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What Workers Should Know About Arc Flash

Another electrical hazard that workers should be aware of is arc flash. Here's some important information to share with your workers on the topic.

What Is Arc Flash?
Arc flash can cause traumatic injuries and death. If you'll be working on equipment that cannot be de-energized before performing the work, it's essential that you have some knowledge about arc flash and how to protect yourself.

Arc flash can be described as a short circuit through air, in which large amounts of light and heat energy are released explosively from electrical equipment. These waves of energy can damage eyesight and hearing, and the superheated ball of gas accompanying the flash can cause burns over your entire body or in your lungs. In addition, pieces of loose or damaged equipment or tools can end up flying through the air.

The amount of heat produced by an arcing event in low and medium energy equipment (480V) can be very large. The amount of heat a worker is exposed to during an arc flash depends how much energy passes through the system, how long the worker is exposed to the energy and the distance that the worker is from where the arc flash is produced.

What Precautions Should You Take?
Generally, when workers need to perform maintenance or repair work on electrical equipment, that equipment should be de-energized and OSHA's lockout/tagout procedures followed to protect workers from exposure to electrical hazards.

However, there are situations where the electrical equipment must remain energized during work. If that's the case, then NFPA 70E (the National Fire Protection Association Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace) specifies the practices that need to be followed to protect workers from the hazards of the electrical energy.

These include:

  • Get training so you can recognize energized equipment and how to work safely with it;
  • Know that the employer is required to conduct an arc flash analysis before such work is done. The analysis decides what level the electrical hazard is, so a flash protection boundary can be established. It also helps you select proper personal protective clothing and equipment;
  • While working on it, keep an "Arc Flash Hazard" label placed on energized equipment.

Arc flash is dangerous. The explosions that occur can lead to traumatic injuries, as well as to severe burns that can affect the entire body and the lungs. Death from these injuries is a real possibility.