2012 – spring Issue

Maximize Your Electrical Investment - Reduce Arc Flash Hazards

The use of electricity has positively influenced society. Replacing the mechanical steam engine in manufacturing plants with electricity has enabled the use of manufacturing lines, streamlined work flow, increased productivity and led to economic growth. While benefits of electricity have revolutionized society, its power is something to be revered.

Electricity has long been recognized as a serious workplace hazard with the potential to expose employees to electric shock, electrocution, burns, fires, and explosions. In 1999, 278 workers died from electrocutions at work, accounting for almost 5 percent of all on-the-job fatalities that year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. What makes these statistics even more tragic is that most of these fatalities could have been avoided.

Electrical deaths, and many more grave injuries, are frequently caused by arc flash accidents. Arc flash is electrical current flowing through the air. It is caused by insulation breakdown or reduction of isolation between conductors. Faulty industrial equipment can generate an arc flash causing an "explosion" that can burn four times hotter than the sun. These electrical arc flashes can throw a man onto his back and fatally burn bystanders standing up to 8' away. Other dangers include molten metal traveling as fast as 700 mph from the force of the explosion and toxic gases being released from burning materials.

According to CapSchell, Inc, a Chicago-based research and consulting firm that specializes in workplace injury prevention, there are five to ten arc flash incidents every day in the United States. Arc flash incidents present a significant financial risk when you consider that the final cost to employers and their insurers for a single, serious injury can approach $10 million.

Electrical standards address the potential for arc flash incidents and provide standardization that engineers use to establish safe work distances and choose appropriate personal protective equipment for those who must work on electrical equipment. NFPA 70 (National Electrical Code) is used by engineers for design & installation of electrical equipment. NFPA 70E (Electrical Safety in the Workplace) provides guidelines for electrical safety in the workplace and is used by employers, employees and OSHA to establish safety requirements.

Safety in the workplace is everyone's responsibility. Especially if your role is tied directly to the safety of your company's electricians or your plant's operating time, you should work with a professional engineer to perform an arc flash study to reduce your risk of an arc flash incident.

Reducing arc flash hazards will result in fewer accidents, increase plant operating time, and provide a safer workplace. For more information on arc flash hazards, prevention, or studies, contact Brent Kooiman at 712.722.1664, x302, or email him at