When you hear the word “arc flash” what does this mean?  And where does one go to learn more? Since 2007, there has been a major shift in the way we work on energized equipment. All because of those two words, “arc flash.” The result of this shift is that employees now don proper personal protection (PPE) and guidelines have been put in place due to the amount of injuries occurring in the workplace related to energized electrical equipment.

“An arc flash is a short between the phase conductor and either the grounded/grounding conductor or another phase conductor.”

Previously, technicians would receive a machine repair call and then go out to the machine and fix it, but that is not the case today. Because of arc flash, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have tightened regulations governing those exposed to electrical hazards. Today, technicians must follow an energized electrical work program that identifies the hazards and lists the appropriate levels of protection. Furthermore, this program identifies the need for PPE and who is allowed to perform the work. The overall goal of the NFPA is to reduce hazards so those who work on electrical equipment can proceed safely.

So what exactly is an arc flash? Basically, it is a short between the phase conductor and either the grounded/grounding conductor or another phase conductor.  If you have ever witnessed a screw driver coming in contact with an energized part and the metal enclosure surrounding it, then you have seen an arc flash. There will be a flash of light, a puff of smoke and a popping sound. The size of the arc determines the size of the flash and the amount of flames or heat. An arc flash at 480 volts can be deadly and destroy electrical equipment, which in turn will create an unexpected power outage. An arc flash can happen at and is not limited to; a 120 volt duplex receptacle, a dry type indoor transformer or a 480 volt switchgear. There isn’t a way to truly put a dollar amount on an arc flash explosion, however there are pieces that have a specific dollar amount attached to them.  The real price paid could potentially be loss of life.

Now that we know what arc flash is, stay tuned for upcoming blog entries on ways to protect you and your employees from arc flash as well as the proper PPE to wear.