What is the importance of earthing in the electrical installation?
Here’s a very personal story explaining not only “What” BUT…
…Why Earthing is Important to me.
1. Back Story
How many times are you asked… ”What do you do for a living?”… For most of us, it’s quite an easy response “I do this… or I do that”… e.g. “I am an Engineer at a local practice”. However, recently someone not only asked what I do but asked… “Wow, that’s interesting, you’re a Specialist Electrical Earthing Design Consultant – WHY did you get into that?”
Ouch – that was a bit direct, I thought. Usually, someone asks ‘how’ did you get into that, not why?
Still, over the course of the subsequent meeting, the question sat four-square at the front of my mind…
“WHY do I do this?” 2.5 hours into a design review, I found my mind wandering off to a past memory seeing my entire life flash before me (not for the first time).
The year was 2008 in Tetbury… Imagine this, I’m tumbling through a warm summer’s day. On an August bank holiday Sunday at 55 mph. – Somersaulting, bouncing and cart-wheeling like a rag doll. Through the air and along the ground after unceremoniously ejected from the seat of my motorbike.
So, when I came round, a rather largish man was staring intently into my eyes only millimetres away. His sweat laden face, encased in his own helmet and greeted me with… “Don’t you f’ing move a muscle. – I’m a medic and was behind you when this happened!”.
He had hold of my helmet in a vice-like grip and wouldn’t give an inch into my whimpering excuses to return to the bike and get back in the race.
So, what seemed like an eternity (probably more like 90 minutes) saw the number of fluorescently dressed medics swell to more than 6 around me. Like the encircled wagons in a John Wayne Western film. They had stripped me half-naked, but still, the man in the helmet held the vice-like grip and wouldn’t budge an inch.
Air transport arrived, whisking my immobilised body to the nearest hospital. Where after plenty of prodding, scans, and head-scratching from the Doctors. – Their diagnosis, 3 fractured vertebrae, a couple of ribs and a good amount of bruising. Therefore leading to 6 months of recovery in a head brace/corset. Great! I thought.
It subsequently emerged that if the fellow racer in the helmet behind me hadn’t of immobilised my head when he did… I would not be walking today!
And it was this selfless presence of mind from the man in the helmet that made such a massive difference to the outcome in my life. Therefore, what the person in the helmet did for me. Is my WHY. Why I get up in the morning. Also why I’m doing what I do now. – So, as the years pass, I’ve realised my own personal mission in life I spend striving.
“To make a difference in other people’s lives and hopefully to save someone else’s life in the process!”
It would have been nice to answer the why-question when asked. But unfortunately, a quick retort for something as deep wasn’t going to happen at that moment. However, the why-question does provoke some soul searching, which pleases me to share today.
2. Protecting Life
Personally, this provides a personal pseudo-compass that guides my every decision. Professionally, this shows itself during every waking moment at GreyMatters. By working on earthing system designs to Protect Life. – Protection from the harmful effects of electricity and/or lightning!
I truly hope to discover a design that has saved someone’s life. But the reality is if an Earthing System Design does what it intends efficiently. Therefore, there will be no drama. There will be no loss of life. And there will be no life-changing injuries. Therefore, it follows it’s difficult to say how many lives have been saved as a result of our designs. And that’s a shame! But this did get me thinking.
3. Is Compliance Enough?
For the most part, its accepted international standards provide the guidelines for good practice in critical Safety design. Also including the Importance of Earthing in Electrical Installation. It is also true that standard HV Earthing Design methodologies are probabilistic in nature. They attempt to balance pragmatically who is likely NOT to survive a system failure (fault) in a typical population of people. Against the practicalities of build-ability and budgets.
The concept that some people will survive and some will not, doesn’t sit easy. The highest level of survivability designed for in IEC 50522 is the C1 curve, which is 95%. Sounds sensible enough unless you happen to fall into the 5% that isn’t going to make it!
So, this is why GreyMatters sets its stall out as a Top 1% Electrical Earthing Consultant. – Also why making all the investment aligns with the simple principle of saving as many of the remaining 5% as practicable – not just be compliant. For example;
- GreyMatters uses x6 times Higher than normal signal energy for its Soil Resistivity Testing equipment. Soil Resistivity is the first step in all things Earthing – An error at this stage could spell disaster for all subsequent safety calculations, so it makes sense to invest in the Top 1% of equipment to ensure every type of geology can accurately/reliably be measured.
- GreyMatters invests upwards of £30,000 (€38,000) training/certifying each of its talented CDEGS engineers. In the same way that a CAT (cable avoidance tool) is a Safety Critical tool – so too is CDEGS. It is therefore not enough to say you have CDEGS!… That is like saying you have bought a CAT scanner, e.g. it’s only half the story – anybody can swing a CAT scanner around but it takes a certified trained person who knows how to operate the CAT fully to be able to deliver a safe, accurate picture of the below-ground situation. CDEGS is no different.
- Knowing lives are dependent on formally assured competency and litigation for clients is to be avoided, this is why GreyMatters is one of only a handful of Earthing Specialists (Top 1%) to be formally licensed and certified in ‘the use’ of CDEGS in Europe.
I’m not saying other earthing specialists cannot deliver equally safe earthing system designs using CDEGS but like my 13-year-old daughter… she can ride a motorbike better than I can – but that does not mean, she is qualified to ride on the public roads!! Until she is 17 and passes a formal EU accredited riding examination, she is not legally ‘competent’ to ride.
- Fully invested in the Top-end versions of CDEGS software. In order to ensure we are saving as many lives as possible, it’s necessary to use the most accurate and capable versions of the CDEGS software – the elimination of error from using the optimal version can have a massive impact on safety outcomes. That’s important to me.
The electromagnetic field versions can examine the ‘full-picture’, all the associated above-ground elements as well as the below for an electrical system and their impact (contribution) on the safety outcome and design. For example, the metal supporting posts, busbars, insulators, overhead lines, conductive structures, tracks, cabling, trunking, fences, pedestrian access points, pipework, etc. This approach doesn’t come cheap. But, still, for a Top 1% company committed to making a difference. Especially where minimal compliance is not enough. – Therefore it’s a no-brainer.
4. A Near Miss!
During my 26 years in the sector, I’ve seen quite a few things that would make your heart skip a beat, or two. One of the closest near-death incidents witnessed was when a well designed, the well-installed earthing system did its job and did it well…
Here’s Why Earthing is Important
Earthing arrangements were being upgraded to the latest standards to a 400/132kV substation in Europe. Towards the end of the project, when only a few of the HF (high frequency) earths were left to do, a 132kV cable was struck with a driven earth rod shown in the image below.
The cable was at a depth that wasn’t clearly picked up by the CAT, it was not in the location that the substation engineer had thought it to be and to top it off, after investigation, the rod appeared to have deflected from it’s intended trajectory (presumably off a rock).
The field technician experienced no ill effects or injury. That day, the guy was a lucky chap… but was that lucky or preparedness? Because, a) the earthing was intact, well designed and in good condition, b) he was trained and followed agreed method procedures using approved safety equipment, and c) his company had invested in top-end protection.
After the contaminated ground was cleared (from the oil), the cable was effectively re-jointed and returned to operation. That day everybody concerned went home in one piece!
The learning here is that the little things… the small incremental (1%) improved choices we make can combine to make a really huge difference in someone’s life!
This is ‘why’ I do what I do… and love it!
An EHV Cable Jointing ninja-like (Chris Barker) would make good the damage shown.
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