Does electrical thermography need to be carried out by electricians?

 

This is an interesting question, and my answer here risks infuriating many.  I am writing this from my perspective, and this is that I am an electrician, chartered engineer and thermographer. I spent 20 years working in the electrical contracting industry, both in installations and maintenance. In most regions there is no local regulations stating that electrical thermography needs to be carried out by electricians, however, Health & Safety requirements normally require people to have competency in tasks that they undertake.

 

There are many unqualified people working with thermography, the question however suggests that only electricians are competent to comment on electrical equipment condition. While electricians do spend years following a specific training program, they are not the only ones that study electricity or that may be considered electrically competent. There are many other people like electrical engineers, engineering technicians etc. that may be considered electrically competent. I’m not sure that people who simply attend a one-day electrical course or pat testing course would be considered electrically competent.

 

There is no doubt that electricians do have more than an understanding of electrical equipment, they should understand the nuts and bolts of how everything works together. They are not all qualified to recommend replacement or repairs. This is often the job of engineers, and engineers usually carry Professional Indemnity insurance for this purpose. Professional Indemnity insurance is seldom carried by electricians, including many electrical contractors. This means that many electricians and electrical contractors are not insured to make recommendations on equipment condition. Of course, this only becomes a problem when things go wrong. And you can of course still be competent without being insured (if that’s a risk worth taking).

It is certainly the case that not everyone should be making recommendations regarding the condition of electrical equipment. This should be limited to those that carry some form of electrical qualifications. Those that do not carry some formal electrical qualifications should limit their comments regarding equipment condition. It is the case that non-electrical thermographers may not fully understand the systems and components that they are looking at, and this may present several issues.

  • While they may have a good understanding of what they are doing, it may be the one small piece of missing knowledge that is the most important factor. And if they don’t know this one piece of information, then it is likely that they don’t know that they don’t know it.
  • It may be that there is specific risk associated with a particular type of equipment and without being able to identify this, they take unnecessary risks without realising.
  • Many thermographers that are not electricians or otherwise qualified may not know the correct names for every component, or it’s true function. This leads to incorrect descriptions, and perhaps incorrect recommendations. I suppose you should really ask “how can someone make recommendations when they don’t even know what the correct name or function of an object is?”
  • Lack of electrical understanding can lead to reporting items that are not really problems, or missing problems entirely.
  • Electrical people may recognise other problems that may not be observed by non-electrical personnel.
  • Electrical people may be qualified to make a call to shutdown something immediately, for safety or other reasons. This is probably best not done by those not qualified.

In short, Electrical Thermography requires two competencies, Electrical AND Thermography. If you are only trained in thermography, then you are only competent in one of these. For this reason it is probably better that electrical thermography is carried out by electrically qualified personnel. When electrical thermography is carried out by people that are not electrically qualified, they should stick to the thermography alone, and limit their comments and recommendations. They should probably stick to “hot connection” or “check this anomaly” and not speculate regarding the actual cause. It is also best if they avoid recommendations that they are probably not qualified to make. Most importantly, it should also be necessary that they are accompanied by someone that is electrically qualified.

There is also an issue with electrically qualified people without any knowledge of thermography carrying out electrical thermography. This poses separate issues. Part 2 of this post can be found here. 

9 Comments

  • Bob
    I’m an engineer. Once upon a time chartered. I view myself as a competent thermographer. But I don’t do electrical inspections personally for exactly the reasons you outline. I’m not an electrical engineer and have not worked with electrical equipment to any degree in practice. I know the theory, and as a thermographer I know what looks hot and what is hot and how to compare A with B. But why things are the way they are, or what to call it, or to have any real judgement on the risks and appropriate actions are not something I can do or would do. Each of us should apply thermography to domains where we have built domain knowledge.
    Excellent post which does not infuriate me at all because it does point out my limitations and we all have these and should act according to them.

    • Hi Mark,

      For many people, they do get infuriated when their limitations are pointed out.

  • With a background of Mechanical Engineer – and basic disconnect/reconnect electrical training, I was not happy to recommend actions in the beginning – but after having engaged with loads of electricians – some with extremely little knowledge of electrical components themselves, and at times even less knowledge of what a normal thermal signature of a component should be, I certainly no longer hesitate in naming components and most times recommending actions to some degree. That’s after 20+ years experience in the field. Not that I am an expert – yet – still working on that one! I look forward to you dealing with the issue of Electricians with no knowledge of Thermography performing thermography! LOL

  • Bob – nice post. As a former FLIR sales professional, and also former VP of a small IR service provider, I’m not at all upset by your comments. Both from a safety and a liability perspective, making recommendations without being fully competent about the subject matter is dangerous. Who defines, tests, and documents that particular competence is another matter.
    Personally, I feel the way to respond in many of these situations is best captured by the following quote (attributed both to Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain): “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.”

  • Great post, Bob. Coming from the opposite side of things (Thermographer with no extensive electrical training), I completely agree with what you wrote. We did many inspections for large utility companies nationwide, and had to be EXTREMELY careful with our wording in our reports. “An anomaly indicating possible future failure at point A requires further investigation by a licensed engineer” was one of our most common phrases. This was more from a liability, CYA standpoint on our end in my opinion. Essentially, we could tell the was a major issue with a splice or clamp reading more than 400F above ambient, but we would never put it in writing. We would force the client to make the final decisions.

  • Excellent post Bob.
    I’d like to highligth this “When electrical thermography is carried out by people that are not electrically qualified…
    Most importantly, it should also be necessary that they are accompanied by someone that is electrically qualified.”
    It’s great to read your post! Best regards.

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