Ensuring Safety with PPE in ARC Flash Incidents: A Comprehensive Guide

Introduction:

In the realm of workplace safety, the significance of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) cannot be overstated, especially when it comes to mitigating risks associated with ARC Flash incidents. This article delves into the specific dangers of ARC Flash accidents and provides insights on safeguarding workers through the proper use of PPE.

Understanding ARC Flash and its Progression:

ARC Flash incidents pose life-threatening consequences due to the release of incident energy. The progression begins with an arc fault, which occurs when a short circuit occurs between live parts or between a live part and the ground, resulting in ionized air. This leads to the subsequent occurrence known as the arc flash, characterized by extreme heat and blinding light. In certain conditions, an arc flash can escalate into an electrical explosion called an arc blast, vaporizing metal conductors and causing significant damage and harm to individuals in proximity.

Exploring ARC Flash Boundaries:

The extent to which an arc flash can travel is defined as the arc flash boundary, determined by factors such as potential energy, air temperature, and humidity.

Duration of an ARC Flash:

The duration of an arc flash varies, lasting from a fraction of a second to several seconds, contingent upon various factors. Advanced systems equipped with arc eliminators can detect and extinguish the arc within milliseconds. However, in the absence of safety measures, the arc flash persists until the power flow is physically halted.

Causes of ARC Flash:

Damaged equipment, such as wires, is a common cause of ARC Flash incidents. Additionally, instances where work is being conducted on equipment can create opportunities for electricity to deviate from its intended path. Electricity tends to follow paths of least resistance, seeking alternative routes when available.

Examples of factors contributing to lower resistance paths and potential ARC Flash incidents include:

  • Dust: Electricity passing through dust in dusty areas, bypassing wiring or equipment.
  • Dropped Tools: Tools damaging wires, allowing electricity to pass into them and seek alternate paths.
  • Accidental Touching: Individuals inadvertently touching damaged areas, diverting electricity through their bodies or beyond normal paths.
  • Condensation: Electricity escaping wiring through water formed by condensation.
  • Material Failure: Wire damage hindering electricity flow, making alternative paths outside the wire more resistant.
  • Corrosion: Corrosion creating paths outside the wire.
  • Faulty Installation: Improper equipment installation impeding intended electricity flow.

Potential Damages Caused by ARC Flash:

ARC Flash incidents generate intense heat of up to 35,000°F, powerful blasts, and other destructive effects, resulting in swift and significant damage. Understanding potential damages helps organizations plan and implement safety measures effectively. Examples of damages caused by ARC Flash or arc blast include:

  • Property Damage
  • Melting of metals, leading to equipment damage.
  • Fire outbreaks from intense heat, capable of spreading rapidly if not contained.
  • Arc blasts causing window breakage, wood splintering, and bending of metals, resulting in destruction or damage to stored items.

Human Injury:

  • Burns, ranging from second to third-degree, occurring within moments.
  • Electrocution, which can be fatal depending on various factors.
  • Auditory Damage, caused by loud noises produced during ARC Flash incidents.
  • Eyesight Damage, temporary or long-term, due to the brightness of ARC Flash events.

The Role of PPE in ARC Flash Protection:

While Personal Protective Equipment provides a significant level of protection against ARC Flash incidents, it cannot eliminate all risks. Workers present during an ARC Flash event are always vulnerable, regardless of the PPE they wear. Consequently, it is crucial to de-energize machines before conducting work, whenever feasible.

ARC Flash Safety Requirements:

Companies with electrical equipment must prioritize ARC Flash safety and adhere to relevant safety standards. Compliance with government and private institution standards is vital to minimize incidents and ensure worker safety. Key standards in the United States include:

OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) – 29 CFR parts 1910 and 1926, which outline requirements for electrical power generation, transmission, and distribution.

NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) – NFPA 70 (National Electrical Code) covers safe electrical installation practices, while NFPA 70E (Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace) offers guidelines for warning labels on ARC Flash and blast hazards. It also provides recommendations for implementing best practices to enhance workplace safety.

IEEE 1584 – A set of guidelines for accurately calculating ARC Flash hazards.

Preventing ARC Flash Incidents:

Minimizing the risk of ARC Flash incidents involves conducting electrical risk assessments to identify potential dangers within a facility. Following guidelines such as IEEE 1584 can assist in identifying common issues. Regular inspections of high voltage equipment are crucial to detect and address corrosion, wire damage, and other problems promptly, ensuring contained electrical currents.

Emphasizing Proper Labeling:

All areas in a facility where high electrical currents may exist should be appropriately labeled with ARC Flash warning labels, as mandated by the National Electrical Code article 110.16. These labels can be acquired pre-made or printed using industrial label printers.

De-Energizing Equipment for Maintenance:

Complete de-energization of machines is essential before any maintenance work is carried out. This involves shutting down machines and physically disconnecting them from power sources. Voltage checks should be conducted to ensure no latent energy remains. Implementing a lockout/tagout policy adds an additional layer of safety by physically locking the electrical supply to prevent accidental reconnection during maintenance.

ARC Flash Personal Protection Equipment (PPE):

In rare cases where working on energized machines is necessary, employees must wear appropriate PPE. This includes safety goggles, hearing protection, voltage-rated gloves, and arc-rated clothing. The level of PPE should align with the maximum potential risk posed by the electrical current. Employing head-to-toe personal protective equipment significantly reduces the likelihood of serious incidents or fatalities during ARC Flash events.

Circuit Breakers as Safeguards:

Installing circuit breakers on machines, whenever possible, aids in quickly detecting and halting sudden surges in electricity flow. Although circuit breakers can mitigate ARC Flash incidents by cutting off the electrical current, they should not be relied upon as the sole arc flash safety measure due to the potential severity of even brief flashes.

By prioritizing the implementation of comprehensive safety measures, organizations can effectively safeguard their workers from ARC Flash incidents, mitigate risks, and ensure a secure working environment.

Source: https://www.creativesafetysupply.com/articles/arc-flash/

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PPE and Protective Gear FAQ

What is Personal Protective Equipment?

Personal protective equipment, commonly referred to as “PPE”, is equipment worn to minimize exposure to hazards that cause serious workplace injuries and illnesses. These injuries and illnesses may result from contact with chemical, radiological, physical, electrical, mechanical, or other workplace hazards. Source: OSHA

What are the main types of Personal Protective Equipment?

Personal protective equipment may include items such as gloves, safety glasses and shoes, earplugs or muffs, hard hats, respirators, or coveralls, vests and full body suits. Source: OSHA

What can be done to ensure proper use of personal protective equipment?

All personal protective equipment should be safely designed and constructed, and should be maintained in a clean and reliable fashion. It should fit comfortably, encouraging worker use. If the personal protective equipment does not fit properly, it can make the difference between being safely covered or dangerously exposed. When engineering, work practice, and administrative controls are not feasible or do not provide sufficient protection, employers must provide personal protective equipment to their workers and ensure its proper use. Employers are also required to train each worker required to use personal protective equipment to know:

When it is necessary

What kind is necessary

How to properly put it on, adjust, wear and take it off

The limitations of the equipment

Proper care, maintenance, useful life, and disposal of the equipment

If PPE is to be used, a PPE program should be implemented. This program should address the hazards present; the selection, maintenance, and use of PPE; the training of employees; and monitoring of the program to ensure its ongoing effectiveness. Source: OSHA

Where to buy PPE?

We might be bias, but Werner Protective is the best place to buy PPE and Safety Equipment. Give us a call at (847) 986-9849 or email us at info@wernerprotective.com