Working with electricity can be a risky job, which is why it’s vital to make sure your workplace is safe at all times and your workers are up to date on the most current and effective safety procedures. There are lots of different risks that may pop up on a job site, but one of the most well-known is the arc flash incident. While these events can be incredibly dangerous, the good news is that they’re also highly preventable.
What is an Arc Flash Incident?
Before we can discuss how to reduce the risk of an arc flash incident, we should take a moment to properly define what an arc flash incident is. According to OSHA, “an arc flash is a phenomenon where a flashover of electric current leaves its intended path and travels through the air from one conductor to another, or to ground.”
These instances can result in property damage and serious injury or even death in workers. What’s more, arc flash incidents can occur in a matter of seconds, giving employees little time to protect themselves if proper procedures aren’t in place. Luckily, there are a few items and strategies that employers can implement within the workplace to ensure that arc flash incidents don’t occur on the job site.
1) Identify Potential Hazards
Before employers can address hazards or risks in the workplace, they have to discover what the hazards are in the first place. Performing a hazard analysis is the best, most thorough way to ensure that all potential hazards are identified before they become bigger issues. Most companies will need to employ an outside source in the form of a professional electrical engineer to make sure the hazard analysis is performed accurately.
Once the hazard analysis is done, it’s important to label any potential risk sites properly and make sure your employees are equipped with the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) to be safe on the job at all times. Not only will these actions help ensure the overall safety of your workplace, but it can also help you avoid violations and fines.
2) Increase Working Distance (remote racking and switching)
The closer that a worker is to an arc flash, the more harm that can come to them. But one of the easiest ways to ensure everyone’s safety in the event of an arc flash incident is by increasing the distance between the worker and the work site. Increasing the working distance is a quick fix that typically doesn’t require a lot of extra equipment.
While increasing the working distance won’t change how damaging an arc flash incident might be (there’s the same amount of energy, after all), it can certainly help your employees. Consider using a remote racking or remote switching tool for your switch breaker or providing your workers with live-line tools.
3) Reduce Fault Currents
When you’re dealing with electrical systems, a more powerful current can result in an intense arc flash incident. However, if there’s less energy, a potential incident won’t be as damaging and dangerous. While you can’t reduce the amount of energy in the current itself, you can reduce the amount of incident energy that a potential arc flash would release. This step can be an important safeguard when working with non-current limiting breakers, or NCLBs.
Perhaps the easiest way to reduce the fault current on your worksite is to utilize high-resistance grounding. Essentially, high-resistance grounding allows the energy to travel down into the ground, limiting the energy that’s emitted as an arc flash incident. Fault currents can also be reduced by using current-limiting reactors or opening ties during maintenance.
4) Decrease Fault Clearing Times
A long arc flash incident gives off much more energy (and can do much more damage) than a short incident. So, decreasing your fault clearance times and reduce the time an arc flash incident would have to do harm. Replacing your existing fuses with current limiting fuses can force the energy in an arc fault to get through the short circuit current much more quickly, therefore reducing clearing time and damage potential.
Another possibility for reducing your fault clearing times is to employ protection zones within your system. If an arc flash incident occurs within one of these protection zones, it will automatically trigger the protective devices in place. These devices have two benefits: they’ll confine the potential damage to one section of your workplace, and they’ll reduce the duration of the arc flash.
5) Utilize Arc-Resistant Switchgear
Typical switchgear is not made in a way that will withstand an arc flash incident should it occur. However, you can get specialized arc-resistant switchgear that will stand up against an arc flash blast and redirect the fire ball and heat energy away from your employee. Some arc-resistant switchgear is resistant solely from the front, while other types are resistant from every angle.
The use of this equipment can certainly aid your other efforts and work in tandem to make an arc flash incident less impactful, but this is not a step that will be sufficient all on its own. Try this method in conjunction with the other tips we’ve provided.
6) Monitor Consistently
Finally, since arc flash incidents can happen at any time, it’s important to remain vigilant. Regular inspections of your worksites can help make sure you’re always complying with OSHA safety standards and eliminating any potential risks before they escalate into more serious incidents. After all, the best way to reduce arc flash incidents is to prevent them in the first place!
Keeping an eye on vital pieces of your workplace, such as insulation and pressure junctions, can help you identify risks early on. While these checks can (and should) be done by you as an employer, it’s also important to bring in an expert for regular evaluations as well. For those located in California and on the West Coast, MTA Electrical Engineers is more than happy to provide a full-scale arc flash analysis or power system analysis for any workplace.
Contact us today to learn more or to inquire about our services.