Electrical Systems in Industrial Buildings

Powering Your Business’ Operations

March 13th, 2020


Agree or disagree?

“Rental rates are not the most important factor that Tenants should consider in their decision-making process.”

Sure, on principle, one should always negotiate the best rate and look to receive the strongest terms (and concessions) as possible. Yet there are many soft costs, strategic benefits, and intangibles that can motivate a company to go elsewhere (and pay a premium to do so). It isn’t price alone that will attract a long-term, creditworthy Occupier.

That’s because when it comes to occupying and operating an industrial facility, the focus is often more on mitigating downside risk, realizing synergies with purchasers, vendors, or the broader supply chain, and ensuring continuity of the operation. 

And to fulfil these key objectives, there are a number of critical systems and building components that must not only align with the work being done, but also be up-and-running and dependable. 

One of those important items is having functional Electrical Power Systems. For many Users requiring heavy power to run key machinery, whether it be in the manufacturing, sorting, moving, lifting, lighting, cooling, heating, or storage of goods, it is not a luxury, but rather, a necessity.

Further, regular preventative maintenance is paramount in ensuring that systems operate safely without interruption. Any faults or disruptions can wreak havoc, such as halted production, backlogs, or the overflow or (literal) rotting of inventory.

On the surface, this may seem trivial, but with slim margins and costs attributed to goods sold… it adds up.

In order to put in place the proper maintenance plan to avoid all of this, it is important to first understand how electrical power is brought in to and distributed throughout an Industrial building…



Key Elements of Electrical Systems

Power Supply Grid

The Utility’s Power Supply Grid operates at a high voltage in order to reduce cost and improve efficiency. Transformers are used to reduce the high voltage to lower levels so that they can be delivered to the end-user safely. Industrial buildings are typically supplied with power at 600 Volts. This voltage is required for supplying large pieces of equipment while most of the building’s needs can be satisfied by 120/208V or 240V.

Main Transformer

The Main Transformer of a building is usually located outside on a concrete pad or inside the building in the electrical room. In many cases it is owned by the utility company, in which case, only the utility company would have access to the vault (in some cases it is owned by the property owner).

Main Power Distribution

Electrical power is delivered from the main transformer to the main switchgear located inside the building via underground cables. The switchgear consists of metal cabinets with internal power bars carrying electricity, breaking down the main service into smaller chunks for use by the building. Fuses or breakers act as safety switches. 

While the main switchgear operates at 600V, step-down transformers reduce the power to 120/208V for general use, lighting, electrical outlets, etc… From the main switchgear, electricity is sent to splitter boxes, disconnects, and panelboards which contain circuit breakers or fuses supplying loads such as lighting, receptacles, etc…

Power Grid

Electrical System Maintenance

Electrical equipment should be regularly inspected, whether annually or bi-annually, by electrical professionals.

  • Visual Review – is recommended monthly and should be focused on ensuring that the electrical room is secured, that there is enough clearance in front of the equipment, that there is no rust, water stains, overheating, dust, and dirt… that covers on panes should be in place, secure, and free of gaps.


  • Thermal Scans – Electrical equipment is usually warm but it shouldn’t be hot. Periodic infrared scans will reveal parts of the switchgear, panel board, or other electrical components that are overheated. Doing so will allow for efficient and effective preventive maintenance and repairs to be conducted prior to any potential equipment damage or fire. This is specifically advisable for buildings and equipment older than twenty years.


  • Switchgear Maintenance – Most Industrial buildings have one main switchgear, one high voltage gear, and one main transformer. In addition to thermal scans, this equipment maintenance should include visual inspection, testing trip setpoints, exercising and lubricating switches, cleaning the interior, and tightening connections to the manufacturer’s specifications. The frequency of this maintenance and servicing depends, but should generally be conducted every three to five years for newer equipment and once a year for older equipment.


