Arc flashes commonly take place when strong, high-amperage currents travel, or “arc”, through the air. This most commonly occurs when high voltage differences exist across a space between the conductors or ground. Many things can cause this flash including: buildup of dust or corrosion, dropping tools, accidental touching, and material failure to name a few. The flash results in extremely bright lights, serious burns, deafening sound blasts (~140 dB – loud as a gun), blast-forces (~2,000 lbs. / sq. ft), heat energy (up to 35,000 degrees F) l, and high-energy shrapnel (often molten metal) that is capable of vaporizing nearby materials, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Clearly shown, due to the dangerous nature of an arc flash the injuries are serious, and can even result in death. The National Fire Protection Association states that between five and 10 arc flash incidents occur every day on the job in the United States alone. These injuries can change a worker’s life forever – if they are lucky enough to survive! As expected, these injuries can place a large financial burden upon a workplace as well due to the cost of downtime, equipment replacement, and medical care / legal fees that can add to an upwards of a couple million dollars.
Although this may be a scare to many, the good news is that it can be prevented. The Safety & Health Assessment & Research for Prevention (SHARP) Program at Washington State Department of Labor lays out the following “Hierarchy of Controls.” By adhering to these, a business can significantly reduce the chance of one of these serious accidents taking place. Their general safety process is to be implemented in the order below.
- Elimination/Substitution – Jobs should be scheduled so that power sources can be de-energized, grounded and tested thereby eliminating the hazard. Also, in a fashion so that outdated or worn piece of electrical equipment be removed from service or a newer safer model replace it.
- Engineering Controls – Prevent accidents by engineering barriers to dangerous locations. Locked electrical vaults and high fences around transformers are examples of engineering controls.
- Administrative Controls –An effective lockout program that includes all necessary training and equipment needed to implement it is an example of an administrative control.
- Work Practice Controls – These are matters of supervisor and worker knowledge, training and education. Does management set expectations for safe work practices? Do workers meet or exceed safety rules and best work practices? Do supervisors encourage and if necessary enforce safety rules and best practices? Is a culture of safety proactively endorsed and practiced by all levels of the organization?
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) – This is normally considered the least effective method of protection. However, sometimes PPE may be necessitated by administrative or work practice controls and by the potential hazards of the work being performed. For instance, wearing insulated gloves, fire resistant clothing and a face shield when working on energized electrical equipment.
In some circumstances, even if a business is following these standards that SHARP provides, there is still a risk for an accident occurring and injuring the worker. If a worker is injured and still in contact with the energized unit – do NOT touch the victim, shut off the power and call 911. If for some reason one cannot de-energize the unit, remove the victim using non-conductive material. If burns have taken place - run cool, not cold, water over the burns and refrain from applying ointments, creams, or ice. Avoid from giving the victim any food or water and always make sure the victim sees a doctor following an electrical shock or burn. By following these steps, a business will reduce the risk of arc flashes in the workplace and know how to treat an injured worker if an injury happens to take place.
Thank you for your time and attention. Let’s make it safe this Monday.
Demand Generation Specialist, Lift’n Buddy, a Southworth Company