There are many places in which people have to work that contain inherent potential danger. Substations, which we will come back to shortly, are among them. In this modern age, we are all subject to a raft of health and safety regulations. We may routinely complain about them, but when all is said and done, they are there for our protection.
After all, it was not all that long ago that people were expected to work in dangerous and damaging environments with no regard to their well-being; heavy industry was not averse to having people operate loud and dangerous equipment with no protection at all.
Today, it is the legal requirement for every employer to ensure that the workplace is a safe place in which to operate – and to take visitors – and that all necessary rules and regulations are adhered to. Yet, this does not make everywhere 100% safe.
Substations, by their very nature, are dangerous places. What are they, and what makes them so? Let’s have a closer look.
Substations are plentiful; you may well have seen one, behind a heavy metal gate, with warning signs about the dangers of entry. They are an essential part of the electricity network. The purpose of a substation is, via transformers, to regulate the voltage of the electricity that is supplied to our homes and businesses. In some cases, privately operated substations can be found in larger industrial units.
This is essential because the electricity that travels via cables from the power station would be of too high a voltage to be used domestically. The process of transforming electricity to the required voltage is a dangerous one, hence substations are designed to be unmanned.
However, they do require maintenance and operation – routine servicing, fixing of faults and upgrading are all reasons why personnel need to gain access – so there are authorised, trained persons who need to be within the confines of a substation in some instances. Given the dangerous nature of the environment, it is essential that safety regulations are adhered to.
Protection and Prevention
First, only authorised persons may be permitted entry to an area of high voltage equipment. This is a vital safety requirement, as even the slightest mistake can be fatal. This is why LOTO is implemented. LOTO is lockout-tagout, and it is a very common procedure used in industry to ensure that unauthorised personnel cannot enter dangerous areas, or are prevented from operating or switching on equipment and machinery they are not trained to use.
In substations, the LOTO procedure is as follows (this is a simplified version): an operative with the correct experience and authorisation is designated as the LOTO individual. On completion of the work, he or she is last man out. They heck the area is clear, then apply special locks to the entry point, complete with tags that contain the details and information of the person concerned, and any further information that may be required.
Once the LOTO procedure is complete, that person is the only one who can be called upon to provide access to the substation. In the case of heavy plant or equipment, the power source would be locked, and the designated operative would then be responsible for restarting the machine.
The beauty of LOTO is that it cannot be over-ridden; in no circumstances can the substation be reopened by anyone but the designated person. It is a failsafe situation, and one that has been used successfully across the board.
Make sure you have competent personnel trained in the LOTO procedure, and ensure the greatest level of safety in the substation environment. You can turn to Substation Safety for more details.