  • Arc-Flash Studies – Arcing is an unwanted flow of electricity across air, due to damage or ground faults. It is very destructive and may lead to shock and fire. People working on high voltage live electrical equipment are at risk of arc-flashes. The Canadian Standards Association (CSA) implemented the Workplace Electrical Safety Standard which provides guidance on the assessment of electrical hazards and the design of safe workplaces around electrical power systems. An Arc-Flash study categorizes electrical equipment by risk level. A study should be reviewed every five years, or whenever major changes are made to the system. 


  • Proactive Maintenance and Replacement – Proactive maintenance of electrical equipment will maximize the equipment’s lifespan. Eventually, after about 35-45 years of use, the replacement of old equipment will be required. Smaller components, like disconnects, breakers, or panelboards may fail sooner and usually last about 15 to 25 years. It is better to be proactive with replacing older, larger equipment such as transformers and switchgears to arrange for temporary, alternative power. If you wait until your equipment fails then you will experience a much larger inconvenience, as well as a higher replacement cost.

Putting in place a comprehensive maintenance plan with an electrical contractor will ensure the safe and reliable operation of the entire system while maximizing its lifespan. It will also reduce the risk of sudden, catastrophic failure; which is often very disruptive and dangerous.

To help us understand more about this topic, we asked Rob Burgess, the Principal and Owner of LTL Lineman’s Testing Laboratories of Canada Limited to provide us with some more insight

As a privately owned Canadian company serving the utility, industrial and commercial sectors across Canada, LTL successfully maintains a loyal customer base and is recognized and respected for its integrity, and long-term business relationships. LTL provides the services of three divisions: Power Technical Services (Electrical Engineering & Substation Services); LTL Utility Supply; and, NAIL-accredited High Voltage Testing, Calibration and Factory Authorized Tool and Equipment Repair Services.

We have established a dedicated and diverse team all specialists within their field many of whom have enjoyed long-term employment with LTL. All team members receive on-going industry-related training for the purpose of skills development, personal worker safety, and compliance. Our team includes electrical engineers, master electricians, linemen, certified technologists, laboratory technicians as well as degreed business personnel, professional salespeople, trainers/facilitators, and knowledgeable customer service representatives.

At LTL, we have the skills, knowledge, and tools to ensure our clients’ electrical systems are operating at optimum efficiency.”

As an employer or plant owner, you are responsible and liable for the safety of your workers when it comes to managing your electrical building systems.

This week we will cover how to Minimize the Risk of Arc Flash Hazards and Ensure Electrical Safety and Compliance per CSA Z462 with the Maintenance Checklist (please see below)….

But first, let’s understand a few things about Arc-Flashes…

What is an Electrical Shock?

It is the physical effect of an electric current that enters the body, ranging from a minor static-electricity discharge to a power-line accident, lightning strike or industrial apparatus contact. The effects depend on the current (not the voltage), and the worst damage occurs along its path from point of entry to exit. Causes of immediate death are ventricular fibrillation and paralysis of the brain’s breathing centre or of the heart.

What is an Arc Flash?

It is a dangerous release of energy created by an electrical fault. Such a release will contain thermal energy, acoustical energy, pressure wave and debris. Heat builds to 19,426ºC; copper vapour expands by 67,000 times; and there is molten metal, intense light, hot air rapid expansion, pressure waves, sound waves, and shrapnel.

What is an Arc Blast?

It consists of pressure, sound, and shrapnel: pressure can easily exceed hundreds or even thousands of pounds per square foot; sounds of 160 decibels occur, and shrapnel can exceed 700 miles per hour.

What Causes an Arc Flash?

Electricity travels the path of least resistance. When the path of electricity is suddenly interrupted, a new pathway is created. The arc can be generated by mechanical failure, current overload, accidental contact, or human error.

Proper safety practices and on-going personnel training can minimize the likelihood of electrical injuries and fatalities due to shock, electrocution, arc flash and arc blast. At risk are employees who work on or near exposed energized electrical conductors or circuit parts, including electrical maintenance personnel, operators, troubleshooters, electricians, linemen, supervisors, site safety personnel, or anyone exposed to energized equipment of 30 volts or more.

The majority of hospital admissions following electrical accidents are due to arc flash burns, not electrical shock (per NFPA 70E-2004). 

