Article was originally published on July 19, 2017, and updated for accuracy and relevance.
Electrical workers face many dangers on the job, but few (if any) are more devastating than an arc flash. This electrical release of energy can be hotter than the surface of the sun, producing an explosion with the force of eight sticks of dynamite.
It is estimated that 10 arc flash incidents involving more than one death occur every day in the U.S. But these troubling facts aren’t always enough to convince businesses and workers to take the right precautions. Many myths still surround arc flash, which can prevent them from being taken seriously. That’s why it’s critical that companies do everything they can to ensure this danger is not overlooked.
Follow this five-point plan to give your workers the tools, knowledge and support they need to avoid a potential catastrophe.
1. Set the Right Safety Standards
Employers own the most responsibility when it comes to arc flash safety. Business leaders must be well-versed on potential risks in order to set the right precedents for their company. Implementing a strong lockout/tagout program is also imperative. This is a proven way to safeguard both employees and equipment and reduce the chance of an accident. Avoiding lost-time incidents and machine downtime will also help you stay productive and profitable.
After establishing a program, be sure to reiterate how essential it is to worker safety. Employers may set these standards, but it’s up to employees to follow them. They must always be vigilant of jobsite conditions and possible hazards while adhering to their company’s procedures.
2. Give Employees the Right Resources
Personal protective equipment (PPE) is one of the first lines of defense against an arc flash. Without the proper attire, your workers are more likely to sustain serious burns or other injuries—or worse. Hearing protection, face shields, and leather footwear are some essential items for electrical workers. Employers should reference OSHA and NFPA 70E to learn more about appropriate PPE for arc flash and other electrical hazards.
3. Train, Train, and Train
Training is one of the surest ways to keep your workers safe from an arc flash. Consider offering education to new employees who may face this danger on the job. Refresher courses are also an effective way to inform employees on new risks and regulations and ensure continued safety. You can also encourage your teams to have safety talks or forums where they can share knowledge and potentially life-saving advice.
4. Test Your Surroundings
It’s important to assess how susceptible your environment is to an arc flash. Conducting an arc flash analysis involves gathering and documenting information like system voltages, equipment class, and arc duration. This will help facility owners determine proper working distance and PPE for different scenarios. The NFPA 70E standard offers guidelines on how to perform these assessments.
5. Properly Label Equipment
Workers may not always know where an arc flash can occur, so be sure to label equipment with proper warning signs and instructions. This will help personnel easily identify potential danger zones and know what to do should an incident occur.