Arc flashes are a dangerous hazard that comes as part of the job when working with electrical systems. If you aren’t familiar with the term, arc flash is used to describe low impedance connections in any electrical system. The term refers specifically to systems that allow movement of unwanted electrical discharge to go from one voltage phase to another (or to the ground) through the air. When this happens, the temperature and pressure of the air between the electrical conductors rapidly rise, which causes an explosion known as an arc flash.
Unpacking the Significance of Arc-Flash Risk
When working with electrical systems and equipment, you should always protect yourself against any hazards. Here’s what you should know about the risk of arc flash incidents.
What Causes Arc-Flash Incidents?
When several electrical conductors are close together and have significant fault currents flowing through them at the same time, arc flash occurs. It can be the result of a number of different causes, but as long as there’s a low resistance path for the current to flow through the air between the conductors, there’s a risk of arc flash.
Some examples of the causes could be:
● Accident or employee carelessness
● Lack of electrical safety training and awareness
● Using electrical equipment or materials that are damaged
● Using the wrong tools or work techniques
● Improper installation
● Improper preventative maintenance for switches or circuit breakers
● Damage in insulation, such as wear and tear or gaps that have formed
● Static electricity
● High voltage cables
● Exposure to water or another liquid
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What are the Potential Risks of Arc-Flash?
The heat caused by an arc flash can start fires and cause pressure waves and flying shrapnel. The result could be serious bodily injury or death. With such a sudden high temperature, clothing can catch on fire and it can severely burn human skin, even if the person is standing a significant distance away from the actual blast. Any equipment within the blast zone can sustain considerable damage, and any combustible materials nearby can easily get ignited. It gets so hot during an arc flash that metal parts near the blast can turn to liquid or even evaporate completely. Liquid metal could be sprayed across the room as well, and other debris could go flying.
The pressure wave created by the arc flash can knock people off their feet or even throw them across the room if it’s strong enough. The sound can rupture eardrums, causing temporary or permanent hearing loss, and the brightness of the flash can cause temporary or permanent blindness.
These incidents can happen without any notice whatsoever, so it’s important to be fully trained and protect yourself with the right protective gear. Survive-Arc® electric arc-flash protective wear, for instance, can help keep you safe in the event of an arc flash.
How Can You Stop Arc-Flash from Happening?
If you are aware of the risks and can get proper training, equipment, and know the right safety procedures, you can minimise the potential of an arc flash incident. You should take the following precautions when working with electrical equipment:
1. Improve Safety Training
Make sure your company has proper safety training and risk awareness for employees so they know what the consequences are if they are careless and ignore procedure.
2. Equip Staff with Proper PPE
Your staff should always have the correct level of personal protective equipment (PPE) on when working with electrical systems and controls, so be sure to provide workers with the PPE they need for all jobs.
3. Always De-Energise Equipment & Test It
Before working on any electrical equipment, take all steps necessary to ensure it’s been de-energised, and make sure to test it safely before starting to work on it. If you need to, use remote racking technology to stay outside of the arc flash boundary so you don’t put any employees at risk.