processing establishments, medical environments, outdoor installations, marine and offshore industries. The range includes piano hinges, integral recessed lock/handles, weld-on hinges, bolt-on hinges, grab handles, spanner locks, rod locks, concealed hinges, lever and T handles. Importantly for marine/offshore installation many are available in stainless grade 316 as well as the more common 303 and 304 with satin and electro polished finishes. Stainless steel fittings are suited to control cabinets, electrical equipment and instrument housings, especially where exposed to the elements or frequent wash down processes. These stainless products are of course designed to complement the standard range of die-cast and mid steel fittings and in many cases are interchangeable with them.

In one large project recently FDB Panel Fittings was called in to supply locks for the new T45 warships. Like any very large single community the T45s face security issues for their personnel, in this case the requirement was for a zone based wing lock system to cover personal lockers, wardrobes and other storage areas. With typically over 2000 locks on each ship a project based master key system was specified for crew cabins and furniture or lockers in communal areas.

FDB was able to carry out planning, supply, specialist project packaging, administration of coding/delivery and long-term backup support. Not only was it important to have a zoned security with key operated wing locks offering a very high number of ‘differs' - up to 5000 different combinations with master keys - it was also important the locks and keys were separately labelled for specific locations and delivered at a very early stage so they could be brought together later during final fit out.

Another good example was the requirement for quarter-turn latches to suit 18000 galvanised steel water meter boxes for domestic installation in the Middle East. For security, a plastic clip-in, quarter-turn latch was specified by the customer - simple to fit and, bearing in mind the quantity, relatively low in cost.

However, FDB felt the latch would be unsuitable for the service conditions that were likely to be encountered by the boxes. A small but extremely robust die-cast lock with steel cam was suggested for evaluation by the client.

In order to stay within the budget constraints it was proposed the lock be supplied zinc-plated rather than with its usual chrome-plated finish. A further problem was the very short delivery period for the boxes themselves - a period of just 3 months for the fully equipped boxes with a fixed completion date and no possibility of slippage with container shipment pre-booked. FDB was able to deliver at the required rate of 1500 locks a week, but after four weeks increased this to 2000 thus allowing the contract to be met in 10 weeks.

FDB has successfully tendered for the supply of panel hardware to many diverse and prestigious projects including: London's Millennium Wheel, the Channel Tunnel, a Russian oil pipeline, Hungarian buses, the Thames Barrier, a T45 Destroyer fleet and the London Underground flood defences.

It has been widely reported the new coalition government refuses to rule out a rise in university tuition fees. It has also been widely reported that the Russell Group of leading universities is calling for a fee rise, arguing that students should pay more towards the cost of their courses. Engineering degrees are expensive to deliver, and the natural worry is the subject could see dramatic fee increases, which would deter students from applying, exacerbating the country's skills shortages