Data centers are getting larger, and operating at higher power densities, and that makes data center safety more important than ever. While the potential dangers of working with electricity have always been present in data centers, the current trend means that any incident could potentially knock a big facility offline.
So how do you safeguard against risks to your people working with equipment or power systems in a data center? Unfortunately, there is no single piece of equipment, or even procedural step, which is the key to safety.
Yes, there are pieces of safety gear, such as rubber work mats or rubber-soled footwear, which must be used in certain situations. Proper signage and lockout/tagout systems are important to helping employees or contractors “see” that certain safety aspects are present, but a higher degree of safety can’t be ensured by pieces of gear and signage. It’s really the culture of safety within your organization that raises the level of safety across the board.
Organizations with a strong safety culture are going to display some key characteristics, including:
- A high commitment to training. Anyone working in a data center should have some safety and emergency response training, but it’s absolutely essential for those people who are installing or servicing equipment and power systems. At Schneider Electric, our teams go through a high level of training to ensure they know all the safety standards and equipment. We also follow up with on-site safety audits to make sure our people are using the tools and standards they’ve been taught.
- Use of method statements as a communications tool. Whenever we go on site to install or service equipment, we use method statements to communicate which safety processes and gear we’ll be using. So if you’re going to completely switch off a piece of equipment before service (Lock Out Tag Out), that would be detailed with the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) to use. These method statements and other documented safety processes should be thought of as communication tools rather than something you do for compliance.
- Supportive of customer standards. Companies that excel at safety are good at communicating their standards and procedures to customers or other entities involved in a project. More customers now have on-site contractor safety rules and expect method statements and procedures to be shared in advance, and any service organization needs to be ready with the right mix of accredited people. Yes, it’s vital to communicate safety procedures internally, but companies with a strong safety culture also are good at communicating their procedures with others.
- Verify conditions and follow up with audits. While valuable safety procedures can be learned from a book or a classroom, each work site is different. It’s important to conduct pre-service safety checks to verify the condition of equipment at a site, and note other details, such as where all the emergency exits are. At Schneider Electric, we regularly audit field service engineers to ensure they are following safety procedures they’ve been taught. Like anything else, you need to measure where you are really at, and audits are a way of doing that.
The thing all of these safety hallmarks have in common is people. They are carried out by people, taught by people, documented by people, and communicated by people. So it really is the case that better data center safety comes from people and the processes they carry out, not from a book, or a set of regulations, or a piece of equipment. Remember, Safety. It’s not a onetime achievement, it’s a way of life!