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Managing Safety in Operational Data Centers

  • Publish Date: Posted 18 days ago

​In the ever-evolving landscape of operational technology, the imperative to maintain safety within data centers cannot be overstated. These hubs of digital operations not only power our global economy but also present unique risks that demand meticulous management.

Following our recent webinar on Managing Safety Risks in Operational Data Centers,this article delves into the comprehensive strategies essential for upholding safety in these critical environments, encompassing procedures, training, assessments, inspections, and compliance. Watch the recording of the webinar here.

Contents of this article:

  • A comprehensive approach to safety management.

  • Recording of the webinar

  • List of audience questions and answers from the host

A Comprehensive Approach to Safety Management

Procedures: The Foundation of Safety

At the heart of data center safety is the development and implementation of clear, detailed procedures. These guidelines are not solely for complex tasks like switching activities or working in confined spaces; even seemingly mundane tasks require attention to safety. Job Hazard Analysis (JHA) emerges as a pivotal initial step, distinguishing when a full procedure is necessary versus when simple instructions suffice. This meticulous approach, bolstered by the art of writing and managing procedures, ensures that every action taken within a data center is guided by a thorough hazard/risk assessment and implementation of safe work practices.

The journey of crafting these procedures involves everyone from in-house teams to external vendors and subcontractors. This collaboration is crucial, transforming individual knowledge into collective safety protocols. This collaborative spirit extends to managing Job Hazard Analyses, integrating them with standard operating procedures to streamline safety across all operations.

Training: Empowering Through Knowledge

Equipping employees with the knowledge and skills to execute procedures safely is paramount. A structured training process, leveraging everything from commissioning scripts to advanced Learning Management Systems (LMS), ensures that every team member—from technicians to managers—understands and adheres to established safety practices. This education extends to hands-on skills assessments, a blend of theoretical and practical learning, and innovative approaches like Virtual Reality (VR) to simulate high-risk scenarios in a risk-free environment.

Training is an ongoing journey, one that requires regular assessments and updates to keep pace with technological advancements and operational changes. It's a multifaceted approach, designed to ensure that employees are not just familiar with the procedures but are proficient in executing them safely and effectively.

Assessments: Continuous Evaluation and Improvement

Maintaining safety in data centers extends beyond initial training to include continuous assessments of skills, facility operations, and the competency of vendors and subcontractors. From pre-hire technical interviews to ongoing skills evaluations and facility inspections, these assessments ensure compliance with safety protocols and operational efficiency. They highlight the importance of understanding the human element in operational risk, emphasizing regular observation and engagement with all personnel to foster a culture of safety and responsibility.

Inspections: A Proactive Approach to Safety

Leveraging technology like Computerized Maintenance Management Systems (CMMS) enhances the ability to manage inspections and ensure compliance within Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) programs. By documenting inspections, tracking corrective actions, and integrating safety checks into daily operations, data centers can maintain a high level of safety and operational integrity. This proactive approach, coupled with regular facility inspections and the incorporation of safety equipment checks, underscores the commitment to a safe working environment.

Documentation and Compliance: The Pillars of Safety Assurance

The role of comprehensive documentation and adherence to compliance standards cannot be understated in the context of data center operations. Whether opting for electronic or physical storage, the accessibility and regular review of documents are critical. Training employees on how to access this documentation ensures everyone is equipped with the knowledge needed to operate safely. Moreover, understanding and meeting regulatory requirements is essential for legal compliance and the overall safety of operations. This encompasses everything from trade licenses for personnel and vendors to regular audits of documentation and compliance with current laws.

The management of safety in operational data centers requires a holistic approach, integrating procedures, training, assessments, inspections, and compliance into a seamless safety management system. By prioritizing these elements, data centers can not only mitigate risks but also foster a culture of safety and responsibility. This ensures not just the operational uptime and efficiency of the data center but also the well-being of everyone involved in its operation. As technology evolves and operational demands shift, the commitment to safety must remain steadfast, underpinning every action and decision within the data center environment.

Watch the recording of the webinar below

Audience Questions and Host Responses from the Webinar

1. Authoring Procedures for Safety Management:

An audience member asked about the process for authoring procedures to manage safety in the context of data centers. Dave responded by emphasizing the importance of having someone with quality assurance and quality control (QAQC) expertise to ensure consistency and quality in procedure authoring. He mentioned the valuable skill set that individuals from the military, particularly those with nuclear Navy experience, bring to this task due to their procedural discipline.

