By Roger Ford, Safety & Training Coordinator
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Q: It seems like red tape. Why bother with arc flash hazard analysis?
A: Because of the danger arc flash poses. Picture this: an electrician opens a panel – only to have an explosion go off in his face! The flash of light is so bright it permanently damages his eyes. Heat up to four times hotter than the surface of the sun incinerates his clothing, burns his skin. Molten shrapnel rips into him with bullet speed. A blast pressure wave throws him back like a rag doll.
Over 2,000 U.S. workers enter burn units each year due to injuries from arc flash accidents—that’s more than 5 people per day! On-the-job electrical accidents are rare (only 1 in 494 lost-time accidents are electrical in nature), yet they account for 1 in 20 job-related deaths. Many of these are due to arc flash.
Most workers are unprepared for the danger they face. Because arc flash is so deadly, responsible employers have arc flash hazard analysis performed on their electrical systems so these dangers can be known.
Q: Is this analysis worth the cost?
A: Yes, considering a single arc flash accident can cost a company $1 million or more. Lost production, equipment repairs, lawsuits, skyrocketing insurance premiums, and OSHA fines add up in a hurry! As a form of risk management, an arc flash hazard analysis is an inexpensive way to protect against the huge liabilities that can result from an arc flash accident.
Q: My equipment is installed per the NEC. Doesn’t that mean it is safe?
A: NEC’s intent is to ensure electrical equipment is installed so that it does not present an electrical hazard under its normal working configuration. Maintenance techs typically work on equipment under abnormal conditions: when it is broken, damaged, or needing maintenance. This is when an arc flash is most likely to occur!
The danger malfunctioning (and even properly installed) electrical equipment poses is why OSHA asked the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) to produce a safety standard that addresses how to protect workers whose jobs expose them to electrical hazards. The result, NFPA 70E Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace, stipulates that arc flash hazard analysis should be performed before workers expose themselves to potential electrical hazards.
Q: No law says I have to complete an arc flash study, does it?
A: No, OSHA regulations do not specifically mandate completing arc flash hazard analysis, and NFPA 70E is a consensus standard, not law. But OSHA does require workplaces to be “free from recognized hazards that are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees.” For what makes an electrical safe workplace, OSHA looks to NFPA 70E.
Regarding arc flash hazard analysis, NFPA 70E says, among other things, “Arc flash hazard analysis shall determine the Arc Flash Protection Boundary, the incident energy at the working distance, and the personal protective equipment that people within the Arc Flash Protection Boundary shall use” (§130.5). Arc flash hazard analysis for an electrically safe workplace is required by NFPA 70E. And since an electrically safe workplace is the law, not an option, OSHA can – and does! – fine organizations that ignore these and other arc flash hazard related NFPA 70E safety mandates.