When developing a system of safety procedures for your work site you should not overlook the dangers of an arc flash in which heats of over 35,000-degrees fahrenheit can be released in an instant leading to severe trauma and/or death.
In electrical terms and “arc” refers to the energy that transmits through the air between two conductive points, a small example can be the static shock you may feel when reaching for a door knob. An arc flash refers to the energy released from an electric arc that manifests in the form of intense heat and light from high voltage equipment and can include pressure waves that are released that can cause physical harm.
When electrons travel back and forth on conductive objects they emit a charge on the surface of that object and it becomes energized. The voltage of large pieces of electrical equipment such as substations, switchgears, and other major electrical components can cause these electrons to energize the surrounding air of that piece of equipment. At that point all that is needed to create an arc flash is another conductive surface such a metal tool or even a person’s limb such as their hand unknowingly reaching in towards an electrically charged area. Unattended high-voltage equipment left sitting inside vaults or electrical rooms that have gone without being properly maintained can be potentially dangerous. Dust is conductive and excessive dust build-up can be flung in the air if a person unknowingly opens a door too fast, leading to an arc flash in the presence of that high-voltage equipment.
The amount of arc flash related injuries and incidents vary depending on who is compiling a report. In part this is due to incidents not being recorded and reported to a single entity. In many cases the research is conducted by independent organizations. Industrial Safety and Hygiene News once reported that 30,000 arc flash incidents occur annually which led to about 400 deaths per year.
There are steps that can be taken to reduce the likelihood and the potential injuries of an arc flash such as equipment, training, and engineering designs. If an arc flash is not prevented then it is important you also take measures in limiting the potential damage,
First, if you are fortunate enough to be in the beginning stages of installation of a major piece of electrical equipment, design a structure that increases the distance from hazzards. Also make sure you include proper warning signs on the equipment that lists the strength of the voltage, the potential range of an arc flash, and lists recommended PPE.
The CDC recommends that when performing work on an electrical circuit, you should first create “electrically safe work conditions”. To do this you should identify and disconnect all power sources, perform the necessary lock-out tag-out, and test for voltage.
Additionally it is important that proper PPE is used that can help reduce the amount of damage sustained during possible arc flashes. It is also important that management take the necessary steps in enforcing safe work practices, provide necessary training, and perform proper maintenance to limit the risk of an arc flash. There are various training programs available from many companies to help train and protect your team and should be sought out if you are looking for proper education and training on arc flash safety.