Arc Flashes: Hazardous But Preventable

by Daisy Wilson

They could manifest as anything from a bright flash of light to a huge explosion. Arc flashes put a couple of thousand workers and employees into hospitals every year, and it's a very real risk for both employee and employer. Injuries resulting from an incident can range from shallow scratches to death. Fortunately, such incidents are largely preventable with the use of information and the right safety precautions.

Arc Flashes in the Making
Every arc flash is basically a release of electrical energy that occurs when electricity jumps from one phase to another. This kind of transfer can happen when the insulation that usually secures the wire fails, resulting in a connection between two conductors. Normally, the insulation keeps the conducting wire isolated and the voltage static. When the insulation fails, the wire isn't able to sustain the applied voltage, creating an arc flash.

The danger of an arc flash isn't just in the transfer of energy per se but also in the conversion of that energy into heat and mechanical force. An explosion like that can elevate the temperature all the way up to over 19,000 ° C - four times the surface temperature of the sun. Temperatures like those often create superheated balls of gas as well. Just imagine the damage all that could do to the fragile human body.

Aside from generating enough heat to melt everything in the vicinity, arc flashes create waves of pressure that radiate outward, propelling any material in the trajectory. These pressure waves usually turn loose material into shrapnel, which can severely injure anybody who is in the area.

The Hotbeds for Arc Flashes
Certain conditions can increase the likelihood of an arc flash occurring, so prevention should focus heavily on minimizing or even eliminating those conditions. Extremely large amounts of energy are required to sustain a flash, so high-energy equipment - even low voltage ones - can cause an incident. That's where you should place the greatest number of precautions and safety measures.

Preventing Flash Incidents
The National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) 70E, more formally known as the Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace, is a set of standards and guidelines for dealing with the risk of arc flashes. It contains several requirements that employers and owners must fulfill with regard to proper education and risk management.

For example, employers must place warning labels on all equipment where arc flashes could occur - that is, any piece of equipment that carries a high current or at least 120V. Employees that will handle such equipment should also undergo specific training on how to minimize risks while working. In addition, personal protective equipment (PPE) must be provided by the employer and worn by the employee when handling the equipment.

But you can take arc flash prevention even further. Using a few simple safety precautions can actually go a long way in keeping flash incidents from occurring. Power down equipment and disconnect them from the power source before working. Keep tools in the right places at all times. Failing to observe even those small things could result in disasters as big as a literally full-blown arc flash.

It's not just about the cost of the damage to the equipment or facility. Arc flashes almost always result in severe injuries or death for anybody unfortunate enough to be nearby during the incident. That's why it's so important to know about them and keep them from happening in the first place.

About the Author:
Daisy Wilson is an expert author who loves to write on various topics. She writes interesting and informative articles that makes readers know more about the things.