Arc flashes are one of the most dangerous hazards found in a workplace. The potential property damage of an arc flash includes metal on equipment melting, a fire breaking out, or even break windows and splinter wood, and the potential for human injury is extremely serious. Workers who experience an arc flash could be burned badly, be electrocuted, have permanent hearing or eyesight damage, and can be fatal in extreme cases. Although arc flashes can last from a fraction of a second to several seconds, the consequences can be extremely severe.
Arc flashes can occur from a variety of reasons but is commonly caused by a damaged piece of equipment or instances that electricity can ‘escape’ from its intended path. Companies with electrical equipment will need to seriously consider the possibility of arc flash.
There are many measures and steps that can be taken to reduce the possibility or serious injury resulting from an arc flash. A facility or safety manager will need to conduct an electrical risk assessment to identify the arc flash dangers in the workplace, and routine inspections of high voltage equipment should be completed periodically. There are a few specific areas that will need to be inspected carefully including electrical switchboards, panelboards, control panels, socket enclosures and motor control centers. Circuit breakers should be put on machines to quickly detect sudden surges in electricity and stop the flow of energy. These efforts are the first step to minimize the risk of an arc flash occurring.
It is recommended that arc flash labels be placed at any place in a facility where high electrical currents can exist. The National Electrical Code has a set of standards, under article 110.16 regarding the type of equipment that needs to be marked. You can purchase pre-printed arc flash warning labels, or you can create custom labels with an industrial label printer. Signs should also be placed around the area where the risk can occur, warning workers of the potential danger and informing them about arc flash.
Employers also have the responsibility of providing workers with the proper personal protective equipment (PPE). In cases where employees must work on a machine or piece of equipment that is still energized, they will need to be protected from the potential of an arc flash. PPE for arc flash can range from a hard hat and safety goggles to an arc rated flash suit hood, the level of PPE should correspond to the maximum potential risk based on the amount of electricity going through the equipment or machine.
Finally, implementing a lockout tagout policy and program can greatly reduce the risk of arc flash and is actually an OSHA requirement. LOTO uses a physical locking device to ensure machines are properly shut off and cannot be turned back on until maintenance on the machine or equipment is completed. OSHA requires written procedures, training, and evaluation at a minimum for an energy control program.
If a workplace has electrical equipment or machines, they will need to assess the risks in the workplace, and take the proper steps to reduce the hazard and protect workers. The best electrical safety practices and precautions can save extensive damage to the facility and keep workers from being injured.