Working Safely in High Voltage Environments
Edwin van de Linde is Commissioning Engineer at Strukton Systems. The work done by this department is not all that well-known.
Unjustly so, because he and his seventeen colleagues make sure that all kinds of critical devices and installations in our country and beyond do what they are expected to do.
The voltage of the electricity supplied to our homes is 230 volts. We call this low voltage and this voltage is the reason that, for example, your coffeemaker works. At Strukton Systems we maintain and build high voltage installations. Here we are talking about high voltage starting at 1,000 volts, but we also work on installations at 380,000 volts, such as high-voltage pylons. The cables on these pylons are routed to the high voltage power stations of TenneT, the national network operator responsible for ensuring that your electric outlet supplies electricity. TenneT is one of our clients: we maintain their installations and are working on renovating ten protection and control systems. Often these installations date from the sixties and seventies. Naturally, each installation may only be out of service for a very short period of time. This therefore requires a sound, thorough approach and work planning.
Another example of what we do is maintenance work at the AMC in Amsterdam. This hospital has its own power plant that continues to supply power when there is a public network power outage. We inspect and maintain the hospital's power plant and the high and low voltage installations.
Even when power is not of vital importance, maintenance and excellent service are very important. For example, ever since I have been working at Strukton Systems I have been a regular visitor at Avebe, a company that processes potatoes into starch and by-products. The company processes the potatoes starting from the potato harvest in August through to May. As soon as there no longer are any potatoes, I report to the company with a colleague to perform the annual maintenance and renovation of their installations. This way Avebe is assured that their installations work flawlessly between August and May.
It goes without saying that safety in our work is of the utmost importance
Despite our regular maintenance, failures nevertheless occur from time to time. In that case we stand ready to remedy the failure, 24 hours per day, 7 days per week and 52 weeks per year. We also act as installation owners. This means that we ensure that the work on the installations is performed safely and properly. For example, I am the installation owner of the A2 motorway's King Willem Alexander Tunnel. Our department does not do this maintenance itself, but I do review the work description in advance of the actual work. What are they planning to do? Is there a backup installation if things unexpectedly go wrong and the installation shuts down? What is the evacuation plan in the event of a complete shutdown? Does everyone know what to do should there be an actual failure of some kind? Even though I am not present at the work site itself, I make sure that the installations are safely operated and maintained.
We stand ready to remedy any failures, 24 hours per day, 7 days per week and 52 weeks per year
It goes without saying that safety in our work is of the utmost importance. Working with high voltage is not something you do as a sideline. If I, or one of my colleagues, were to come into contact with this voltage, it would be fatal. To ensure we arrive home safe and sound each day, we apply a wide range of safety and precautionary measures. When I go to a work site with my colleagues, we formulate agreements in advance: who does what? One of the colleagues is responsible for safety. Just as you would not fiddle around with your electric outlet at home when it is still live, we don't do that in our work either. The client shuts off the power supply; we refer to this as securing the installation. We then check to confirm that the installation is indeed no longer live. The next step is to earth the installation. Should someone inadvertently turn the power supply to the installation back on while we are working on it, the electricity flows to earth rather than to us.
Examination every three years
Naturally, we take working safely very seriously. First, we always secure the installation together, so that we can check each other. In addition, while we perform this work, I cannot be reached for anything and by no one. This is because any distraction can result in major errors. To be allowed to do my work, I must possess the right certificates. This means that every three years I am required to take a six-day course followed by a theory and practice exam. This is very strict: if I fail, I am no longer allowed to do my work until I pass a re-examination. Due to my training I am furthermore aware of all applicable regulations and know exactly how to maintain each installation. Each brand name has its own specifications. Just like one coffeemaker works somewhat differently from another.