Arc – Flash Application

Arc – Flash Application

Protect your workers as well as your business by exercising due diligence and complying with the following 5 safety steps:


1. Identify the hazards through arc-flash hazard studies

Performed by qualified engineers and technicians, Lineman’s Testing Laboratories of Canada provides CSA Z462-compliant arc flash hazard analyses to determine the potential arc flash incident energies and boundaries, shock hazard boundaries and proper personal protective equipment required for activity within the arc flash boundary. The CSA Z462 states that this analysis should be updated when a major modification or renovation takes place and should be reviewed periodically, and at minimum every five years, to account for changes in the electrical distribution system that could affect the results of the analysis. 

2. Affix proper warning labels to all plant equipment

Ensure warning labels identifying potential hazards and required safety equipment are affixed to applicable electrical equipment. The Canadian Electrical Code (CEC) mandates that electrical equipment shall be field-marked to warn persons of potential electrical shock and arc flash hazards.

3. Select the proper personal protective equipment (PPE)

The Occupational Health & Safety Act of Ontario states that it is the responsibility of the employer to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstance for the protection of the worker, as well as to ensure that equipment, materials and protective equipment are maintained in good condition. “The worker shall use rubber gloves, mats, shields and other protective equipment and procedures adequate to ensure protection from electrical shock and burns while performing the work.”

Determine the calorie rating for your PPE. A calorie is the energy required to raise the temperature of one gram of water one degree Celsius at one atmosphere. Approximately one calorie is the heat energy your finger receives if you hold it in a cigarette lighter flame for one second. Applied for one second, 1.2 calories per centimeter squared can cause a second-degree burn. Once the calorie rating is determined for the amount of energy that could be delivered to a point at a distance from an arc flash, the ATPV rating is calculated and proper PPE can then be selected.

To provide maximum worker safety and protection from burns or electrocution, it is recommended that an accredited product specialist be consulted to ensure the proper PPE selection process is followed and to provide proper training and ongoing support required for compliance.

4. Provide training for proper care and use of PPE

It is imperative that workers understand how and why the required PPE will help them, as well as how to properly care for and inspect this equipment to comply with legislation. Insulating rubber gloves, arc flash clothing, face protection, temporary grounding equipment, and phasing devices have specific application ratings. Insulating rubber gloves, grounds sets, live-line tools, and metering/phasing equipment have recertification requirements.

Insulating rubber gloves are to be worn by those working on or near live exposed parts of installations, equipment or conductors. Rubber gloves are the basic protection from electrical shock. Leather protectors must be worn over insulating rubber gloves to provide mechanical protection against cuts, abrasions, and punctures as well as protect the rubber gloves from possible physical damage in use. They are specifically designed and are to be used solely for the purpose of protecting the rubber gloves (and must comply with ASTM F696).

To maintain the highest level of insulating protection and ensure long life, it is essential that the insulating rubber gloves are properly cared for, stored, inspected and electrically tested on a regular basis. Recertification of insulating rubber gloves, as per ASTM F496, requires that re-test intervals not exceed six months.

5. Minimize plant equipment failure through regular maintenance

Early detection of electrical equipment weakness or potential hazard through regular maintenance of high and low voltage electrical and mechanical components, and analysis of electrical insulating fluids, helps to reduce production downtime and associated costs. Most importantly, however, regular equipment maintenance improves safety conditions for system operating personnel.


Overall, if you are an Investor, Owner-Occupier, Developer, or Operator of an industrial property in the GTA, then you should leverage an electrical systems professional in order to ensure the continuous and optimum performance of your electrical equipment.

The number one issue we come across with industrial building owners is their uncertainty of how to properly and effectively handle a power outage. Understanding the proper steps is critical to minimizing downtime and reducing the staggering costs associated with a power outage ensuring full payment from the insurance company as proper mitigation steps were taken.

The first call by a plant manager or building owner should be to the high voltage contractor and not, as most assume, to the local Power Utility. The Power Utility will only re-energize a plant after receiving a status report from an approved contractor that all electrical equipment inside the building is safe and in proper working condition.

