Arc Flash Hazards and How to Comply with Regulations

November 4, 2019

 

What is an Arc Flash 

 

An arc flash is the light and heat that is produced as part of an arc fault, which is a type of electrical explosion or discharge that results from a low-impedance connection or another voltage phase in an electrical system. SEAM Group offers a service called arc flash hazard analysis, where our engineering professionals determine the amount of energy generated in an arc flash incident and provide information to keep employees safe at work.

 

Jay Smith, Director of Electrical Safety Services at SEAM Group, joined us during our recent webinar to dive into the details when it comes to arc flashes and what organizations can do in order to comply with current regulations.

 

What to Know About Arc Flash Hazards 

 

Complying with NFPA 70E

 

Regardless of the industry you work in, if you have employees that are exposed to or work around energized, electrical equipment, it’s important that you implement NFPA 70E — an industry-recognized safety standard of the National Fire Protection Association that covers electrical safety requirements for employers and employees in compliance with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). 

 

There are an estimated 30,000 arc flash incidents per year, resulting in an estimated 7,000 burn injuries and 400 fatalities annually. More than 80% of these fatalities are due to burns and not electrocution. NFPA 70E is revised every three years in order to further reduce these incidents as it’s impossible to predict how an arc flash will behave. 

 

Difficulties of Implementing NFPA 70E

 

The most difficult part of implementing NFPA 70E to protect personnel from arc flash dangers is the culture change required — whether that’s the culture of your management or your end-users, such as electricians or maintenance staff. 

 

Culture change is difficult to achieve because it’s time-consuming and can be quite difficult. Everyone throughout your facility and at all levels has to understand and be willing to change. The most difficult part about culture change is that you can’t pay someone to do it for you — it will take time for everyone to buy-in. 

 

When it comes to changing your culture, you’ll have to involve the key people in your company. This may include individuals from safety management, engineering, maintenance, and maybe even your end-users. Getting your key people on board early in the process will make it easier to bring everyone else on board later.

 

One of your key people might be an employee with more than 30 years of experience, who has an in-depth understanding of arc flash dangers and electrical systems. This is an example of someone you’ll want to get involved in the culture change process. If you get him or her on board, everyone under them is more likely to follow suit. 

 

It’s important to make sure your people understand why you’re doing this. Training will be key to the process. Be sure to document that they know what they’re doing, the policies they should be following, the gear they’re wearing, etc. Everything needs to be verifiable. If an incident occurs, you want to be able to look back and say that all your employees were qualified to do the work and provide their qualifications. 

 

Lockout/Tagout 

 

Having a lockout/tagout procedure in place does not exempt you from NFPA 70E. The actual process of performing an electrical lock-out is considered hazardous by both OSHA and NFPA 70E. 

 

In order to perform a lock-out, a meter is tested on a known live circuit to make sure it’s functioning properly. Once it’s been de-energized, it is then tested again to make sure it has been de-energized properly and that no other power source is feeding it. The meter is then tested on another live circuit to ensure that it didn’t malfunction during verification. This test exposes you to hazardous energy, which is why even though you’ve taken the important step of implementing a lockout/tag-out procedure, you’re still not exempt from the law. 

 

Incident Energy Analysis

 

An incident energy analysis is a newer term for an arc flash hazard assessment. The primary goal of an incident energy analysis is to identify the hazards you’re potentially facing and engineer them out of your system. If they’re unable to be removed, then the goal is to get them to a point where they’re safely manageable.

 

The Three Phases of Incident Energy Analysis

 

1. Data Collection

 

Data collection is the first step in the inc