Essential Arc Flash Safety Procedures

An arc flash is an accidental electrical explosion or discharge resulting from a phase-to-phase or phase-to-ground connection. Short-circuits or faults in electrical units are to blame for these potentially deadly flashes. When an electrical arc becomes airborne and shoots out of the power equipment, a flare of heat up to 35,000°F comes out like a lightning strike. And no, the sun isn’t even this hot.

Insulation failure, improper installation, condensation, corrosion, or normal wear and tear are a perfect recipe for arc flashes. And although arc flashes are reported every day in the United States, their commonality doesn’t make them less dangerous. Arc flashes create damaged equipment, personal injuries such as external and internal burns, hearing and eye damage, and in worse case scenarios, death.

EPC technicians have visited sites in post-arc flash accidents, where body bags and stricken emergency personnel make for a sobering setting. Electricity is dangerous and unpredictable, yet highly preventable with proper precautions.

Assessing the Risks

All companies in an industrial electrical setting are mandated to comply with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) guidelines. NFPA 70E “helps companies and employees avoid workplace injuries and fatalities due to shock, electrocution, arc flash, and arc blast.”

NFPA 70E similarly mandates that companies perform arc flash assessments—a complex process completed by a professional electrical engineer familiar with the intricacies—to determine the risk of arc flash incidents. It also dictates the personal protective equipment (PPE) that technicians within the arc flash boundary are required to wear at all times. Arc flash studies must be performed every five years.

Clarity is key

Labeled equipment capable of producing an arc flash is critical to reducing incidents. Therefore, NFPA 70E requires all electrical equipment “likely to require examination, adjustment, servicing, or maintenance while energized” to be labeled with an arc flash risk identification. The label must specify the severity of the risk, the arc flash boundary, and the PPE required for technicians.

These  warning labels must be clear, concise, and meet industry safety standards. Companies that negelct to include warning labels risk leaving themselves vulnerable to workplace accidents and expensive lawsuits. In the instance of an arc flash accident, proper labeling will reduce a company’s liability.

Which Gear? Switchgear.

A comprehensive switchgear maintenance program is key to decreasing the risk of arc flash incidents. Fundamental to switchgear maintenance programs are infrared (IR) scans, which detect loose or overloaded connections that lead to arc flashes. In addition, infrared scans locate areas of excess heat caused by defects in connections and components or increased resistance. IR scans mean problems can be addressed and corrected before a component fails. This means damage can be avoided, while safety hazards and productivity losses are limited.

Equally crucial in switchgear maintenance is proper cleaning. A switchgear’s insulation, conductive materials, and other components will eventually deteriorate due to excess moisture, dirt, and dust. Scheduled cleaning and lubricating of a switchgear reduce the chances of arc flashes and prolong the device’s functional life.

Finally, proper torquing is a critical part of scheduled switchgear maintenance. Loose connections can not only result in energy loss—they can cause overheating, sparking, and even arcing. Torque levels should be checked to ensure they per with the switchgear manufacturer’s recommended range.

When you’re ready to take arc flash maintenance by the reigns, contact EPC Electric.  Since 1984, Emergency Power Controls, Inc. has set the service standard for ensuring power to facilities like hospitals, high-rises, military bases, data centers, and more. Contact us by calling (714) 777-5993.

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