At LTL, we have made it our priority to maintain an inventory of Transformers and switchgear in the hundreds of thousands of dollars (otherwise lead time for delivery is estimated to be months) to get customers up and running as quickly as possible thereby reducing the exponential costs associated with production downtime, and complying with insurance requirements.

On that note… 

For further information on the subject of Maintenance of Electrical Systems in Industrial Buildings in the GTA please contact Rob Burgess, (contact info is below):

Rob Burgess

Lineman’s Testing Laboratories of Canada (“LTL”) is a privately owned Canadian company serving the utility, industrial and renewable energy sectors across Canada. LTL provides the services of three divisions: Power Technical Services (Electrical Engineering & Substation Services); LTL Utility Supply; and, High Voltage Testing, Calibration and Factory Authorized Warranty Tool Repair Services in Canada’s largest NAIL-Accredited Laboratories.

Trusted since 1958, LTL delivers comprehensive solutions to a high industry standard for power system reliability and sustainability and commands the largest inventory and distribution of personal protective equipment, utility tools, pole line hardware, and electrical apparatus. Please visit us at ltl.ca for our full range of quality products, compliant services, training, and education.


I wanted to thank Rob Burgess for providing his expertise on this topic and generously devoting time to making this issue happen. 

For some property owners, this knowledge may be very timely, and overall, it’s importance cannot be understated, since, for the majority of people in the Commercial Real Estate industry…. who are in the business of acquiring, developing, selling, and leasing properties… the name of the game is in maximizing cash flow, property value, and return on investment…..

Therefore, please ensure the following CSA Z462 requirements are met …

  • A safety program is in place clearly defining responsibilities
  • An Arc Flash Hazard Analysis is conducted and reviewed periodically
  • Warning labels are affixed to all applicable electrical equipment
  • On-going worker training is provided for the care and use of personal protective equipment
  • An electrical work policy is in place for how, where, when, and who
  • All workers are equipped with the proper tools to ensure safe work practices
  • A personal protective equipment re-recertification schedule is in place and strictly adhered to

If you are looking for more detail on this or if you need advice on electrical systems in Industrial buildings, then please connect with Rob Burgess directly (his contact info is above). 

Finally, if you are thinking of moving, selling, or acquiring a commercial property in the GTA and would like to consult regarding onsite selection, industrial land values and development charges, construction costs, property values, rental rates, etc please call Goran Brelih…

Until next week…

Goran Brelih and his team have been servicing Investors and Occupiers of Industrial properties in Toronto Central and Toronto North markets for the past 25 years.

Goran Brelih is a Senior Vice President for Cushman & Wakefield ULC in the Greater Toronto Area. 

Over the past 27 years, he has been involved in the lease or sale of approximately 25.7 million square feet of industrial space, valued in excess of $1.6 billion dollars while averaging between 40 and 50 transactions per year and achieving the highest level of sales, from the President’s Round Table to Top Ten in GTA and the National Top Ten.

Goran is currently serving as Immediate Past President of the SIOR ‐ Society of Industrial and Office Realtors, Central Canadian Chapter and on the Board of Directors of Muki Baum Accessibility Centre, a Toronto‐based NGO which provides support to children and adults with complex disabilities.

Industrial Real Estate Sales and Leasing, Investment Sales, Design-Build and Land Development

About Cushman & Wakefield ULC.
Cushman & Wakefield is a leading global real estate services firm that delivers exceptional value by putting ideas into action for real estate occupiers and owners. Cushman & Wakefield is among the largest real estate services firms with 48,000 employees in approximately 400 offices and 70 countries.

In 2017, the firm had revenue of $6.9 billion across core services of property, facilities and project management, leasing, capital markets, advisory, and other services. To learn more, visit www.cushmanwakefield.com or follow @CushWake on Twitter.

For more information on GTA Industrial Real Estate Market or to discuss how they can assist you with your real estate needs please contact Goran at 416-756-5456, email at goran.brelih@cushwake.com, or visit www.goranbrelih.com.


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