Safety First – How Industrial Visual and Thermal Sensors Create a Safer Environment

Despite significant investments in safety, utility substations remain a hazardous environment. With high voltages and the potential for catastrophic failure, utilities must mitigate the risk of injury or death when operating in or around a substation.

As demonstrated in previous articles, industrial thermal sensors make it possible to reduce maintenance costs, improve reliability, and allocate resources more effectively. In addition to these benefits, thermal and visual sensors can also be used to enhance safety and security for both workers and the public.

This article will highlight four of the ways that utilities can mitigate risk and improve safety with thermal and visual sensors.

1) Workers Spend Less Time On-Site

Working at a utility substation will always come with some level of risk. Up to 80 utility workers are killed each year in the US from injuries sustained on the job. Line workers, specifically, have among the highest risk of workplace fatality of any job in the US.

Automated and remote thermal imaging enhances safety by providing maintenance teams with greater situational awareness before they arrive at a substation. Rather than conducting a physical inspection on a substation that is still operational and delivering power, remote thermal sensors allow technicians to detect hotspots and diagnose threats in advance.

Aware of the potential risks, such as an overheating arrestor or bushing, technicians can take steps to protect themselves and safely repair or replace the asset. Knowing that these components can potentially explode when they fail, the circuit would be de-energized before entering the substation.

With an advanced view, crews can spend less time working in hazardous environments, further reducing risks. They can get in, make the repair, and get out in minimal time.

Finally, an advanced view of the substation can be vital after severe weather, wildfires, or natural disasters. For example, crews can check the visual sensor to see if there is damage or flooding before going to the site.

2) Crews Spend Less Time on the Road

Workers are not only at risk once they arrive on site. Driving to and from remote substations can be dangerous as well. Nearly 43,000 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes across the US last year, with nearly 1,300 deaths resulting from work-related crashes across industries.

Physical inspections put maintenance teams on the road more frequently as they travel to remote substations. Visual and thermal sensors, on the other hand, allow utilities to monitor substations from a central location. Crews can then be dispatched based on the actual condition of the site and assets, reducing the need for manual inspections and limiting the amount of time spent behind the wheel. Not only does this approach enhance safety, but it is also more cost-effective and efficient for the utility.

3) Improved Security and Reduced Public Access

Utilities are also responsible to the public, even if they’ve entered areas that they are not supposed to be in. Vandals, for example, may try to get into a substation to cause mischief, damage equipment, or steal copper. There were at least 274 significant instances of vandalism or deliberate damage to electrical infrastructure in the US over a recent three-year period, and each of these incidents creates a safety concern for the utility. For example, removing ground wire from a system is not only dangerous to the thief but also creates a dangerous condition for utility workers. Installing a remote monitoring system lets potential intruders know they are being watched and will deter them from breaking into the site.

Compared to commercial-grade security cameras, utility-grade thermal and visual sensors are designed to operate in harsh outdoor conditions, withstand electromagnetic interference from high-voltage electrical infrastructure, and operate on backup power if necessary. Utilities can increase security and restrict the public from getting inside the substations – further protecting them from potential harm.

4) Fewer Life-Threatening Outages Through Condition-Based Maintenance

Reliability is vital to a utility for many reasons. Not least of which is that blackouts can result in a significant number of injuries or deaths. A recent report found that the 2021 Texas power outage resulted in at least 1,400 emergency visits for carbon monoxide poisoning and at least 11 deaths. In another case, a Yale report on the 2003 New York blackout found that at least 90 people died and accidental deaths spiked 122 percent compared to non-blackout periods.

Thermal sensors make it possible to shift to a condition-based maintenance strategy and take a proactive approach to maintenance and repairs. By improving reliability and mitigating the likelihood of severe failures and unplanned outages, utilities can keep power flowing to customers and reduce the risk to the general public.

Putting Safety First with Industrial Thermal Sensors

Industrial thermal sensors allow utilities to reduce maintenance costs, improve reliability, and shift toward a condition-based maintenance strategy. But they can also play an important role in improving safety for both workers and the public. With remote monitoring, maintenance teams spend less time on-site and traveling to and from remote substations. Similarly, visual sensors keep substations secure from vandals and other members of the public, while fewer outages ensure that customers can depend on access to electricity when they need it most.