06 Sep 2013

Are your employees protected against a potentially lethal arc flash?

Arc Flash is a phenomenon that occurs when a flashover of electric current leaves its intended path and travels through the air from one conductor to another, or to ground. It is potentially lethal when people are in close proximity to the light and heat associated with the flash and not using the proper personal protective equipment (PPE). Fortunately, injuries can be prevented through active precautionary measures.

Manufacturing facilities can be busy, loud, and chaotic environments at times, but the electrical equipment used in these environments must be maintained regularly for both performance and safety concerns. An Arc Flash could be caused by some very simple things, including dust, dropped tools, accidental touching of equipment, condensation, material failures, corrosion, and of course faulty installation.

OSHA requires that adequate protection be provided to safeguard workers from potential injury. In reality, the best prevention is a combination of analysis, equipment labeling, training, and personal protective equipment for each employee who might be in proximity to an arc flash hazard.

Even if the facility was assessed for Arc Flash hazards in the past, any changes to the environment, including but not limited to changes to the utility equipment that supplies electricity or changes to the overcurrent protection or wiring within your facility, could warrant a new assessment to ensure that the workplace is safe and that the facility is operating at maximum productivity.

In most organizations, it's up to the Facility Managers, Operations/Plant Managers, or Corporate Safety Managers to review the company's ongoing Arc Flash hazard assessments, and to ensure that electrical equipment is properly labeled and employees are well-schooled in safety precautions. Statistics show that 5-10 arc flash accidents involving fatality or serious injury occur every day in the United States. Potential costs to a company could reach $5-10 million or more in direct and indirect costs, including medical treatment and potential legal action.

It's important to remember that there's no room for error when working with electricity and Arc Flash. However, there is room for active protection. It just might save someone's life.

Send your comments on Arc Flash protection, or share your experiences. What does your company do for active protection?

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