by Julie Davis
Project Coordinator

Prior to joining The EI Group, Inc. (EI) as a Project Coordinator, I had heard common buzz words such as “Arc Flash,” “PPE,” and “staying OSHA compliant,” but never delved into the subject further. Having an extensive musical theatre background and very minimal electrical safety experience at the time, surprisingly did not prepare me for this vocation. Since joining EI however, I have learned a great deal about arc flash, the importance of companies staying compliant as well as the education employees must have in order to protect themselves from arc flash incidents when working nearby or on electrical equipment.

OSHA describes arc flash as “a phenomenon where a flashover of electric current leaves its intended path and travels through the air from one conductor to another, or to ground. The results are often violent and when a human is in close proximity to the arc flash, serious injury and even death can occur.” I had never experienced what an arc flash incident looked like until I attended EI’s NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) 70E training course and saw a video example of this phenomenon. A warning; videos of arc flash incidents may contain material that may be harmful or traumatizing to some audiences.

Do you ever pass by electrical equipment and notice the “Warning” or “Danger” labels? Those labels are calculated from arc flash studies that engineer the proper PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) to wear, along with the distance required to stay away from the equipment, referred to as the “Arc Flash boundary.” People need to pay close attention to these labels as they help identify the boundaries and level of PPE to keep people safe.

PPE can include the following:

  • Safety Glasses (to protect your eyes from the blinding arc blast)
  • Hearing Protection (to protect your ears from sounds louder than a jet engine)
  • Arc-Rated Clothing (to prevent your body from third degree burns)

Along with PPE, the distance from electrical equipment is important to keep in mind as the pressure from arc blasts could crush your insides causing an instant fatality. Arc flash causes both shock and burn, so it’s important to wear rubber for shock protection and leather for heat protection. Furthermore, clothing should cover all exposed areas with the outer layers being arc rated and under layers made of cotton or fabric that won’t melt. If you know someone who works around or on electrical equipment, ask them if they are wearing the proper PPE and if their facility is up to date on their arc flash study. You can help save lives!

Arc flash studies should be reviewed and updated every five years, or if new electrical equipment has been added to the facility. This helps ensure the safety of employees and maintains OSHA compliance. Companies should pay extra close attention to this as failing to comply with OSHA standards can lead to employee injuries along with lawsuits or costly fines stemming from violations of electrical standards.

Aside from conducting arc flash assessments and renewing arc flash studies with review and updates, a great way to ensure safety includes training employees. Companies that incorporate EI’s NFPA 70E training course into their programs show that they are serious about putting their employees’ safety first. NFPA 70E is utilized to comply with OSHA’s standard for electrical safety in the workplace. Employees who work around or on electrical equipment should have knowledge of electrical awareness and how to take precautions to best protect themselves. Most incidents are caused by a lack of attentiveness to surroundings. Furthermore, employees who attend EI’s NFPA 70E training course receive credit hours and a certificate acknowledging they have completed the training. OSHA mandates electrical safety training to all employees who work on or troubleshoot electrical equipment every three years or after failed inspections.

How Can We Help?
Overall, the importance of electrical safety, especially anything arc flash related, determines whether people return home after work without any incidents, or sometimes at all. Stay informed and reach out to anyone you know working around or on electrical equipment to see if they are staying OSHA compliant in their workplace. For more information regarding EI’s electrical safety services, please contact Julie Davis at (919) 501-3998 or [email protected].

References:
https://www.osha.gov/sites/default/files/2018-12/fy07_sh-16615-07_arc_flash_handout.pdf