Shock and Awe

When manufacturing facilities are wired for disaster

Electrical distribution panels and electronic control boxes in manufacturing facilities can hide some shocking secrets…

You probably need no introduction to the fact that electricity is a leading cause of fire ignition.

Both the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) have separated reported that electrical failures or malfunctions are the cause of 12% of non-residential structure fires in the USA. But for the industrial facility sub-category of this group it rises to 24%. Why such a large increase?

Manufacturing plants tend to have more complex electrical and electronic systems than other non-residential properties, with higher voltages and current flows, longer lengths of wire and cable, with often hot, dusty or humid operating environments. Inherently higher hazards that are not found in most other commercial properties.

But to compensate, these facilities typically have more protective layers in place. Full-time electrical technicians, a preventative maintenance plan, periodic third-party inspections and certifications, more robust specifications for their electrical system components, and so on.

But are these always in place? If they are in place, are they actually effective? We can only know this if we go and look. And sometimes what we find may be quite shocking, with the equipment control panel below just one such example;

This panel doesn’t look all that bad from the outside, but flipping the door open reveals a complete mess inside. A Risk Surveyor may not have an electrical background, and so may not be able to determine if the wire sizes are correct for the loads, if the grounding is adequate, etc. But what we can rely on is the age-old concept of “what doesn’t look right probably isn’t right“.

A closed door can hide a multitude of sins; to know what what lies behind we need to open it. And this is where remote property inspections using [VRS]TM Virtual Risk Space can make all the difference.

Small signals of a bigger problem

Not only can a visual observation such as this enable the Risk Surveyor to make a recommendation for improvements to (or replacement of) dangerous equipment, it also acts as a strong indicator about the risk quality of this facility.

This is unlikely to be an isolated case of poor workmanship. This is a signal that the maintenance plan is probably inadequate, that management walkarounds are not being done, that technicians are tolerating poor equipment conditions on a day-to-day basis, and so on.

Risk Surveyors regularly encounter such small signals. Experienced surveyors can piece together seemingly random or disconnected observations that may, at first, appear to be background noise but are actually part of a significant risk pattern. When we created Virtual i Technologies we recognised that there simply are not enough experienced surveyors to go around. We need a different approach if we are to dramatically increase property risk visibility for underwriters, brokers and risk managers.

The beginning of all wisdom is recognition of facts

Juho Kusti Paasikiv

Within [VRS]TM Virtual Risk Space we have codified and embedded the experience of the very best Risk Surveyors into dynamic questionnaires, which are the vehicle by which structured observations from property surveys is gathered and evidenced via photos, videos, GPS coordinates, audio recordings and more. Underpinning those questionnaires is a risk scoring system which replicates the type of pattern recognition that was previously the purview of experienced Risk Surveyors alone. Now anyone can conduct a survey using a [VRS]TM questionnaire and gain access to a new level of risk insight.

But a survey is still a discrete event. It is simply sample of how the property looks and is being managed on that day; not the day before and not the day after. A criticism which is sometimes directed at the survey concept is that it cannot predict if poor behaviours or inadequate conditions will be present in the days, weeks or months after the visit. But in the absence of continuous monitoring capabilities – which is the future, powered by IoT devices and continuous learning algorithms – the survey is our best available tool right now.

And if a survey observation is that electrical and control panels in a manufacturing plant are in poor physical condition then this tells us a lot about what is going on (or, more appropriately, not going on….) when we are not there.

Wired for Disaster

Of course, this problem is not restricted only to manufacturing facilities.

This year our Risk Surveyors have seen dangerous wiring in warehouses, hotels, multi-storey residential buildings, office blocks, a mobile switching centre (MSC), a wind turbine farm, and more. In at least one case which we observed, a circuit breaker had locked completely solid due to corrosion, rendering it useless as a means of protection.

We could have chosen any occupancy really, but manufacturing tends to be a sector where we assume that better electrical standards will be upheld.

But one should never assume.

Assess before you insure, with [VRS]TM Virtual Risk Space.

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