Causes of Switchgear Failure and How to Avoid Them

Corroded connections, one of the major causes of switchgear failure
Corroded connections, one of the major causes of switchgear failure

Switchgear failure is caused by a variety of factors. Some of these causes are avoidable, especially if you have a preventative maintenance plan in place. This article is a look at the most common switchgear failure causes, as well as some tips on how to avoid them from occurring when they shouldn’t.

What is an Electrical Switchgear?

Many factors can contribute to switchgear failure, most of which are easy to prevent. But before discussing these causes, it’s important to have a basic understanding of what electrical switchgear is and what it does. So here is switchgear explained:

  • Switchgear is a generic term that refers to the many types of electrical control devices when mounted or assembled together. This includes switches, fuses, circuit breakers, transformers, relays, surge arresters, and other devices that control the flow of electricity.
  • Switchgear helps to safely distribute electricity within a facility or grid network by providing protection against electric overloads and other faults in the system. Workers also use it to isolate parts of a power system to allow for repairs without disrupting the flow of electricity.

Switchgear Failure

Switchgear is used in a variety of applications such as industrial facilities, commercial buildings, and even residential homes. Like any other type of electrical equipment, it can (and does) fail. When this happens, it means a variety of problems such as downtime, loss of production, and even injuries.

It’s, therefore, every facility owner or manager’s desire that this piece of equipment functions as expected at all times. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. That said, knowing the primary causes of electrical switchgear failures can help you take the necessary steps to avoid them.

Old switchgear will easily fail
Old switchgear will easily fail

Switchgear Failure Causes

Switchgear failure results from a number of different causes. Some are due to problems with the equipment itself, while others are caused by external factors. Regardless of the reason, electrical switchgear failure can have serious consequences. Here is a list of the most common switchgear failure causes. Later, we’ll see how to prevent them.

1. Faulty Switchgear Connections

A switchgear connection refers to the bolted, screwed, or welded joint between the different parts of the switchgear. Over time, these connections can loosen due to vibration or other factors. When this happens, it can cause an electrical arc that could damage the equipment or start a fire. This type of failure is often caused by poor switchgear maintenance.

2. Degraded Switchgear Insulation

Switchgear insulation is used to prevent electrical shocks. It can also help prevent fires by providing a barrier between live electrical parts and arc quenching or cooling. Over time, insulation can degrade due to heat, chemicals, or other factors. When this happens, it can lead to switchgear failure.

3. Improper Switchgear Service

Switchgear should be regularly serviced by qualified personnel. Switchgear service includes periodic cleaning, inspection, and testing. Sometimes, however, service intervals may be lengthened or skipped altogether. This can lead to a build-up of dirt, dust, and other contaminants that can eventually cause the switchgear to fail.

4. Old Switchgear Components

Like any other type of electrical equipment, switchgear has a limited lifespan. The older the switchgear, the more likely it is to fail. That’s why it’s important to keep up with the manufacturer’s recommended replacement schedule. This includes replacing old switchgear parts, as well as upgrading to new switchgear when necessary.

5. Environmental Causes

Switchgear is designed to withstand a certain range of environmental conditions. However, extreme conditions can still lead to failure. This includes things like high humidity, high temperatures, or even salt air. External causes of switchgear failure also include animals, like rodents, getting into the equipment.

Proper switchgear servicing can help prevent its failure
Proper switchgear servicing can help prevent its failure

Avoiding Switchgear Failure

Switchgear contains the electrical devices to protect a power system from electrical faults, parts to isolate power circuits during repair, and so on. It must, therefore, be designed, installed, operated and maintained to achieve its purpose. In most cases, the cause of failure is preventable, especially if you know its cause. Here are some tips to help avoid switchgear failure:

Identify Risks

The first step in preventing a switchgear assembly or installation from breaking down is to identify the risks. This involves things like the age of the switchgear, environmental conditions, and the switchgear service intervals. By identifying the risks, you can take steps to mitigate them which, in turn, will help prevent failure.

Switchgear Maintenance Program

A good maintenance program is essential for preventing switchgear failure. That means regular cleaning, inspection, and testing. It’s also important to keep up with the manufacturer’s recommended replacement schedule. Remember, also, to liaise with the manufacturer to ensure that you’re using the right parts.

Replace Switchgear Parts

Always ensure damaged or old switchgear parts are replaced. While at it, ensure that you’re using the right replacement parts. This includes things like fuses, circuit breakers, and contactors. Be sure, also, to do your homework when it comes to choosing the switchgear spare parts manufacturer or supplier. You want quality components.

Proper Switchgear Training

It’s important to properly train all personnel who will be working with the switchgear. That means everyone that comes into contact with the apparatus from maintenance personnel to those who will be using the switchgear on a daily basis. The switchgear training should cover things like proper operation, maintenance, and troubleshooting.

Switchgear Monitoring System

Invest in a proper switchgear monitoring system. This can help you stay on top of things like service intervals, as well as identify potential problems before they cause switchgear failure. Switchgear monitoring methods include visual inspections and the use of sensors.

A switchgear sensor, for example, can help detect things like high humidity, high temperatures, or even dirt and dust build-up. Switchgear temperature monitoring can be done in several different ways, so be sure to choose the most effective method.

By following these tips, you can help avoid switchgear failure and the downtime that comes with it. As you can see, most of the switchgear failure modes revolve around proper maintenance.

That’s because, as with anything else, switchgear requires regular care and attention. By properly maintaining the equipment, you can help prevent problems before they start.


Switchgear failure can cause a lot of problems such as downtime and lost productivity, not to mention the costs and the time lost to correct the problems. That’s why it’s important to identify things that could result in a switchgear installation —or part of it —breaking down. Not only that but also the steps you can take to prevent it.

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