Dave Mason and Grant Axman-Friend

Unitywater’s Arc Flash Project wins AIPM (Australian Institute of Project Management)  Project Award 2022

On 20 October 2022, Unitywater was awarded the Australian Institute of Project Management 2022 Best Small Project for their Arc Flash Risk Mitigation project – a project that is being managed jointly by Unitywater and Core Project Advisory (Core PA).

Unitywater is a provider of water supply and wastewater treatment services for the Moreton Bay, Sunshine Coast and Noosa regions of Southeast Queensland. In 2016 Unitywater experienced a fault with equipment at one of the network pump stations. The fault caused an arc behind a closed panel and although no one was injured, this event highlighted the risk of arc flash in the Unitywater network, which was an issue not dealt with before.

Arc flash is a dangerous condition in which heat and light are discharged from a low impedance connection through the air to ground or another voltage phase, also known as an arc fault. The results are often violent and when a human is in close proximity to the arc flash, serious injury and even death can occur.

Recognising the importance of addressing this issue, in November 2018 the Unitywater Regional Arc Flash Project was approved to develop a Specification for Power Systems Analysis and Arc Flash Studies which involved the assessment of the arc flash risk across the Unitywater fleet of switchboards.

Core PA was engaged in the role of project manager for the project due to our previous experience in managing projects with a dispersed asset base – Unitywater has over 1,000 assets to be assessed across an area of 5,223 square kilometres. For the first phase of the project, Core PA was responsible for managing the arc flash assessment, engineers and the arc flash mitigation works contractors. This included the management of three main contractors and several smaller contractors across multiple work packages.

Our involvement helped the Unitywater team navigate executive briefings, changes to scope, external influences on the project and the complexities of monitoring and controlling works being undertaken across multiple work fronts across a large geographical area. This project presented many challenges, generally around arc flash risk, difficulty in sourcing up-to-date asset information and the requirement to isolate and shut down essential services to carry out inspections.

To overcome these challenges, an agreed standard to manage arc flash risk was implemented which included:

  • Running an education campaign throughout the whole organisation.
  • Implementing and managing pre-inspections of assets to gain information and agree on the parameters to be used if the information could not be sourced from existing records.
  • Careful planning was carried out for each of the isolations and backup/contingency planning was implemented to mitigate issues that may occur during the isolations. Some key lessons learnt included ensuring there was no assumption that everyone appreciated the technical issues, threats or opportunities involved in this type of project and that time needed to be invested into good communications and education of the team and the broader organisation. Another lesson was the importance of investing adequate time into understanding the asset prior to making any changes or disrupting the operations of the asset.

There were some great achievements made resulting from this project including;

  • An increase in awareness and understanding of arc flash,
  • Setting a standard for Unitywater and the industry on how to manage the risk appropriately,
  • Management of a workforce from multiple contractors across multiple work fronts, with isolation of essential infrastructure with no major incident.
  • An improved understanding of the water and wastewater network and its condition.

If your organisation has a complex project or large-scale disbursed assets project that you are embarking on and requires advice or project management, then contact the Core PA team. We take the time to understand our client’s project objectives, so we can deliver the best outcomes for the project.

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