Overview of the Sector
Electrical equipment includes a wide-ranging field of devices. It would be impossible to include information on all items of equipment, and this chapter will therefore be limited to coverage of products of some of the major industries. Numerous processes are involved in the manufacture of such equipment. This chapter discusses the hazards likely to be encountered by persons working in the manufacture of batteries, electric cables, electric lamps and general domestic electrical equipment. It concentrates upon electrical equipment; electronic equipment is discussed in detail in the chapter Microelectronics and semiconductors.
Evolution of the Industry
The pioneering discovery of electromagnetic induction was instrumental in the development of today’s vast electrical industry. The discovery of the electrochemical effect led to the development of batteries as a means of supplying electrical equipment from portable power sources using direct current systems. As devices which relied upon power from mains were invented, a system of transmission and distribution of electricity was required, which led to the introduction of flexible electrical conductors (cables).
The early forms of artificial lighting (i.e., carbon arc and gas lighting) were superseded by the filament lamp (originally with a carbon filament, exhibited by Joseph Swan in England in January 1879). The filament lamp was to enjoy an unprecedented monopoly in domestic, commercial and industrial applications prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, at which stage the fluorescent lamp was introduced. Other forms of discharge lighting, all of which depend upon the passage of an electric current through a gas or vapour, have subsequently been developed and have a variety of applications in commerce and industry.
Other electrical appliances in many fields (e.g., audio-visual, heating, cooking and refrigeration) are constantly being developed, and the range of such devices is increasing. This is typified by the introduction of satellite television and the microwave cooker.
While the availability and accessibility of raw materials had a significant effect upon the development of the industries, the locations of the industries were not necessarily determined by the locations of the raw material sources. The raw materials are often processed by a third party before being used in the assembly of electrical appliances and equipment.
Characteristics of the Workforce
The skills and expertise possessed by those who work in the industry now are different from those possessed by the workforce in earlier years. Equipment used in the production and manufacture of batteries, cables, lamps and domestic electrical appliances is highly automated.
In many instances those who are currently involved in the industry require specialized training in order to carry out their work. Teamwork is a significant factor in the industry, since many processes involve production line systems, where the work of individuals depends upon the work of others.
An ever-increasing number of manufacturing processes involved in the production of electrical appliances rely on some form of computerization. It is necessary, therefore, for the workforce to be familiar with computer techniques. This may not present any problems to the younger workforce, but older workers may not have had any previous computer experience, and it is likely that they will need to be re-trained.
Economic Importance of the Industry
Some countries benefit more than others from the electrical appliances and equipment industry. The industry has economic importance for those countries from which raw materials are obtained and those in which the end products are assembled and/or constructed. Assembly and construction take place in many different countries.
Raw materials do not have infinite availability. Discarded equipment should be re-used wherever possible. However, the costs involved in recovering those parts of discarded equipment which may be re-used may ultimately be prohibitive.