The Compass device, which is comfortable and easy to wear, is mounted on the underside of the hard-hat brim.

Personal Voltage Detector Saves Lives

Aug. 27, 2019
The Safeguard Compass device provides personal voltage and current detection in a small form factor, which is convenient and easy to wear.

Working alone and at night, an NV Energy troubleshooter patrolled a line to search for the cause of a power outage. Once he arrived at his destination, he exited his truck to inspect a pole. Suddenly, his personal voltage detector, which was clipped to the brim of his hard hat, sounded an alert, signaling an energized line in his proximity.

After he returned, he confirmed that the energized wire, which was concealed by the low light and blowing snow, was right in front of him. If the device, called the Safeguard Compass, had not alerted him of the hazard, it would have likely resulted in a serious injury or fatality.

Detecting Voltage and Current

NV Energy is always looking for new tools and personal protective equipment that improves the safety, comfort, and efficiency of its field employees. Last June, the COO of Safeguard Equipment contacted NV Energy about an advanced alert system for unaware employees. The utility then bought three demo units to try out.

The Safeguard Compass device provides personal voltage and current detection in a small form factor, which is convenient and easy to wear.  Before the Safeguard device came along, personal voltage detectors were uncomfortable to wear because they were bulky, awkward, and bounced around while working.

The Compass device, however, clips on to the underside of a hard-hat brim and directly above the eyes. It has a one-button operation to turn it on and off, and once on, it detects the presence of voltage or current in its proximity.

Colored LED lights and an audible alarm alert the user to the hazard with red lights for voltage and blue lights for current. The LED lights also indicate the direction of the hazard. Adjustments can be made to the sensitivity of the device following the setup instructions.

Training Crews

In the utility’s northern Nevada territory, NV Energy initially purchased about 100 units to equip all of the line personnel with the device. Since that time, it has been added to the utility’s warehouse as a stock item for new hires or to replace as needed. The company has also deployed units to its southern territory as well.

For the initial training, NV Energy organized instructional demo sessions. Afterward, the users learned the technology through peer-to-peer show-and-tell and reading the instruction manual.

So far, the response to the technology has been positive. All of the NV Energy personnel understand the value in having a device that can alert users of hazards that are not visible — especially when working in emergency situations with unknown conditions.

The device not only provides personal protection for line workers, but also for other employees who may perform field checks, inspections, or wire watching. By using the Compass, they can be alerted of unusual or dangerous conditions that they may not typically encounter. As a result, it provides an extra layer of safety for all personnel.

Protecting Linemen

Brady Hansen, a former journeyman lineman for Avista Utilities, worked with three former University of Idaho students, who all had family members in the electrical trade, to test and help to launch the product. He says the Compass has an on-board software system that reads input from electric and magnetic field sensors.

"We now have a wearable technology that looks for voltage and current in a 360-degree radius," Hansen said. "In the past, we may have had devices that beeped and flashed, but we didn’t know where the user was in relation to the energized object."

So far in 2019, Hansen says the electrical industry has had one too many electrical contacts. Wearing a black shirt that said, “#No More Linemen Lost,” Hansen said he knows firsthand that the device saves lives.

"It’s the saddest annual tradition in the utility industry today," Hansen said. "You think we would have figured out how to completely stop primary contacts after 150 years. While technology is part of it, it’s not the complete solution — we must all follow the OSHA rules as well. This device, however, helps us to add another layer of protection and get us closer to that point where we no longer have any more accidents in the industry."

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