Fred Bothwell Shares Speer Mechanical’s Arc Flash Training Experiences

September 10, 2020

Arc flash can change a service tech’s life in the blink of an eye. Fred Bothwell, CHST, safety coordinator at Speer Mechanical, an MCAA member, uses personal experience to impress upon Speer techs the seriousness of arc flash situations.

“While working as warehouse manager for one of the nation’s largest tire companies back in the early 1990s, I had requested getting the roof-top unit checked out by our A/C company.  As the A/C guy was checking voltage, he lets out a yell.  Then he gathers himself, starts doing the same thing and lets out another yell.  It turns out that through perfect timing, at the same moment he touched the two leads to the unit, his beeper–on vibrate in his shirt pocket–was signaling him.  He thought he was getting shocked.  Later that year, when this same A/C guy was checking an industrial battery charger, he did get shocked for real.  We had to call the emergency squad.  He was okay, but it was a real ‘shock’ for all.”

About the Company

Speer Mechanical has a Construction division, a Special Projects group, and a Service department. The company does everything from demolition to installing units inside mechanical rooms and on rooftops.

For roof-top installations, Speer Mechanical uses Rough Terrain forklifts, cranes, and helicopters to place the units on the roofs.  The company’s Construction workers set the units in place and connect them to the building, and Service Techs connect the units to the power and provide ongoing service as needed.

The Advent of NFPA 70E Training

The company began holding NFPA 70E classes, purchasing Arc Flash suits, and preparing workers to follow the rules in 2006. They were one of the first companies in the Central Ohio area to do so, which comes as no surprise since Speer has one of the area’s largest service departments.

Fred shares, “The Arc Flash suits were really stiff, bulky, and had the ‘beekeeper’ hood.  You can bet everyone couldn’t wait to wear that outfit in our 90-degree humid Ohio weather.”  He adds, “We held about five Arc Flash classes to cover the entire Service department.” 

Later that year, Fred had the opportunity to present Speer’s NFPA 70E program to the UA local 189 union hall in Columbus, Ohio, where the company’s Service Techs are members.  He said, “It was a fairly new topic in the area, and I think some of the information was surprising to those who attended.  I reviewed cost, time spent, and what would be required in the future.  Some of those things have since changed somewhat, but the importance of the training has not.”

A Herculean Task

“Training, following, and observing some 70+ Service Techs is my challenge,” Fred said. He noted that the company’s service technicians work on equipment pushing 480 volts or less.  “Our work opportunities can occur at any time, at any jobsite, and on most any type of equipment,” he said. He added that “[A]ll Service Technicians are trained and tested to prove they know what they’re doing.  They take classes at the union hall and attend training sessions held at Speer.” Fred noted that some vendor companies want Speer workers to have specific knowledge of certain equipment, which can have inner workings that change over time.  He is pleased with their performance, saying, “Our Service Techs do a good job of working safely on all equipment and following the rules to continue being safe.”

Related MCAA Resources

MCAA offers resources to help member companies keep their workers safe when performing electrical work that falls within the purview of NFPA 70E.

New Arc Flash Suits, Training Make a Difference

In February 2020, we received new Arc Flash suits purchased from Enespro and the difference is astounding:  no more stiff, uncomfortable outfits, but more like putting on regular clothing.  As we continue to utilize the updates we all get from NFPA, the training we get from vendors and other outside sources, and the experiences we encounter on the job, we give ourselves the guidance and education necessary to be safe and successful. 

Fred sums up the experience, saying, “The times may change, but the need for safety is a constant element.  Not just safety first, but safety always.”

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NFPA 70E is the industry consensus standard for electrical safety in the workplace. It is part of the National Electrical Codes, and it is revised by the National Fire Protection Association every three years. The most current version is NFPA 70E - 2021. Parts of the standard help us protect our service technicians from electrical shock and arc flash hazards. One of the provisions in the standard calls for affected employers to establish an electrical safety in the workplace program. MCAA has updated its Model Electrical Safety in the Workplace Program. The model program, which addresses work on mechanical equipment pushing 480 volts or less, was recently revised to make it consistent with NFPA 70E - 2021.…
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