One of the most dominating requirements of Electrical Systems is their safety during use, operation and maintenance throughout their service life. In general, this applies to all systems and facilities, be they meant for residential dwellings, institutional buildings, healthcare facilities, industrial units, mission critical facilities – such as data centers, military applications, etc. – but the approach to safety and the required protective measures must consider the specifics of application. Any shortcomings of Electrical Safety could lead to deaths, fire, property damage, discontinuity of business and other operations and could seriously impact corporate reputation of the firm or the institution involved.

Electrical Safety must be ensured through appropriate legislation, which in turn, must ensure compliance of design and installation with international engineering standards; use of engineering design which takes into account planned system growth and encompasses operation of system under normal and fault conditions as well; use of materials which comply with international standards and are appropriate for the specific ambient and other conditions to which they are subjected; good installation practices are deployed making use of well-trained and skilled manpower; appropriate testing of the completed installation and its most suited maintenance throughout the operating life.

It’s thus pertinent to expect that the aspect of safety would be in-built in the design of a system from the very start which calls for due coordination from the beginning of all stakeholders such as the project owners, architects, consultants of various disciplines, the end-users, owner’s operation and maintenance team, etc. it’s also equally important that the specifications of materials must be defined at the initial stages of a project or undertaking so that budgetary allocations are made accordingly, may be after a value engineering exercise which provides a clear picture regarding additional cost (at times only incremental) which would be incurred by adopting better specifications and makes of material. Needless to say, the additional cost of project or works would not only provide sound construction and better systems, it’s bound to enhance installation’s fire safety many folds.

It might be argued that such a well-structured approach may be possible only for large, sensitive and such projects where the owners are receptive to good ideas. However, in my personal views we professionals who are entrusted projects, mostly without any strings attached, should play our due role in educating our clients to pay increased attention to the serious aspect of electrical fire safety by undertaking all such measures which could help in mitigating the risks.

It’s highly regretful that implementation of available legislation with regard to design and, consequently, safety of electrical systems has serious shortcomings. Contrary to the system of submission of designs by a PEC registered engineer and its vetting by another engineer as applicable in the case of structural engineering is not being practiced for electrical (and mechanical) systems. The height of indifferent attitude of relevant authorities is amply demonstrated by the fact that at times the electrical designs are carried out by people who do not possess basic engineering qualifications and familiarity with relevant legislation and standards. It goes without saying that design approval must only be the beginning of the holistic approach to ensuring sound engineering systems, as being practiced in many developing countries who value human life and stakes attached to any building or engineering undertaking.

The renovation and augmentation of existing electrical systems also needs very careful assessment of prevailing risks and devising ways and means of mitigating them together with the required renovation/augmentation works.

The inadequate development of necessary legislation and non-implementation of whatever is available as well as a non-existing system of mandatory periodic testing of installations is seriously hampering the quality of construction and installations and their performance. The many serious incidents of fire throughout the country which have caused colossal losses including invaluable human life must be considered by all concerned. The most pertinent entity of the country which must take lead in this highly important national cause is Pakistan Engineering Council, which may claim many accolades but nothing can be more obvious than the prevailing ground realities which call immediate and concerted action.

Originally published in Engineering Review – September 16, 2017

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