safety cabinet

Safer outdoor switchboards are potential life-savers

An innovative Queensland engineering firm has become the first in Australia to gain NATA certification for a safer outdoor switchboard design they have developed, tested and are now manufacturing. It will significantly reduce the incidence of serious burn injuries resulting from hundreds of extremely dangerous arc fault explosions which occur throughout Australia each year.

The new IP66 / IP56 modular compact outdoor switchboard is the brainchild of electrical engineer Peter Taylor, founder of P.T. Automation Solutions (PTAS), an emerging industrial and infrastructure electrical services engineering firm based in Queensland. Peter’s inspiration for developing a safer outdoor switchboard was inspired by his own personal experience of being less than two metres away from a colleague who was consumed by an arc-blast incident. PTAS has re-engineered the outdoor switchboard to contain the arc-flash and blast energy of the explosion inside the switchboard.

Their patent-pending Arc-Blast Containment & Diffusion (ABCD) compact, modular design is ideally suited to switchboards in public spaces, like parks, footpaths and shopping areas. It meets and exceeds IEC TR 61641:2014 for personal protection for arc-fault containment, and validation by testing fulfills new AS/NZS 61439.1 standards. Interestingly, PTAS has estimated a modest cost increase of only 5% compared to the commonly-used standard and more dangerous switchboards.

Arc fault explosions explained

An arc fault results from either a phase-to-ground or a phase-to-phase fault caused by occurrences such as accidental contact with electrical systems, build-up of conductive dust, corrosion, dropped tools, condensation, insects and snakes, aging or poorly maintained equipment and improper work procedures.

The result of an arc fault is a massive electrical explosion with unpredictable characteristics. In fact, the total incident energy is likened to tens of sticks of dynamite. The blinding UV and IR light and heat generated by the explosion is the ‘arc-flash’, where the temperature can reach 22,000°C. This releases hot plasma toxic gases and concentrated radiant energy which melts metal and causes severe radiation burns, damages eyesight, and can result in fatalities. The ‘arc-blast’ is the accompanying 165dB pressure wave that can damage hearing and/or brain function. It readily blows the doors off switchboards, and sends loosened equipment, machinery and shrapnel debris flying at supersonic speed that can cause further injuries to people nearby and more damage to equipment. In one US based utility, arc fault electrical injury incidents were less than 5% of accidents yet represented 30 – 50% of the total injury costs.

Safe Work and Health Legislation

Directors and officers of public and private organisations have a legal duty to eliminate and minimise risks as far as “reasonably practical”; this means that considering the available knowledge of the hazard, they must provide tools and training for individuals to have the means to reduce risk to the lowest possible level therefore reducing potential injury to individuals and damage to property.

“An example of ever-increasing accountability was emphasised by Queensland’s 2017 “industrial manslaughter” legislation.” commented Peter Taylor, warning people in such positions about growing requirements.

“New switchboard testing standards are onerous (AS/NZS 61439.1) and so they should be.” he added.

Outdoor switchboards are often overlooked as a safety risk to employees and the public, yet they are usually exposed to environmental deterioration, entry by vermin and other rodents and enjoy the least attention and maintenance.

About PTAS

PTAS is a leading innovator and builder of high quality safe switchboards used in heavy industry and public utilities. As industry continuously moves to more “intelligent” switchboards with more remote control and interactive technologies being applied, PTAS intends to maintain their leadership in this movement.

“We have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to develop and test our new ABCD modular outdoor switchboards to gain NATA certification,” said Taylor, “and we believe it to be money well-spent. Additionally, we’re very pleased that a 5% cost increase to adopt our ABCD switchboard is quite a small price to pay for a significant increase in employee and public safety.” he added.

Photos taken during testing. Note major arc-blast containment and diffusion in right pic.

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