Electricity is really just organized lightning.-George Carlin
No matter what your age, education level, or work experience, electricity is dangerous. The wrong thing placed, pulled, or touched can result in a serious, if not fatal injury. Plants, factories and other workplaces across the United States understand this; both from experience and the fact that OSHA has such strict regulations. One of the most frightening electrical concerns is arc flash. The following tips are meant to help companies stay in compliance with OSHA regulations, while also helping them achieve the highest level of arc flash safety possible:
Safety starts with knowledge. Workers who are at risk need to know the hazards and what they can do to prevent injuries and fatalities. Any employee who works with electrical hazards should have in-depth training; so that they can know why arc flash occurs, how they can prevent it, and the practices necessary to prevent injuries.
The basics of the training should include teaching workers to recognize hazards. This might include such common causes of arc flash such as insulation failure, buildup of corrosion, impurities and dust on insulating surfaces and snapped leads at the connection. Another important aspect that should be highlighted are human errors; such as improper work procedures, accidental contact with electrical systems and dropped tools.
Workers should also know that when they have to work with energized equipment, abiding by proper protocol is vital; such as de-energizing equipment before starting work, wearing the proper personal protective equipment, continuously assessing risks, and always following safe work practices. Workers must also be aware that only in rare circumstances should they be working on live equipment greater than 50 volts. The exceptions to this rule are:
- Voltage testing for diagnostic purposes
- Impracticality due to operation limitations
- Impracticality due to equipment design
- If de-energizing introduces increased or additional hazards
2. Personal Protective Equipment
Unfortunately, there’s only so much training and prevention you can do. Sometimes arc flash just happens. If this is the case, you want your workers to be as protected as possible. This is why personal protective equipment (PPE) is absolutely necessary. You need to provide this equipment to employees who will be working within range of arc flash energy and flash protection boundaries, or when working with live power sources. This type of gear includes flame-resistant clothing, helmets or headgear, face shields, safety glasses, insulating gloves and non-metal shoes. The equipment you give out should at least meet, if not exceed, the arc flash rating of any hazard that they will be working on.
The best way to ensure your workers have comprehensive protection is to providing them with kits. The Salisbury PRO-WEAR 12 Cal Arc Flash Kit is rated as a hazard risk category 2 and comes with a hooded jacket, safety glasses and overpants. To get a kit that protects for hazard risk category 3, the Salisbury PRO-WEAR 31 Cal Arc Flash Kit is optimal. It comes with an arc flash coat, bib overalls, PRO-HOOD, hard hat, SKBAG and safety glasses. But the ultimate protection can be provided with the Salisbury Premium Light Weight PRO-WEAR 40 Cal Arc Flash Kit. This kit is made for hazard risk category 4 and includes an arc flash coat, safety glasses, bib overalls, SKBAG, a hard hat and a PRO-HOOD.
3. Facility Oversight
The management team of any facility is responsible for employee training and the provision of personal protective equipment. But they are also responsible for overseeing other aspects of the facility to keep it safe, including issuing any permits for work that is to be done on energized equipment and by auditing job sites on a regular basis.
This auditing of job sites includes analyzing electrical hazard sites and performing risk assessments. When it comes to analysis of electrical hazards, there is a guide provided by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. The guide helps with calculating arc flash hazards during all phases of installation, as well as showing the safe protection boundaries around any equipment. In addition to an electrical hazard site analysis, a risk assessment should also be performed on any piece of electrical equipment that has been rated at more than 50 volts when in an energized state. This assessment will determine if any protective measures should be taken, as well as the likelihood and severity of potential injury. If the organization does not have experienced electrical engineering personnel who are trained in the most advanced systems, it can be a good idea to outsource these services; so that they can ensure the optimum functionality and compatibility of inter-connected and sophisticated equipment.
Finally, up-to-date and accurate documentation and records of electrical equipment should be kept. Management should have an equipment history that begins with installation and includes any upgrades, additions or changes that have been made to the electrical system. Single-line diagrams should reflect changes in order to provide maintenance personnel with accurate information if they need to correct a problem; such as a tripped breaker or an overheated transformer.
4. Preventative Strategies
Outside of providing the training and protective equipment necessary, it's imperative to maintain close oversight of electrical hazard sites and electrical equipment; and there are several strategies that can be used to prevent arc flash. First and foremost, electrical maintenance should be regularly performed on all components in the electrical distribution system. These systems age and slowly degrade. The only way to prevent this and keep systems as safe as possible is to update them. In other words, just like a car needs to be taken in for a regular service, electrical equipment needs to be maintained.
Other methods for mitigating arc flash hazards are reducing arc flash energy and keeping workers in safe locations. The point of reducing the arc flash energy is to allow routine tasks to be performed on the equipment. This could be accomplished through light sensing technology and other specialized relaying. When it comes to keeping workers at a safe distance, this can be achieved by using remote racking for any circuit breakers when maintenance activities need to be performed.
Are you looking for more arc flash information? Check out Medsafe's blog : "Are You Arc Flash Compliant"