Electrical safety is a crucial part of OSHA compliance. The 2015 revision of NFPA 70E requires employers to conduct an arc flash risk assessment. If risks exist, employers must establish safety protocols to protect employees from electrical hazards. With proper arc flash analysis training, employees can conduct hazardous electrical work safely.
What Is Arc Flash?
Arc flash occurs when a burst of energy escapes due to an arc fault. With enough air to conduct the arc and electrical equipment operating at 120 volts or more, an arc flash can appear as an electrical fireball. After the first flash, the resulting plasma conducts all available energy and releases a massive explosion that can severely burn everything in its path and send shrapnel flying at lethal speeds.
Know Your Risk
In industrial and manufacturing settings with inadequate safety procedures and training, safety may take a backseat to productivity. Workers removing equipment covers and opening doors, greatly increases the risk of electrical burns and arc flash accidents. Equipment may not be shut down properly, and may be operated without sufficient safety protocols. It only takes one faulty component or safety oversight to cause a devastating arc flash that can severely injure or kill nearby workers and destroy equipment in the blast radius.
Tips to Prevent Arc Flashes
There are several ways to protect employees from arc flashes and other electrical risks. The most effective method is to de-energize all circuits to create an electrically safe work environment. Safe work practices outlining proper equipment use and maintenance and risk assessment are crucial. Employees should wear insulated clothing, proper PPE and use insulated tools. Consider installing electrical barricades to help shield employees in the event of an explosion.
When De-energizing Isn’t an Option
There may be times when employees can work on energized circuits with minimal risk. This may be the case in the following situations:
- de-energization would make the workplace more hazardous.
- de-energization exceeds the limits of equipment or operations.
- Equipment and circuits operate at less than 50 volts and produce no risk of explosion or electrical burns.
- All equipment is installed according to industry guidelines and maintained regularly, all doors securely closed, all covers firmly secured, and no warning signs of failure exist, e.g. damage, loose components, strange noises, etc.
All employees should review the employer’s written safety procedures and receive a job briefing prior to working on energized systems. They must also carry an energized electrical work permit, use properly insulated tools, and wear the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) as determined by the results of an arc flash risk assessment.
Electrical Safety Training
It is vital that employees receive comprehensive electrical safety training. Conduct an arc flash risk assessment and other task analyses to evaluate the level of electrical risk in the workplace. The findings can help you address areas of improvement, design new safety protocols, and focus on training points for employees. When all managers and employees are well-versed in electrical safety, the risk of arc flashes drops dramatically.