Ground Fault Protection for All Industrial Areas

At Lind Equipment, we've been selling Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI) for many years, and we've seen the adoption of these devices grow nicely. Their adoption has saved many lives, but has been driven mainly by legislation rather than voluntary uptake. We believe that many more lives can be saved through recognizing the need for ground fault protection across a wider variety of applications. While the US is taking steps to ensure this broader adoption, it is important for the electrical industry and safety engineers to step up and be aware of the applicability of ground fault protection in all industrial areas.

By way of background, a GFCI is a device designed to protect workers from ground faults that can occur in electrical equipment and circuits when the electricity finds a path to ground other than through the circuit. This could be due to a damaged cord, a broken tool, or the introduction of water into a tool. If that new 'path to ground' happens to be through an operator of the tool in question, the results could range from a shock to death. A GFCI device senses the flow of electricity out to the tool and back through the circuit. Any imbalance in the two of as little as 4-6 mA will cause the device to 'trip' and cut off the continued flow of electricity. For more information, see our GFCI primer here for more information (GFCI Primer).

For many years now, GFCIs have been mandated by OSHA (in the US) and the Canadian Electrical Code (in Canada) to be used on all outlets on construction and demolition sites. There are also mandates for residential use, but we'll stick to industrial applications here. This requirement recognizes the potential ground fault hazards in these job sites due to water (rain, puddles, sewer mains, etc) and rigours of the environment (e.g. damaged extension cords). After these rules were put into place and GFCI adoption increased, the number of electrocutions dramatically dropped. OSHA has now taken this a step further and introduced guidelines which require the use of GFCIs for "general industry." For all construction-like activities in general industry and for all temporary power applications, general industry must now protect those circuits using GFCIs. This greatly expands the requirements for GFCI usage and should result in a greater number of lives saved. More information on the OSHA guidelines can be found here (TRC OSHA Bulletin). Canada has yet to follow the OSHA regulation in the Canadian Electrical Code, but we suspect this is only a matter of time. That being said, many Canadian subsidiaries of US companies follow the OSHA guidelines as best practice across the entire organization and as such should be adopting a greater focus on GFCI protection through general industrial workplaces.

While this is a great next step, and Canada should follow in line with the requirement for GFCIs in general industry, there is more to be done. Where these guidelines fall short is in industrial applications where machinery should be protected from ground faults due to the presence of water. For example, any piece of equipment in a food service environment (e.g. bottling line, food processing machines) should have ground fault protection, lest a ground fault is caused by the presence of water and a worker gets shocked. (Sadly, we hear about this occurence FAR too often, and of course we hear about it after the fact.) Given the high voltage and amperage that typically power these machines, a simple GFCI device won't work. At that time, you have to turn to something called a Equipment Ground Fault Protection Device (EGFPD), which can monitor the higher voltages/amperages and provide trip protection at varying levels to take into account the natural leakage which may occur in these devices. At Lind Equipment, we offer EGFPD devices that can handle up to 600V and 60A.

Safety engineers and plant electricians - take a look at your operating environment. Do you have machines that operate around water sources? Are they protected by a ground fault interrupter that can save lives in the event of an accident? Don't wait until an accident happens or for someone to legislate that these are necessary. Send us your comments or questions on this topic.



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