Can anyone open a commercial electrical panel?

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Old 02-21-13, 04:41 PM
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Can anyone open a commercial electrical panel?

I was working on a commercial fire alarm system today and my NAC panel had no AC power to it and the batteries had died. I checked the breaker and it was ok (assuming it was on the same circuit as the main fire panel--because that had AC). So my boss told me to remove the breaker box cover to see if maybe a wire had slipped off the breaker. I told him no because I didn't think I was authorized. I don't have any electrician's licenses. Did my boss ask me to do something that I should not be doing?
 
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Old 02-21-13, 04:57 PM
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Security and Fire Alarm Technician?? Depends on what your job description is, and if it fell into your pay grade. Opening a breaker panel is not rocket science, but should be done with caution. Everything is alive in there and it is unforgiving.
 
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Old 02-21-13, 05:11 PM
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Opening the panel while energized probably requires training and special protective equipment.
 
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Old 02-21-13, 05:14 PM
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Sure, anyone can open one. Many of the ones we install have a door-within-a-door. Pop a couple of latches and you can flip the breakers. Pop a couple of different latches and you can rewire the guts.

Should someone who doesn't know how the systems work start poking around inside the panels? We'd prefer not. But it might have been OK to just have a look. Depends on your comfort level.

That said, your boss may have been looking, in part, for some additional cover to use with the client. I've been doing this work for years and I can't tell by looking whether any particular wire is connected and carrying current or not. On addition, I can't remember the last time I saw a wire that had "slipped off the breaker." Improperly terminated, yes. Slipped off - probably never.

my NAC panel had no AC power to it and the batteries had died. I checked the breaker and it was ok (assuming it was on the same circuit as the main fire panel--because that had AC).
Doesn't your NAC panel get it's power from the main fire panel?
 
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Old 02-21-13, 07:06 PM
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"Opening the panel while energized probably requires training and special protective equipment."

We went through a training for safety and PPE while working around exposed panels, but nothing regarding how to do such work ourselves. I need to check with my company's policy. I always was told electricians had to do that work. Heck, they won't even service Duct Smoke detectors, but now they're asking me to open up circuit breaker panels.

Nashkat1 you said, "Sure, anyone can open one." So you don't necessarily need any certifications or licenses? You need them to put the stuff in, I figure there must be some reg that says I shouldn't be messing with the cover unless I'm somehow qualified. Anyone can do a fire alarm inspection, but code says you need to be qualified. I don't consider myself qualified (or comfortable--in case I drop the cover into the guts). This was a large 208VAC panel with only one door on the cover itself.

"Doesn't your NAC panel get it's power from the main fire panel?"

This particular system had a plug-in transformer for the main panel and the NAC was wired direct. The 3 AC wires went straight across the NAC board and into a conduit (nice wiring job). That conduit went through the workbox which housed the recepticle for the main panel and then continued on into the breaker box. I had zero volts at the NAC and I checked all AC wires coming in. My guess is it went to another breaker which the electrician had taped red but was separate from the main panel. I turned it off/on and nothing. The client said the electrician had taped it for some reason. The back up batteries were 2 big 12volt 17 amp hour batteries in series for 24 volts. They metered zero also, so the system had to have been down a while.
 
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Old 02-21-13, 07:39 PM
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You should be able to open the cover with no real problem. You can open the panel cover and look at the conduit and see how many wires are coming out of it.

On the other hand.....if you know the circuit that powers the wall wart receptacle......shut it down and take the receptacle out. My guess is you are going to find a wire that goes to the NAC broken off at the receptacle.
 
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Old 02-21-13, 07:47 PM
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"if you know the circuit that powers the wall wart receptacle......shut it down and take the receptacle out"

Dang, I didn't think about it. Shoulda coulda woulda...but I was in overtime
 
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Old 02-23-13, 01:36 PM
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Whether it's commercial or residential doesn't really matter. What matters is what voltages are present within the panel. Many commercial panels in stores only have the same voltages present that you find residential installations, they just have more breakers. On the other hand, large commercial installations may have three-phase electrical equipment and much higher voltages.
 
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Old 02-23-13, 05:19 PM
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So you don't necessarily need any certifications or licenses?
What's necessary is that a person removing a panel cover be qualified, but this is sometimes a term that is nearly undefineable. If you aren't comfortable removing the cover, don't do it.

large commercial installations may have three-phase electrical equipment and much higher voltages.
In this situation, phase to ground is 120 volts.
 
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Old 02-23-13, 05:42 PM
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While phased to ground for some three-phase installations may be 120 V it can also be much higher in many cases!
 
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Old 02-23-13, 07:30 PM
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large commercial installations may have... much higher voltages.
While phased to ground for some three-phase installations may be 120 V it can also be much higher in many cases!
Not in the panels that feed fire alarm systems and other 120V loads.

Originally Posted by CasualJoe
In this situation, phase to ground is 120 volts.
 
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Old 02-23-13, 09:02 PM
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What's necessary is that a person removing a panel cover be qualified, but this is sometimes a term that is nearly undefineable
Actually you can. From the NEC definitions:
Qualified Person. One who has the skills and knowledge related to the construction and operation of the electrical equipment and installations and has received safety training to recognize and avoid the hazards involved.

FPN: Refer to NFPA 70E-2004, Standard for electrical safety in the workplace, for electrical safety training requirements.

I'm guessing that our OP does not fall under this definition.
 
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Old 02-24-13, 07:50 AM
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Actually you can. From the NEC definitions:
Qualified Person. One who has the skills and knowledge related to the construction and operation of the electrical equipment and installations and has received safety training to recognize and avoid the hazards involved.
Perhaps the word "undefineable" was poorly used in my post. As far as I know, there is no standard to say who has the skills and knowledge stated in the NEC definition. Usually someone who is licensed would be considered "qualified", but there are many who are not licensed who also may be qualified.
 
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Old 02-24-13, 09:03 AM
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Exclamation Ohio regulations

Here is a summary of what Ohio says about alarm installers:

Alarm Installer License:
Ohio law does not contain specific
provisions requiring licensure of alarm
installers. However, Ohio law does state
that a person is not an electrical contractor
subject to licensure for work that is limited to
the construction, improvement, renovation,
repair, testing, or maintenance of fire alarm,
or burglar alarm systems provided that any
such system uses less than 50 volts.
(ORC Ann. 4740.13, Enacted 2000).
This summary makes it perfectly clear that according to licensing regs in your state opening an energized panel is outside of an alarm installers license.
Your boss is wrong in asking you to open the panel and would be libel for any accidents, injury, death or damage.

I think that this regulation is pretty universal.
This wording is similar for us in all trades where electrical work is involved.
Here it is a restricted electricians license that only allows electrical work directly related to your other licensed trade.
I have one for refrigeration/HVAC and am able to work on complex high voltage control systems, large hp motors and up to 600 volts/unlimited current where it relates to my trade but am not licensed to replace a light switch, fluorescent ballast or to repair a toaster.

Rant warning:
I know that these are DIY forums but the subject of electrical work is something where the legalities should be made clear.
Pretty much everywhere in the US and Canada it is not lawful for people other than licensed electricians to work on anything electrical except for a homeowner working within their own premises under a permit.
Other trades along with caretakers, rental property owners, handymen and similar are not legally suppose to be doing electrical work, even something as simple as a light switch or receptacle.

Hats off to the trades people who help here and keep folks out of trouble.
 
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