For electrical workers, there’s no danger more worrying than an arc flash. Non-contact electrical burns from an arc flash are the biggest cause of electrical injuries in the mining industry. But as dangerous as an arc flash is for mining personnel, companies face further concerns such as lost man-hours, lawsuits, fines, equipment damage and facility downtime. Reducing the risk of an arc flash doesn’t require a complete facility overhaul or redesign. By updating and refurbishing existing equipment, you can create a safer environment economically.
Arc Flash in Mining
Establishing a safe environment starts with understanding what an arc flash is and the dangers it poses. An arc flash event releases a tremendous amount of energy in the form of thermal heat, toxic fumes, pressure waves, blinding light, sound waves and explosions. This burst of energy can result in serious injury to personnel, including:
- critical burns,
- collapsed lungs,
- loss of vision,
- ruptured eardrums,
- puncture wounds,
- and even death.
Reducing the Risk
Protecting personnel from these hazards starts with reducing risk. Improve your facility’s overall arc flash safety through training, labeling and analysis. Invest in products that reduce or eliminate exposure to dangerous situations. It’s also important to test your environment to see how likely an arc flash event may be. Analyze the environment by gathering information about system voltages and equipment class to conduct an arc flash analysis. By improving safety practices and reducing arc flash risk, mining companies can reduce or eliminate unplanned downtime, equipment damage, fines, lawsuits, injuries and fatalities.
Implementing Industry Best Practices
As you start reducing arc flash risk, be sure to follow industry standards. Set a goal for your organization to meet or exceed the standards outlined in the NFPA 70E: Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace. The NFPA 70E lists safe work practices that reduce exposure to electrical hazards. Developed in part with OSHA, this standard includes requirements specifically geared toward reducing arc flash. Mining companies should also reference the IEEE 1584 — Guide for Performing Arc Flash Hazard Calculations. Use this guide to learn techniques for determining arc flash hazard distance and the incident energy employees may be exposed to.
Leveraging Existing Assets
One of the most effective ways to reduce the risk of arc flash exposure is incorporating a life extension and modernization (LEM) program into your equipment. This solution prolongs the life of existing systems by providing aftermarket services or updating and refurbishing electrical equipment from any manufacturer. LEM programs bring your existing equipment into full compliance. No matter the age of the equipment, this solution enhances safety by replacing components, renewing parts and providing technology upgrades.
The benefits of implementing an LEM program include:
- Lengthens equipment life, helping systems to operate as expected
- Improves efficiency and performance of existing electrical installation base
- Provides limited downtime
- Reduces procurement costs by limiting new equipment replacement
- Lowers ongoing maintenance and unplanned downtime
- Allows equipment to adapt to changing system demands
- Improves safety for maintenance and production personnel
- Upgrades factory warranty protection
The Right Time for LEM
A modernization program is more applicable in some situations than others. Modernizing electrical equipment is effective in instances where transformers have been added. If space is limited or no capital funds are available for new switchgear, an LEM program can provide a viable option. For companies where downtime is not a possibility or there is a need for lower maintenance costs, modernizing existing equipment is an economical way to increase safety without a significant investment. And overall, an LEM program is appropriate when there is a serious need for lower arc flash levels.
Greater Safety; Fewer Costs
Creating a safe work environment free from electrical hazards doesn’t have to come with a big price tag. While nothing can truly eliminate the possibility of an arc flash, you can reduce the risk economically by making the most of existing equipment.