Arc Flash Protection: Attributes of an Arc Flash

Hoffman Arc Flash Protection Attributes

Statistics on Arc Flash Incidents

Arc flash is not new. It’s a phenomenon that has always occurred, but awareness and protecting against it is now mandated (ref NEC Article 110.16). Although many have never experienced an arc flash, the statistics expose the frequency of these incidents.

There are 5 to 10 arc explosions every day in the U.S. alone, resulting in numerous deaths and over 2,000 people admitted to burn centers for severe arc flash burns each year. The exact numbers of arc flash deaths and injuries are unknown, but what has been established is that due to regulations, safety training, labeling, and wearing personnel protective equipment (PPE), these numbers have been steadily declining.

Causes of Arc Flash

An arc flash is the release of energy caused by an electric arc. This is often triggered by operator movement or contact with energized equipment. Generally, this can happen in one of three ways:

  • Inadequate system design: Using legacy equipment or system configurations that don’t account for risk hazards.
  • Negligent preventative maintenance: Not testing stored energy, not checking for loose terminals, and not cleaning up build-up from dust and debris.
  • Human error: Not following work procedures, making amateur mistakes, and mishandling tools, wires and metal covers.

Even the most qualified electrician can be affected if the right system design, maintenance program, and safety precautions are not implemented.

Effects of Arc Flash on Workers

When an arc flash incident occurs, workers are exposed to astronomical forces that can result in severe injury or death:

  • Intense light and heat: Temperatures of up to 35,000⁰ Fahrenheit, 3.5x hotter than the sun, can cause severe burns.
  • Cooper vapor: Copper wire vaporizes and expands by 67,000 times to the size of a refrigerator, creating pressure waves that can throw workers across rooms.
  • Molten metal and shrapnel: These are sprayed at speeds exceeding 700 mph, faster than a jet plane, capable of penetrating a worker’s body.
  • Sound waves: Sound magnitudes of 140dB can result in hearing loss.

Effects of Arc Flash on Businesses

Aside from worker injury and fatality and the associated emotional turmoil it can have on coworkers and family, arc flash incidents can impact businesses’ bottom lines. A single serious arc flash incident creates a domino effect of costs which could amount to over $1,000,000 for an employer.

  • Destroyed equipment
  • Operation disruptions
  • Fines from OSHA
  • Litigation
  • Higher insurance cost
  • Worker compensation claims

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