As the electrical power distribution market matures, new products are constantly being developed to ease the task of installing and distributing power in residential, commercial, and industrial electrical systems. While new products often simplify the installation of power within a building or facility, all power distribution wiring systems are subject to failure — and may require testing and troubleshooting to identify problems.

Testing is sometimes performed as preventive maintenance before a failure occurs (Photo 1), or it may be conducted simply to verify or adjust calibration of process specific equipment. After a system failure; however, testing is even more critical when you have to get a system back up and running quickly and safely. For commercial and industrial applications, the loss of electrical power in a facility can be an expensive problem that can lead to reduced productivity and reduced revenue for facility owners.

Electrical workers must be knowledgeable about all of the power distribution systems within a facility in order to maintain electrical integrity. The first step to effective troubleshooting of that equipment is knowing how to take a systematic approach to completing essential maintenance, system verification, or equipment calibration tasks.

Key considerations

Several factors can influence what approach a facility owner establishes for the testing and troubleshooting of power distribution wiring systems, some of which include:
Worker safety — How do I comply with all OSHA, NFPA 70E, and facility specific safety rules (Photo 2)? What are the costs associated with working safely? What might the costs be for not working safely?

The reliability and condition of the system being tested or maintained — Is the system dependable, or should a replacement be considered? What is the cost differential between repair and replacement? Can testing and troubleshooting be accomplished using standard test equipment, or would specialized test equipment provide a better (quicker or safer) testing or troubleshooting solution?

Facility downtime — For testing and troubleshooting projects, how will the process affect production? For equipment failure, what is the best (least expensive, most efficient, etc.) method to minimize downtime? Can work be planned to minimize the impact of that work on the bottom line?

Training solutions

One of the best tools that is often overlooked on any maintenance/repair project is adequate training. Pre-training provides the most cost-effective way to save time and money when completing testing and troubleshooting tasks. Training resources can be as simple as printed tutorials or as dynamic as immersive online courses. In recent years, the use of simulation and interactive activities in online training software has substantially advanced the level of training well beyond what is available in printed resources.

Interactive training provides a safe and inexpensive resource that electrical professionals can use to both develop individual troubleshooting skills and teach the proper use of test equipment, without the dangers involved in live testing. Learners using online test and measurement simulations (Figure) can also become familiar with system testing scenarios before failures occur, thus shortening the time required to get systems back online.

When it comes to the efficient and safe application of testing and troubleshooting procedures for electrical systems, training provides a win-win solution for the electrical maintenance worker. Using online training with immersive interactive simulations, workers can learn how to work smart, efficiently, and safely when completing electrical testing and maintenance projects.    

Boyd is a senior director with the National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee (NJATC) based in Upper Marlboro, Md. The NJATC is the training arm of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the National Electrical Contractors Association. He can be reached at jboyd@njatc.org.

SIDEBAR: Safety First

All industries should be familiar with OSHA — not just the electrical industry. Most maintenance workers are required to have some OSHA training or certification before setting foot in a facility or on a job site. The primary level of training for workers is the OSHA Outreach 10-Hour or 30-Hour Worker Training Program. OSHA training is specific for different industries, and is intended to “provide training for workers and employers on the recognition, avoidance, abatement, and prevention of safety and health hazards in workplaces.”

In addition to basic OSHA compliance training, however, it is important that electrical workers who must troubleshoot live electrical systems be familiar with NFPA 70E, which provides regulations concerning safe work practices while working with energized electrical systems. Many times, facilities also have their own safety that workers must follow, such as lock-out/tag-out procedures and personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements. Fundamental safety training is also available online with interactive simulations that not only provide training in proper procedures when working with live systems, but also demonstrate the consequences of not following proper safety procedures.