In conversation with Viv Cohen: Former SA representative to the IEC

Energize recently had the opportunity to chat to Vivian (Viv) Cohen about his passion for life, South Africa and electricity protection devices. For many years, Viv Cohen served as the South African representative to the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), working with other engineers in the design of safety standards for low-voltage electrical installations.

Viv Cohen

Viv Cohen was born and grew up in Johannesburg. He achieved his BSc in electrical engineering from the University of the Witwatersrand. He joined FWJ Electric Industries in 1957 as a designer of electrical protection devices and circuit breakers. FWJ Electric later became Fuchs Electrical.

Cohen had been appointed technical director of Fuchs Electrical by the time it had merged with Heinemann during 1986, to create Circuit Breaker Industries (CBI).

Cohen was made the new company’s technical design manager. He also served as the design liaison between the local company and Westinghouse Electric in the USA.

“Sometimes, my business trips, either for the IEC or to Westinghouse, meant I was out of the country every four to six weeks. I had to move to a security village to ensure the safety of my family”, he said.

Through hard work and dedication, Cohen became a specialist in low-voltage protection equipment and wrote technical articles on the topic for industry journals – including “South Africa – a pathfinder in earth leakage protection” (which was published in Elektron, January 1992). His work earned him the recognition of “Fellow” status at the SAIEE.

In the late 1950s FWJ – which later became Fuchs Electric – and Heinemann developed high-sensitivity current balance earth-leakage units, 400 of which were installed at South African mines in 1958.

A national standard for these devices, which were also known as “people protection” units, was published by the South Africa Bureau of Standards (SABS) in 1964. By 1974, the fitment of earth leakage units on electrical distribution boards to protect all 230 V plug sockets in South Africa became mandatory.

“Somehow, I found the time to serve on the council of the South African Institute of Electrical Engineers (SAIEE) for over 18 years, even with my travels and the design of new equipment”, he added.

The new equipment being designed at Fuchs Electrical was transformers and arc-welding transformers as well as automatic battery chargers for DC-driven equipment used in many industrial and mining applications.

Title page of Cohen’s book

During his time with CBI (now CBi-electric), Cohen wrote “Application guide for the protection of electrical distribution systems”, the fourth edition of which was published in 2006.

His commitment to electrical safety included his work on SABS’ South African National Standard (SANS) 10142-1 “The wiring of premises” which was published in 1981.

The application of the rules in that standard have ensured the safety of many people in South Africa since then. We owe him a debt of gratitude.

Cohen attributes his success to his work-ethic, dedication to the task at hand, and his passion for electrical safety. This commitment to getting the job done has obviously rubbed off onto his children and grandchildren who are all doing very well in their own spheres of life.

He has a son in Sydney, two daughters in Perth and a daughter in Johannesburg; other grandchildren live in Perth, Tel Aviv and Johannesburg.

For example, he showed a set of photographs and told me that he has a set of triplet grandchildren, two girls and a boy, who are in their twenties now. These young people are very successful in their own rights. The two young women are attorneys in Sydney, while his grandson is a chartered accountant working in London.

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Source: EE plublishers

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