Space Around Electrical Panels


Hi. I want to talk today about electrical enclosures and the space in front of those.

It’s important that we keep those clear with depth of at least 36 inches and the width of the panel that could be opened up.

The reason this is, and this is a contentious thing in every plant I ever worked, plants I visit all the time. This is always a problem. Operations people want to stack stuff in front of the panels, park a fork truck, a pallet, stack some boxes, those kinds of things. To a lot of people, it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. “Maintenance department’s always complaining we put stuff in front of the panels” and what have you.

Well, it’s not just for the convenience of the maintenance people to get into the panels. Okay, yeah, some of it’s that. But the most important thing is that sometimes a maintenance person, electrical person needs access to electrical panel to shut it off in case of emergency. Maybe someone’s in the process of being electrocuted, being shocked really badly, going to be injured. If we don’t get the panel disconnected quickly, if we can’t access the panel, we can’t open it quickly, we can’t get in front of it because there’s a fork truck or a pallet or a bunch of boxes, we don’t even see it, then that’s a problem.

I worked in a plant one time that had a fire. There was a really old DC drive. This thing had to be from the ’60s. It was just really old and we all knew it needed replaced, but kept babying it. One day, it caught fire, just started smoking and it was getting really bad. If we couldn’t have gotten access to that disconnect to shut that thing off, the fire would’ve gotten a lot worse and could’ve spread to other equipment, possibly destroyed other equipment or injured somebody. So there are times where we need access to an electrical panel.

Probably one of the worst cases I ever saw of a panel being hidden or no access to it is I worked at a plant that was built in the ’40s and we couldn’t find this panel. We knew it had to be there someplace because it was feeding a lot of stuff, but we couldn’t find it. One of the old-timers kind of turned us on to where it was because we would’ve never looked there. It was in the division vice president’s office behind his desk, behind a painting. Yeah, behind a painting. So if it hadn’t been for that guy had been working there for 40 years, we didn’t never known where that panel was.

That’s a dumb place to put a panel, but probably over the years since the ’40s when that plant was built, you know how things change. That office probably was not an office in the ’40s. It was something else. But now it’s an office and we got to hide the panel. The vice president didn’t like the looks of the panel evidently and he didn’t want to hear anything from us about how that’s not right. So it’s probably still that way today would be my guess.

I was recently in an automotive parts plant where they had lots and lots of CNC machining centers and it was important that they, of course, get as many of those machines in there as they can. But what ended up happening is the machines were set too closely to be able to safely work in the electrical panels that were behind the machines. It looked very similar to this photograph here. This is not the actual plant, but very similar situation. You can see all of the CNC machining centers. Then these two are so close and you see that control panel there.

Well, the situation was at this plant to work on that control panel, you had to walk back there between those two machines and you couldn’t gain access from the other end. The other end was closed off by conveyors and stuff, so you couldn’t get there that way. You had to access at this direction. You actually had to walk past the control panel and then open it to be able to work on it. But when you opened it, it wouldn’t actually open 100% of the way, wouldn’t open up to even 90 degrees, so that added a problem. There were stuff on the panel or what have you. That panel door needed to be opened all the way.

Here’s the other bigger problem with that. The panel door wouldn’t fully open because it hit the other machine, the one next to it, right? There’s this protrusion on that machine so when you open the door, it hit that. So you think about this. You had to walk past the control panel, open the door, which then hit the other machine. So in an emergency, you couldn’t run that direction because the panel door had that whole area between the two machines closed off.

Now picture this. If you, gosh, I hope this never happens to you, but if you’re in an arc flash event, two things likely will happen. You will be deafened by the loud sound and you’ll be blinded by the bright light. Now picture yourself back in there between these two machines and an arc flash occurs and you get blinded and deafened, how are you going to get out of there? You may realize what direction you need to go to get down to there and things may still be on fire, but you can’t. You run into that panel that is open and stuck, hitting the protrusion on the other machine. So how are you going to get out of there?

I understand we have to put machines close together, that’ll never change. I mean this production, right? But what can you do to fix that? One suggestion that we came up with for that particular machine was, instead of having the control panel door in one piece, make it in two pieces. It opened up like French doors would, rather than just one piece. Because if that was the case they would both open up, there would be enough.

So we just got to come up with easy ways to figure out how to get our control panels opened, all electrical enclosures fully opened and not damaged and have access in and out of it because we need access to maybe quickly turn something off. We need to be able to get out of there in case there’s a problem and we’re blinded and deafened by the arc flash event.

If you’re a safety professional and it’s your job to keep people from stacking stuff in front of electrical enclosures, maybe this gives you a little bit of ammunition that you can use to convince people that there’s a real reason why we don’t want stuff in front of there. And it’s not just because we maintenance people want to easily access it and conveniently get to the equipment.

There’s a reason we need to, and it’s not just convenience. It’s safety. We need to turn panels off in an emergency. If there is an emergency, an arc flash or something, we need to be able to get out of there. This is one of those OSHA things that should an OSHA inspector come in, these are things that are easy to spot and cost you some money. More importantly than costing the company money is safety. We need access to those panels. We need to be able to get in there and get out of there in case of an emergency, so it’s really important. It’s really important.

I hope this video helped you today so visit our website, Look at other videos that we have there. Suggest videos that you would like to see. My email address is on the screen, so feel free to drop me a line and ask me anything you would like. I answer questions all the time. Thank you and have a good day.