From burn injuries to eye damage and even death, arc flashes occur in less than a second and expose workers and equipment to temperatures four times stronger than the sun’s surface. Are you prepared?
An arc flash occurs when an electric current leaves its intended path and travels through the air from one conductor to another, or to ground.
From improperly designed or misused equipment to condensation and even dust, arc flashes are the culprit behinds thousands of lost work days per year, not to mention (hundreds) of thousands of dollars in fines and in some cases, settlements. So, what can you do to protect yourself and your workers from this potentially devastating situation?
Let’s start with your work site.
Generally speaking, there are three factors that determine the severity of an arc flash injury: proximity, temperature, and time. For that reason, the first step in arc flash safety is to audit your work area.
First, identify all locations and equipment that require arc flash hazard assessment(s). This might be done by yourself or someone else qualified on your team, or, you may have to call in a third party. Your evaluation of your work site will inevitably include an estimate of the incident energy for your equipment, taking into consideration the distance between it and your workers.
What is incident energy?
The total amount of energy that hits a surface at a given distance from an arc flash is called incident energy. To put it another way, incident energy is a combination of the arc current, arcing time, the enclosure type, and the distance from the arc. This brings us to our next safety tip.
We know that arc flash burns can be some of the most devastating injuries suffered in the workplace and appropriate personal protective clothing (PPE) can play a huge role in reducing the risk of injuries.
But in order to determine what type of clothing you’ll need, you will have to calculate the incident energy (see above). This is because protective clothing of this nature actually has an arc rating.
The arc rating represents the amount of energy that the PPE can protect you from. Incident energy is expressed by calories per square centimetre so a PPE with a rating of 2 will block 2 cal/cm2. You can learn more about that here.
You’ll also want to make sure your workers have garments that offer a combination of fire protection and high visibility, as well as flame resistance with chemical-splash protection. Now let’s talk about labelling.
Arc flash labels should be placed on equipment to provide clear warning of the potential arc flash hazard present during energized work. Make sure that these labels are located in a place that is easily visible and readable from some distance. Most importantly, revisit this training with your workers often.
It’s important to note that arc flash incidents can be reduced by following procedures correctly. But you’ll also have ensure proper use of tools, preventive maintenance, and training. Taking care of the causes of arc flash is the principal strategy for avoiding exposure but if you’re unsure of where to begin, we can help.