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Keeping Data Centres safe during operations and maintenance

Jul 02, 2019

When safety in data centres is being considered, the first items most people think of are electrical safety and arc flash hazards. And they would be right.

Electrical safety and arc flash hazards are typically on the top of the agenda as the power supply of every data centre starts with a connection to the main grid (typically 110Kv transformed down to 400v by one or more transformers).

Arc flash studies, labelling, the application and verification of correct breaker settings, remote switching, guarding, robust electrical safety and maintenance programs, and arc flash PPE all work towards mitigating the risk level to employees. data centre, O&M, data house, commissioning, data core

But there are other hazards that operations and maintenance personnel are exposed to on a daily basis. Here we examine some of the other safety risks you should be aware of and give you some ideas on how to tackle them:

  1. Ergonomics: Ergonomic risk factors which relate to poor or awkward posture when working in the field pose a significant risk but are often overlooked. It is important that employees identify these risk factors on their Safe Plans of Action or dynamic risk assessments and adopt control measures to negate the risk. Typically hazards include over-reaching, poor or awkward posture to access parts of equipment, repetition or excessive force. Providing training to employees to help them to identify these hazards and control measures to reduce the risk is recommended. Control measures include items such as stretch and flex, regular micro breaks, ensuring a good back posture when performing a task, and reporting ergonomic concerns before they become ergonomic issues.
  2. Manual Handling: Most manual handling hazards can be eliminated by the correct choice of manual handling aids. These include: trollies for moving equipment, hoists for removing motors or other mechanical equipment, transport and lifting devices designed to aid in the removal of circuit breakers and roll-out assemblies.
  3. Temperature: Temperatures on the data centre floor can typically reach 27° Celsius so it is important that technicians are aware of the symptoms of heat stress and stay well hydrated. Any work on the floor itself should be planned to allow for regular breaks in a cooler area away from the data centre floor itself. Some transformers under full load conditions can reach surface temperatures in excess of 100°C. Following de-energisation, it can take many hours for this heat to dissipate. This is also true of generators. In relation to load banks, people often just consider the electrical risk but don't forget the risk of burns from hot surfaces or fire. A portable load bank, set to 55kW, could boil 10 litres of water in less than a minute.
  4. Work at heights: Many data centres house utilities such as air handling units on roofs which require regular maintenance and, in this instance, weather conditions are one of the main hazards. Electrical and mechanical infrastructure is often located at a higher level within the data centre itself requiring the use of scaffolds, mobile elevated work platforms and platform ladders for access. It is essential that work at height equipment is maintained in good condition and receives the required statutory inspections. It is also essential that staff are trained and competent to work at height, with all works being risk assessed following the hierarchy of controls.
  5. Chemicals: A range of treatment chemicals are often used in data centres for the treatment of cooling water and similar systems. These include: gases used for refrigerant systems and fire suppression systems; battery charging which can give rise to hydrogen gas generation;  Oils and greases used for lubricating rotating parts; fuel for diesel generators and battery acid. Staff need to be aware of the specific hazards of each chemical which they may potentially be exposed to along with the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) requirements and how to use the PPE correctly. Consideration for emergency scenarios such as spills or splashes need to be taken into account.
  6. Noise: The noise produced from equipment such as emergency generators or handheld power tools can cause damage. Again staff need to be trained in using the PPE correctly and to be readily available in areas with potential exposure to noise levels of 80 dB(A). Warning signage in these areas or on the equipment is also essential.
  7. Hazardous Energies: Before beginning any task, it is imperative that all energy systems -- electrical, pneumatic, mechanical, hydraulic, chemical, thermal, etc.  are clearly identified. Typically, this involves piping and instrumentation diagrams (P&IDs) for mechanical systems, single line diagrams for electrical systems and walking the systems. Once the energy systems are identified, those involved in the task must then agree on the method of isolation by choosing the correct isolation points and correct process to discharge any stored energy. Documented LOTO (Lockout-tagout) procedures ensure workers can properly isolate and de-energise the system, as well as test the system to make sure the isolation is effective before starting work. Many safety incidents occur because a piece of equipment was not correctly de-energised, or the incorrect isolation point was identified for LOTO and the equipment wasn’t verified as dead. The verification step is key, and the effectiveness of the isolation needs to be periodically monitored and evaluated during the job.

Safety is a core value of LotusWorks’ operations and it’s important to get the basics right such as Risk Assessment, Safety Training and the correct PPE for the task. Safety performance is seen as a principal KPI on all our team sites. Regular site EHS audits along with a workforce who are highly engaged from a safety perspective in raising safety observations through our “Good Catch” program safeguard our employees and drive the company’s safety culture.

Paul Bourke is Senior EHS Officer at LotusWorks

Visit our Datacentre page to find out more information about how LotusWorks support datacentre builds with knowledgeable, experienced Commissioning and O&M teams or contact us today with your query by clicking here.

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