WHY Arc Flash Hazard Analysis?

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What! More red tape . . .why should I bother with arc flash studies?

An unsuspecting electrician opens an electrical panel only to discover that he has let loose a lethally dangerous explosion—light flashes so bright that it permanently damages eyes, heat that is 4 times the surface of the sun incinerates clothing and flesh, molten shrapnel bores upon him with bullet-like speed, and a blast wave that throws him like a rag doll with a pressure wave of hundreds or thousands of pounds per square inch.

Approximately 2000 workers will be admitted to hospital burn units this year due to thermal burns from arc flash or arc blast accidents. These accidents will result in nearly one fatality every day. Although electrical injuries are relatively rare (1 in 494 lost time accidents are electrical in nature) they nevertheless result in a disproportionate number of fatalities as 1 in 20 industrial fatalities are as a result of electrical accidents.

Most of those killed or injured workers were unaware of and unprepared for the level of hazard they were facing. Because of the immensity of the risk, responsible employers recognize the need to facilitate electrical safety through performing arc flash hazard analysis on their electrical equipment.

It costs a bunch. I just don’t see that it is worth the cost and bother.

It has been estimated that an arc flash accident may cost the employer as much as a million dollars or more. Lost production, equipment repair or replacement, lawsuits, skyrocketing insurance premiums and OSHA fines can add up in a hurry. Arc flash hazard analysis is a form of risk management whose relatively small investment provides protection against the potentially huge costs of an arc flash accident.

My equipment is all installed according to the NEC. Doesn’t that guarantee that it is safe?

The NEC is intended to provide equipment installations that are safe from electrical hazards to workers in their normal working configuration. However, electricians and maintenance technicians by definition work on electrical equipment under abnormal circumstances—when they are broken, damaged, or in need of maintenance. These are the times that electrical arc flash accidents are most likely to occur. That is why OSHA asked the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) to produce a standard providing for the safety of the worker exposed to electrical hazards. It is this standard, the NFPA 70E, that requires an arc flash hazard analysis before workers unknowingly expose themselves to potentially lethal hazards.

Hey, there’s no law that says I have to do an arc flash study, is there?

It is true that OSHA regulations do not specifically require an arc flash hazard analysis. It is also true that the NFPA 70E is a consensus standard, not a law. However, OSHA can and does impose fines on companies that ignore the standards of the NFPA 70E. OSHA regulations require employers to provide workplaces that are “free from recognized hazards that are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees.”(1) More specifically OSHA requires that “Safety-related work practices shall be employed to prevent electric shock or other injuries [emphasis added] resulting from either direct or indirect electrical contacts. . . .”(2) OSHA tells employers WHAT to do, that is provide electrical safety, and the NFPA 70E is the handbook telling us HOW to accomplish it. Here is what the NFPA 70E has to say about arc flash hazard analysis: “An arc flash hazard analysis shall determine the Arc Flash Protection Boundary and the personal protective equipment that people within the Arc Flash Protection Boundary shall use.”(3)

The NFPA also calls for equipment labels that identify the level of hazard the electrical worker may be expected to encounter: “Equipment shall be field marked with a label containing the available incident energy or required level of PPE”(4) An effective arc flash hazard analysis identifies these necessary pieces of information for electrical worker safety. It’s not an option, it’s the law!

Read about D.L. Steiner's Arc Flash Study services and how we can assist you in achieving OSHA compliance and a safer workplace for your organization. 

(1) 29 CFR §1903.1

(2) 29 CFR §1910.333

(3) NFPA 70E-2009 Article 110.8(B)(1)(b)

(4) NFPA 70E-2009 Article 110.3(C)