When it comes to electrical safety, your first line of defense is using your noggin. Always follow appropriate safety procedures, wear the right Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and choose an electrical testing tool that was built for the job.
Working in a high-voltage environment is risky business. Ultimately, no tool can guarantee your safety. But not all electrical testing tools are created equal. To reduce risk, know what to look for in a test tool.
In honor of Safety Awareness Month, it may be time to spring for new testing tools. I caught up with the folks at Fluke to run through what to look for in an electrical safety testing tool. Here are six factors to consider.
1. Know Your Environment
Before you get to work, always take the time to understand your electrical environment. Know how much voltage you’re working with, what kinds of measurements you’ll be making, and how high the safety rating of your test tool needs to be.
Specifically, you need to know your true voltage environment (the voltage and CAT rating). In short, the higher the voltage supplied to the electrical cabinet or machinery, the higher the safety rating needs to be on your electrical test tool.
2. Shut It Down
I’m sure you’re familiar with the pressure to “get ‘er done,” or in this case, “work it live.” At times, it can be tempting to keep the juice flowing, especially when deadlines loom. But when you’re working in a high-voltage environment, you can never be too careful.
If possible, de-energize before you connect to it. Period. “Shutting it down” is a much safer way to work with a panel or piece of machinery
3. Follow NFPA 70E Guidelines
As you know, best practices for safe electrical work are dictated by OSHA and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 70E Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace. NFPA 70E lays out procedure in a step-by-step manner that’s designed to account for human error.
As far as electrical safety goes, NFPA 70E should be every electrical contractor’s go-to resource. To increase electrical safety, NFPA 70E requires that “qualified persons” show their ability to select, inspect, use, and maintain test equipment.
4. Inspect Test Tools
How else will you know if it’s time to remove a tool from service? NFPA 70E stipulates frequent visual inspection of test tools to detect damage and ensure proper operation. Here are a few things to look out for:
- Is the case intact—not broken or cracked?
- Is the display clear—not faded or unreadable?
- Are the test leads in good shape—not worn, frayed, or broken?
- Have you run the meter’s continuity testing function to check for internal breaks?
- Do the test leads and probes have the following?
- Shrouded connectors
- Finger guards
- Double insulation
- A minimum of exposed metal on the probe tips
- CAT ratings that equal or exceed those of the meter
5. Look For Third-Party Testing
These days, almost all tools are stamped with a CAT rating, and that’s what most contractors have been trained to look for. But a CAT rating alone doesn’t necessarily mean a tool is safe to use.
Some tools are never independently verified to be capable of withstanding, let alone measuring, the electrical rates to which they’ll be subjected. For greater safety, look for tools that have been tested by an independent third-party lab.
To know how a test tool will perform in the field, Fluke tests beyond minimum safety requirements:
- Fluke sends their tools to a third-party lab, and they also run extensive in-house stress testing to ensure equipment exceeds minimum requirements—sometimes by 2-3 times.
- By the time a new product gets to market, Fluke engineers have shocked it, short-circuited it, frozen it, lightning-struck it, shake-and-baked it, and dropped it like it’s hot.
- Fluke finds where it breaks, puts out the flames (sometimes literally), and makes design improvements until they can’t break it anymore.
6. Use Non-Contact Test Tools
Non-contact test tools are those that don’t require leads or probes to come into contact with electrical equipment. They put a greater distance between the electrical worker and possible exposure to job hazards like shock and arc flash.
Some tools, like thermal imagers and volt detectors, are fully non-contact. Other tools, like Fluke’s line of wireless meters, still require contacting equipment during setup but then allow you to read the measurement wirelessly from outside the arc flash zone.
With the Fluke 279 FC Thermal Multimeter, you get the best of both worlds. Find, repair, validate, and report electrical issues using thermal and wireless measurement in one tool. The Fluke 279 FC Thermal Multimeter:
- Combines thermal imaging technology with the industry-leading digital multimeter (DMM) to improve productivity, efficiency, and safety on the job.
- Features a thermal scanner that allows you to find troublesome hot spots before you begin repairs. So you’ll rapidly diagnose electrical issues from a safe distance.
- Includes on-board wireless so you can take and view measurements and thermal maps from a safe distance—even remotely—on the 3.5-inch full-color LCD display.
- Is powered by Fluke Connect, which allows you to include measurements and thermal images in reports to validate that work is complete.
Over To You
Sources & Credits
As National Market Manager at Graybar, Todd’s goal is to find the best products and solutions to help contractors work more efficiently, stay safe on the job, and win more productive and profitable business.