Markham Hurd is a Senior Consultant at Antea Group.
Data center facilities contain a company’s most sensitive and business-critical information, and as our modern world increasingly relies on mobile and internet data, the importance of these facilities intensifies. New data centers are constantly being built, and existing data centers are expanding and upgrading their equipment to meet future needs.
Consider this: The global data center construction market will grow from $14.59 billion in 2014 to $22.73 billion by 2019, according to a recent report from research firm Research and Markets.
The lifeblood of a data center’s success is to maintain a 24-hour runtime environment with efficient equipment. However, ensuring these two things isn’t enough; the data center must also keep in mind the most indispensable element of the data center – the workers themselves.
There is a great deal of engineering, planning, and operational maintenance needed to meet the high demands for continuous data center operations, however, an environment suitable for computer equipment may not be as safe for employees as it could be. Moreover, the data center equipment and backup power systems pose many potential hazards: high voltage electrical panels and circuits, UPS batteries, flammable materials, equipment maintenance at elevated heights, movement of heavy or awkward equipment, and fuel storage and handling are just a sampling of the potential risks. Even the most skilled and trained workers are vulnerable to serious injury if any safety precautions are overlooked.
It is crucial to invest the requisite time, money and resources to ensure safe practices in the data center and to reduce the risk of workplace injuries. Here are three tips from environment, health and safety (EHS) industry experts for keeping worker safety a priority:
Engage the Right People Early
In building a data center, pre-planning to address EHS concerns is always better and much less costly than retrofitting. While timelines are usually tight during data center construction or expansion, involve operations and EHS managers during the design and initial launch of the facility to ensure that proper EHS requirements are met for the workers. Many data centers today need to make expensive changes to comply with EHS regulations that were not considered or addressed during the initial design steps. Remember that safety is a critical management-of-change component when any equipment or procedure changes in a working environment.
Enhance Awareness of Potential Hazards
Keep a list of safety hazards and update it as equipment or procedures are changed. Some hazards that all workers should be aware of include:
- Electrical hazards and high voltage panels and equipment
- Powered and manual loading and handling of equipment
- Work in high temperature areas (hot aisles, exterior areas with little ventilation)
- Work in loud equipment noise areas
- Working at heights
Prioritize Safety Training
For worker’s safety, go beyond the initial training sessions and periodically provide updates to raise awareness and knowledge of common hazards. New employees must be properly trained, and then accompanied by trained personnel before they are left to work on their own. All personnel working in the data center should also attend certified safety classes on an annual basis. Maintain a log of near misses and incidents to communicate lessons learned to all employees and to keep everyone accountable for each other’s safety. EHS personnel should strive to create an open and communicative safety culture so that the workers feel that they are a critical part of the EHS team.
Building a strong safety culture with EHS managers, who reinforce safety and support for the people running such a vital part of the organization, makes for an excellent work environment attracting the top professionals that all data centers require.
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