Walter Leclerc, Director, Environmental Occupational Health and Safety
February 21, 2019

Data centers are at the core of the digital economy. With technological advances like AI and IoT, the demands of data centers are only growing, and the presence of data center infrastructure rapidly increases in lockstep. The space and power needed to fuel critical infrastructure is massive.

Managing Electricity

Have you heard of an arc flash? Also known as a flashover, an arc flash is a type of electrical explosion that can exceed 35,000 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s no wonder that energized electrical work (EEW) is a top safety concern of data centers (and other types of businesses working with live electricity).

At Digital Realty, safety is paramount. We’ve developed an EEW Policy to minimize risk, making our data centers a safe place to work for everyone.

Electrical Safety Principles

There are two basic principles of electrical safety: AVOID and PROTECT. Essentially, a business needs to avoid electrical hazards or protect against the hazards. The preferred approach SHOULD ALWAYS be to avoid electrical hazards by using techniques such as guarding, lockout and tagout (LOTO). If avoidance is not an option, such as during troubleshooting and testing, then appropriate protection is the only acceptable alternative.

Prioritizing Safety

Safety is more than a mission, more than a policy. It’s a way of doing business. Digital Realty has recently been listed as one of America’s Safest Companies by EHS Today. Digital Realty was one of 13 companies recognized in 2018 for providing a safe working environment for thousands of employees, and the first data center company to ever receive this honor and distinction. Since 2002, only 238 companies across all industries with a clearly demonstrated commitment to employee safety and health, environmental management, and risk control have been included on these lists. To achieve this status, many strategic decisions have been made, including the utmost priority on safety, and in particular, the safe handling of EEW. Digital Realty’s EEW Policy is built around EEW minimization based on three strategic concepts: design for safety, advanced scheduled and redundancy.

Design

Designing for safety is essential and built into the AVOID and PROTECT thinking. Implementing top-notch electrical safety practices and technologies like using finger safe panel boards help ensure employee safety when working with electrical equipment.

Advanced scheduling

Working with “live” electricity used to be a norm, but limiting EEW is critical to maintaining a safe environment. Advanced scheduling of work supports our EEW Policy since we are scheduling ahead and around the business hours and priorities of data center partners and customers. This also supports maintaining OSHA and NFPA compliance.

Redundancy

Redundant design is part of the backbone of uninterrupted service. Redundancy is one of the most important aspects of any organization’s data center environment in order to prevent downtime. With IT deployments becoming more complex and larger in size, large amounts of power and cooling are necessary to maintain reliable operations. And having redundant design implemented in these environments will minimize risk factors that could affect uptime.

Successful Implementation

Implementation of Digital Realty’s award-winning safety program requires support from all team members, from senior management, to operations and sales and sales engineering. Everyone who encounters the electrical environment should both understand and be able to properly explain the electrical safety policies to customers, contractors and visitors of data centers.

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