In a highly electrified environment like the data center, there is always an element of danger lingering over workers.

In 2020, it was estimated by the Industrial Safety and Hygiene News that, on average, there are 30,000 arc flash incidents each year. Those incidents result in an annual average of 7,000 burn injuries, 2,000 hospitalizations, and 400 fatalities per year.

In an environment with high-energy use requirements, high-voltage electrical systems and components, and frequent maintenance and equipment installations, arc flash incidents are a genuine and dangerous possibility.

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On average, there are 30,000 arc flash incidents each year. Those incidents result in an annual average of 7,000 burn injuries, 2,000 hospitalizations, and 400 fatalities – Getty Images

Unsurprisingly, it is hard to find reliable reports on actual occurrences of arc flash incidents in the data center industry – despite how common they may be. No one wants to admit that one has happened (not all press is good press, despite the cliché).

While many factors may lead to an arc flash event, the most common cause is considered to be human error. Overhead power distribution like Starline Track Busway goes a long way towards removing the human error element in arc flashes due to the electrical circuit’s direct line of sight and ease and safety of installation.

The only objective evidence of arc flashes being an issue is how hard data centers work to show that they prioritize health and safety to avoid them. This can be done by training employees, ensuring they have appropriate PPE onsite, and investing in safer power distribution solutions like the Starline Track Busway Power Distribution System.

One culprit for arc flash incidents is Remote Power Panels (RPPs). RPPs provide power distribution extensions from PDUs or other power sources directly to server racks via wiring underneath a raised floor.

These traditional power distribution designs not only take up a lot of floor space and are costly and timely to make adjustments to, but they also have an increased risk of arc flash incidents. As a result, today’s power solutions are moving away from the RRP model to the safer track busway systems.

But what elements of a busway system help ensure employee (and IT) safety?

Not every busway is made equal regarding safety, so to know that you have chosen the right one, you need to know what areas of evaluation are required.

Busway systems can be broken down into four design elements: track busways, joints, plug-in units, and power monitoring.

While joints only impact the safety of a busway system in as much as they carry ground conduction through the aluminium housing (so you want good, reliable joints), the other three components play an essential role in making a busway the safest power distribution design.

Track busways

When it comes to safety, strategy is everything. Treat the risk to your employees, infrastructure, and data as the opposition in the battle. If you only charge at them head-on, that proverbial enemy might be able to slip by and attack from behind. Therefore, a multi-pronged attack is the best way forward – and this is something all-encompassed by the Starline Track Busway Power Distribution System.

When it comes to your strategy, ensuring the equipment you are using is certified by nationally-recognized test labs is critical. Look for an Ingress Protection safety rating of IP2x (finger safe) or even IP3X (tool safe).

It’s also important to be selective when it comes to your fuses, so the busway can lower the potential incident energy if a power surge occurs. Giving your busway system multiple earthing options and ensuring staff is efficiently trained in operator safety will make for a safer working environment.

Plug-in units

Plug-in units are the safety priority of the busway power distribution system.

With engineers installing tap-boxes on live busways, there is an increased risk. But the Starline Track Busway takes steps to protect engineers.

Every plug-in unit (quite rightly) has a grounding tab or device, meaning that before any electrical connection of the conductors into the busbars, the unit is already grounded. But this is the bare minimum.

The design of the busway itself contributes to safety where plug-in units are concerned. An asymmetrical U-shaped busbar design makes it impossible to install a plug-in unit incorrectly. This, in turn, makes it impossible to cross live phases or ground paths when installing the plug-in unit into a live busway.

It is also worth considering additional options of ‘floor operable’ electrical connections, which can be connected at a safe distance.

For example, breaker interlocks prevent a unit from being installed or uninstalled while it is under load; finger shrouds prevent breaker switches from accidentally being switched off. And infra-red windows allow for scanning the unit’s internal power connections without getting up-close and personal with live conductors.

Power monitoring

The last in this list should not be disregarded.

A robust and reliable power monitoring system is essential to the safety of your busway. A sound monitoring system should be able to send out alarms in the event of a failure or emergency that can be pre-set. If a sudden temperature rises, you should be informed of this immediately.

The monitoring system should also have a breaker-position sense feature, to know whether the plug-in units are working 24/7.

In the data center, skilled workers and equipment like servers are precious. Have you chosen the safest power distribution method available? If not, it might be worth reconsidering.

To find out more, check out Starline's whitepaper, 'How to reduce the risks of arc flash incidents in the data center.'