Working with or around live electrical equipment takes lots of caution and care. Unfortunately, electrical accidents are all too common on industrial and commercial jobs – sometimes with bad injuries or worse.
One type of electrical hazard, arc flashing, happens when electric current zips through the air and causes a flashover. These arc flashes give off intense heat, molten metal, and harmful gases that can really burn you up.
Thankfully, by following the right safety protocols and using protective gear, we can significantly reduce the risk of getting hurt by an arc flash. Let me walk through how electrical arc flash works and some ways to look out for ourselves.
Understanding Electrical Arc Flashing
When electricity meets resistance, it puts out heat energy. During an arc flash, a massive amount of heat and power instantly gets released through the air as the electric current passes between two conductors or from a conductor to the ground.
Temperatures can skyrocket over 35,000 degrees Fahrenheit in an arc flash – hot enough to melt most metals or light flammables on fire. The high pressures cause heat, molten metal, and plasma to blow outward from the arc column.
Arc flashing most commonly occurs during equipment failures, human errors like contact with live circuits, or just plain accidents. Faulty or poorly maintained electrical gear increases the chances, as do improper work procedures and lacking the right safety precautions. Knowing how and why arc flashes form helps when figuring out ways to cut the hazards.
Engineering Controls for Arc Flash Safety
The best way to protect people from arc flash exposure is designing the risks out of the system using engineering controls whenever possible. For instance, protective devices like current-limiting fuses and circuit breakers quickly catch faults and de-energize circuits. Also, kitting out switchgear and panels with arc-resistant materials reduces the threat.
Blocking worker access to live parts further prevents accidental contact leading to arcing. Sensors that disconnect power sources if barriers open beef up protection too. Regular inspections proactively spot loose connections, rust, and other weaknesses before they cause dangerous faults.
Work Policies for Electrical Safety
Administrative controls through comprehensive work policies and procedures provide important safeguards when all engineering controls have been implemented.
A key policy is ensuring strict lockout/tagout procedures are followed to properly de-energize and isolate any circuits before maintenance or servicing of equipment. Risk assessments are also required to understand potential hazards and determine appropriate personal protective equipment.
Furthermore, regular electrical safety training and refresher courses reinforce safe work habits and emergency response procedures.
Protective Clothing for Electrical Arc Flash Situations
Even with robust controls, live parts still present dangers. Appropriate personal protective equipment acts as vital protection. Flame-resistant fabrics commonly used include cotton, Nomex, and modacrylic blends fashioned into pants and long-sleeve shirts.
Jackets, coveralls, and multilayer systems further shield the entire body. Specialized flash suits cover the wearer, protecting them with a hood, face shield, and gloves. Hard hats deflect debris with an attached face shield.
Combined with administrative practices, reliable protective gear allows safe work on energized systems.
Companies can significantly reduce electrical hazards by prioritizing engineering controls, implementing robust safety policies, and providing proper electrical arc flash training. This establishes a culture where both prevention and protection allow workers to look out for one another. While the best solutions remove dangers altogether, quality personal protective gear importantly serves as the final safeguard for those who still face risks near live circuits.