2. Reviewing Procedures for Compliance and Standards:

The discussion extended to reviewing procedures for compliance with company standards and regulatory requirements. Dave recommended employing subject matter experts (SMEs) to review procedures relevant to their expertise, ensuring proper steps and compliance are maintained.

3. Training for Safety Procedures:

Suzanne inquired about operationalizing safety procedures effectively in an SOP-driven environment, where much training is computer-based. Dave underscored the importance of hands-on training, including shadowing experienced engineers and performing skills assessments, to ensure comprehensive understanding and application of safety procedures.

4. The Impact of NFPA 70B on Preventative Maintenance:

Gregory asked about the new mandatory requirements in NFPA 70B concerning preventative maintenance and the conditions for normal operation of electrical equipment. Dave addressed this by highlighting the critical role of maintenance in ensuring both uptime and employee safety, pointing to NFPA standards as guidelines for best practices in electrical maintenance.

5. Engaging Employees and Management in Safety Practices:

An attendee shared their experience attempting to implement a safety council for hands-on learning but faced resistance from foremen and lacked support from management. Nick suggested that leadership should actively lead and demonstrate their commitment to safety to overcome such challenges.

6. Managing Safety in Hot and Cold Aisles:

The discussion touched on the safety management of hot and cold aisles in data centers, emphasizing the need for time limits, cooling vests, and other measures to prevent heat stress among operators working in high-temperature environments.

7. Operational Priorities Versus Electrical Safety:

An audience member raised a concern about the operational mindset in data centers that might prioritize uptime over electrical safety, particularly when it involves de-energizing equipment. Dave stressed the importance of training, proper procedures, and setting priorities that do not compromise worker safety for operational efficiency.

8. Influencing Leadership to Prioritize Safety:

Sue asked for advice on influencing leadership teams to prioritize safety. Both Dave and Nick emphasized the use of data to demonstrate the cost benefits of safety initiatives and the strategic importance of integrating safety as a core operational priority, potentially linking it to performance metrics and bonuses.

9. Alternatives to Ladders:

The JLG EcoLift 50 and the JLG 830P are recommended as alternatives to ladders. The EcoLift 50 is manually operated and requires no batteries, while the JLG 830P is battery-operated for added convenience.

10. Handling Last-Minute Scope Changes:

For last-minute changes in work scope, a detailed process including stakeholder engagement, Job Hazard Analysis (JHA), required PPE identification, and procedure review is crucial for maintaining safety and efficiency.

11. Implementing Procedures Across Multiple Sites:

Ensuring procedures are maintained across many sites requires senior leadership buy-in, designating local responsibility, regular communication, and ongoing training aimed at a consistent and safe work culture.

12. European Equipment and Regulation Variances:

Addressing European regulatory differences involves having HSE professionals within the respective regions to meet local requirements and adopting more stringent standards as best practices when beneficial.

13. Balance Between Regulated and Managed Safety:

Data center environments are shifting towards managed safety through skill development, qualification programs, and training on regulatory requirements, beyond relying solely on Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).

14. Incident Analysis:

Reporting all injuries is emphasized, with a proactive stance on preventing minor injuries through various protective measures and engaging workers in safety process decisions.

15. Operator Expectations from Safety Professionals:

In construction, safety professionals need to oversee various trades with a focus on quality and efficiency. In operational data centers, safety professionals are expected to have experience in the data center environment or relevant trades.

16. Live Work in Data Centers:

Live work is inevitable for certain tasks in data centers, but there should rarely be a need for work requiring energized electrical work permits due to redundant systems that allow for de-energization.

17. Managing Noise in Datahalls:

Managing noise involves conducting noise level surveys to determine when and where hearing protection is needed, often resulting in mandatory protection in certain areas.

18. Influencing Leadership Without Experience in Injury Costs:

Influencing leadership in environments unfamiliar with injury costs can involve engaging peers in safety conversations and asking how one can assist, leveraging mutual respect and support.

19. Shifting Priorities Post-Incidents:

A provocative question posed to executive leadership about shifting priorities post-incident aims to ensure sustained focus on safety rather than reverting to previous behaviors once new leaders come on board.

20. Technology for Lone Workers:

StaySafe app is shared as a useful technology for lone workers, offering a mobile solution for those working in isolated areas like mechanical rooms or rooftops.

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