Did you know that an arc flash could create a tragic event at your worksite—including death, equipment destruction, or a severe burn injury? More than 2,000 arc flash incidents occur each year in the U.S.—many of them at businesses with highly experienced electricians and engineers.
If an arc flash incident occurs at your workplace, then you will be subject to a citation and fine from OSHA, who will also perform frequent inspections at your business in the 24 months afterward. You may also be at risk of a lawsuit.
What Is an ‘Arc Flash’?
An arc flash is an intense—and dangerous—“heat blast” that is caused by a short circuit to an industrial electrical system. This short circuit may be caused by equipment failure or an employee error—which can be as simple as a dropped wrench.
The resulting heat blast can run as hot as 35,000° F, which can cause severe burns or fatalities, and permanently damage surrounding equipment. There is an average of 5-10 arc flash incidents per day in the U.S.
Preventing Arc Flash Incidents
“These incidents are a real tragedy, but they can be prevented,” said Stephen Herzig, an engineer with Herzig Engineering who specializes in arc flash consulting. “The key is understanding the current standards, and where your company has a gap—such as not using properly rated voltage meters, or using inadequate personal protective equipment, also called ‘PPE.’”
Herzig strongly recommends that companies receive a detailed incident energy analysis of their worksite to make sure that they are in compliance with the most current standards from the NFPA. His team of electricians and engineers routinely perform these analyses to help prevent future incidents and lawsuits by assessing transformers, fuses, protective equipment, and conductor sizes and lengths. Their mitigation recommendations can lower the hazard risk category (HRC) on such equipment as panelboards and motor control centers.
Training can also minimize the risk of employee error by teaching correct work safety procedures—such as how to apply and read the new labels.
Recent Changes to Standards
“The standards for electrical equipment are constantly evolving,” said Herzig. “A lot of facilities have been doing things the same way for five or ten years, and don’t realize that the codes have changed.”
Herzig cited a number of changes in 2012 to the NFPA 70E Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace, which governs best practices for working safely with electrical equipment. The standard is issued by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).
OSHA Requires Arc Flash Hazard Analysis
Most importantly, it is a requirement to receive a complete hazard analysis.
“Most people don’t realize that OSHA expects you to have a full, arc flash hazard analysis done,” said Herzig. “It’s not enough to rely on the ‘Tables Method’ found in the NFPA 70E to organize your worksite. Just using the Tables is incomplete and dangerous, because it makes lots of unrealistic assumptions about your electrical distribution system.”