The phenomenon of arc flash is a multistep process, but it can happen in a half-second and have severe and permanent consequences for a worker’s life. Addressing this problem will take skill, responsibility, and expertise. Workplaces can easily start this process to master electrical safety and prevent arc flash injuries by avoiding these simple mistakes.
1. Not Controlling Hazardous Energy
Taking electricity and safety for granted creates a serious risk and can spark electrical mayhem. However, it’s easy to get complacent and skip important steps, such as lockout/tagout (LO/TO). In 2017, there were 2,944 LO/TO violations, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. This was a 2% increase from 2016. An efficient LO/TO program should include steps to follow before, during, and after work is complete. For electrical work, it should also follow the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) guidelines.
2. Not Updating an Arc Flash Analysis
An arc flash hazard analysis, using standardized steps, is fundamental to working safely on energized equipment. The NFPA 70E standard covers shock and flash boundaries and gives tables for common situations to establish electrical safety in the workplace. The IEEE 1584 standard offers an experimentally-derived calculation method. Even with these accepted standards, science is still improving, and professionals need to be aware of potential pitfalls.
“My major concern with the way arc flash analysis is done by most folks is that heat flux is not factored in when determining threshold incident energy to second-degree burn,” said Michael Furtak, a certified engineering technologist and editor of ArcAdvisor.com.
OSHA’s regulations provide the minimum acceptable requirements. For optimum electrical safety, workers should look beyond those requirements.
3. Poor Maintenance
As part of vigilant housekeeping, facilities should routinely evaluate electrical components and equipment for age, damage, and proper function. Many common pieces of equipment need periodic maintenance, which often is forgotten or ignored. Not only could sticky switches, old control panels, and loose wires be a potential arc flash hazard, they can also cause fires, short circuits, and other equipment failures.
4. Workers Lack of Training and Experience
Continuous training is important for any industry. Make sure electrical assessments, maintenance procedures, diagrams, and equipment specifications are up to date and easily accessible for the types of work that will be done. Make sure all workers are aware of high-voltage areas, electrical substations, and underground utility lines. Communicate important messages through signs, labels, and employee training by using arc flash safety resources. Before any live work, have all affected workers read the energized electrical work permit; this way, they will know what tools they need for the job, including personal protective equipment, and have an opportunity to ask questions and voice concerns.
5. Improper PPE and Communication
While personal protective equipment is the last line of defense, it’s necessary to protect workers from electric shock and burns. Be sure it meets or exceeds the minimum arc rating (AR) for the situation, as assessed by your arc flash hazard analysis, and posted on your arc flash labels. Other signs and labels can help provide key information and reinforce safety in the face of electrical hazards. For example, mark arc flash boundaries and the clearances for electrical control panels by using floor tape.
Workplaces small and large can improve their electrical safety program with a few simple steps. Defending against electrical hazards such as arc flash requires attention to details, communication, and an ongoing commitment to safety best practices. Having preventative safety measures for electrical work in place optimizes total facility safety and efficiency.