Employee Invention Makes Safety Tests Portable

When the only thing between you and up to 12 kilovolts of electricity is a pair of rubber gloves, you want to be confident the gloves are in the safest condition. Enter SDG&E’s Protective Equipment Testing (PET) lab in Kearny Mesa—where articles of personal protection go through rigorous tests and manual inspections to ensure they will perform at the highest level of safety.

Gloves are one of the most important articles of personal protection for electrical workers. They are used by SDG&E lineman, electricians, natural gas patrollers and many other field employees. For the gloves to work as designed, they need to be free of any imperfections. Holes undetectable to the naked eye can occur from normal wear and tear, and can mean the difference between a normal day on the job or a serious safety hazard.

SDG&E requires rubber gloves to be inspected at the PET lab before they are distributed to the crew. There, they are checked for leakage with air tests. A stationary powered inflator in the lab fills each glove with air and each cuff is manually inspected. The gloves are also electrically tested in addition to the visual and air test.

“We are responsible for ensuring our crews have the safest equipment so they can go out and do their jobs without hesitation,” said Danny Rodriguez, compliance and maintenance team lead of the PET lab. “It’s a responsibility we don’t take lightly and we are always looking for opportunities to improve.”

In addition to the daily testing at the PET lab, crew members are required to perform a manual inspection of their gloves before they perform any work. If there’s ever any doubt that the condition of the gloves appear unsafe, they must go back to the PET lab for testing.

Safety innovation patented

Several years ago, Rodriguez and his colleague Roger Marquez set out to improve safety and efficiency by developing a portable glove inflator test, which would take the place of the manual inspection crews are required to perform in the field.

Four prototypes later, the locally-made tester kit was small enough to fit in the truck of every crew and comes with everything needed to test gloves in the field. While the kit doesn’t replace the need for the required inspections at the PET lab, the portable inflator tests add an enhanced level of safety for the crews and keep them from having to drive to the lab if they are concerned with their gloves.

Rodriguez and Marquez’s innovative design was patented earlier this year. Currently 200 kits are on SDG&E crew trucks with more on the way. Interest in the portable inflator is growing among other utilities and Rodriguez says the technology could be used in other industries including the medical field or auto sector.

“The possibilities with this technology are endless,” said Rodriguez. “This kit focuses first on safety, in addition to creating efficiencies. It gives our crews peace of mind as they head out to work in the field each day.”