Although not as common as some workplace accidents, arc flash injuries can be one of the most devastating. Because of the violent nature of an arc flash exposure (the temperature can reach more than 5000°F), the injury to the worker is almost always serious – even resulting in death. Every day in the United States, between 5 and 10 arc flash explosions occur.
So what exactly is an arc flash? An electrical arc flash, as defined by National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), is “a dangerous condition associated with the release of energy caused by an electric arc,” when an electrical insulation or isolation between conductors is broken or can no longer withstand the applied voltage. Basically, an arc flash occurs when an electric current leaves its intended path and travels through the air from one conductor to another, or to ground. Arc flash can be caused by something as simple as a rodent, dropped tool, or even dust near an energized conductor.
Often, protecting workers from electrical-related accidents can be as simple as turning off electrical circuits and equipment before beginning work, and using proper personal protective equipment (PPE) when power cannot be shut off. There are standards in place designed to protect employees while working on or near energized equipment, including the NFPA 70E Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace and new OSHA arc flash regulations.
Although some employers may be reluctant to enforce the 70E compliance standard due to the costs of increased PPE, it should be looked at as a type of arc flash insurance. Companies that do not comply with this standard may be subject to claims for personal injury and incidents resulting to death, which could cost millions of dollars in legal fees, not to mention hefty OSHA fines.