When it comes to maintaining a safe and efficient workplace, one of the most important pieces of equipment is your circuit breaker. Your work projects would be virtually impossible to do without electricity, but if the proper safety equipment isn’t in place, you leave yourself and your employees vulnerable to injury, property damage, and project delays. So, it’s vital to ensure that your circuit breaker is in proper working order at all times, and if there is an issue, it needs to be fixed right away. Before you bring in a professional to test your circuit breaker, here’s everything you’ll need to know!
Benefits of Circuit Breaker Testing
We want to be clear up front: you should not test your circuit breakers yourself. Testing circuit breakers is a potentially dangerous endeavor, so it’s important to bring in a professional.
The biggest benefit to having your circuit breakers tested is ensuring the safety of your workers and yourself. We often take circuit breakers for granted, but when they are working as they should, they can prevent all kinds of nuisance tripping and electrical malfunctions, ranging from the small shock to the major electrical faults or even explosions. Having your circuit breakers tested ensures your employees will be safe when they’re working, reducing your risk of having to deal with workers’ compensation claims or the damage to your reputation.
Additionally, having your circuit breakers tested is an easy way to ensure that you are complying with OSHA standards. It’s your responsibility as an employer to make sure that your workers are always taken care of on the job. Failing to have your circuit breakers tested at regular intervals, or when you suspect that there’s an issue, could potentially result in costly fines, work delays, or even the shutdown of your workplace altogether.
Finally, having your circuit breakers tested can help to identify the need for maintenance and allow you to fix minor issues quickly, instead of waiting for your system to breakdown and require a full (and costly) replacement. These tests are easy and fast to perform right on your worksite, so it’s easy to fit a test into the workday.
What Causes Circuit Breakers to Trip?
There are several different factors that could potentially cause a circuit breaker to trip. Most commonly, circuit breakers trip when the circuit is overloaded. This is a situation that you are probably familiar with: growing up, your parents probably told you not to plug too many appliances into the same outlet, and this situation was the reason why. If too much electricity is going through an outlet, the circuit breaker will trip to prevent overheating.
Circuit breakers could also trip if an appliance is faulty. As we’re sure you’ve seen, circuit breakers are typically labeled to indicate which room or appliance is activated by each switch. If your breaker trips, you can look at your panel to determine which switch has been activated, and therefore, which appliance could be the culprit.
How to Tell if a Circuit Breaker Has Gone Bad
The last reason that a circuit breaker might trip, and the one we want to focus on here, is that you’ve simply got a bad circuit breaker. As with any other appliance or piece of equipment in your workplace, circuit breakers do eventually go bad. So, you can bring in a professional to examine your breaker and let you know if it’s time for a repair or a replacement.
There are a few key factors that your electrician might look for if they are determining whether your breaker is bad. If you notice any of these signs, it’s time to call in a professional. There may be a burning smell coming from the electrical panel box, or the box itself may be hot to the touch or have physical damage. If an electrician finds that your breaker doesn’t stay in its “reset” mode, that could be another possible indicator that the breaker is bad. Finally, if the breaker trips frequently or it’s simply old, it could very well be bad.
Steps in Testing a Circuit Breaker
Your electrician will start testing your circuit breaker by following some basic safety steps, including ensuring the floor is dry and clean, wearing rubber soled shoes, and wearing insulated electrician’s gloves to keep them safe from any potential shocks. They will likely also use specialized tools, such as screwdrivers with insulated handles.
Often, electricians will use a multimeter to test the circuit breaker itself. They will test the breakers to make sure that the meter reads the proper designed voltage. If these readings too low (or even registers as zero), or even too high, they’ll know for certain that the circuit breaker is bad. They can also verify the amperage reading is not higher than the design rating for the breakers.
At this point, it’s a matter of determining what the issue is. Your electrician may discover that the circuit breaker simply has a loose connection at the terminal, leading to an easy repair. However, in some major cases, you might wind up needing to have the entire service panel replaced. Either way, your electrician will be able to get to the root of the issue, allowing you to make a well-informed decision about how to proceed in the safest and most cost-effective manner.
Bringing in a Professional
Now that you know all the ins and outs of testing a circuit breaker, you likely have a better understanding of why this process is so important. However, as we mentioned, testing your circuit breaker is not something you should undergo on your own. Bringing in a professional technician is the best way to make sure your workplace is safe without risking further damage to your property or any injury to your employees.
Mark Thomas & Associates Electrical Engineers (MTAEE) is proud to offer a wide range of electrical testing services to our clients throughout California and the West Coast. In addition to testing, repairing, or replacing your circuit breaker, our dedicated team is also able to perform services like arc flash analyses, coordination studies, short circuit analyses, and more. Contact us today for more information!