Arc Flash Injuries

By Todd Lottmann, electrical engineer, Cooper Bussmann, Inc.


Arc Flash Burns

Arc flash injuries are preventable these days, epecially if companies are committed to properly design there electrical protection systems and also making certain their employees are properly training and phyisically protected from these occurances.

Arc flash injuries can result in a slow, painful death. But even when they aren't fatal, they can do severe damage to different body systems. Hot gases can injure the lungs and therefore impair breathing. Even curable burns can result in painful skin and tissue that can take weeks or months to heal. The following are a few photos of typical workers who have been injured.

Arc flash injuries and fatalities are caused each year by explosions. It persents numerous dangers to electrical workers due to the extremely intense high-level heat generated in an arc flash explosion and the pressure wave from an arc blast incident. The electrical industry is continuously working to advance the level of knowledge and understanding of these accidents.

The development of NFPA 70E has provided a national work practice standard to deal with the potential for hazard. This, along with OSHA law, is an effort to decrease the number of arc flash injuries that occur as a result of an electrical arc flash accident Some recent advances have caused forward movement in safety and increased knowledge and understanding in this area.

Somewhere between 5-10 arc flash explosions occur in electric equipment every day in the United States, according to recent statistics compiled by a research and consulting firm that specializes in preventing workplace arc flash injuries and deaths. The total number doesn't even include cases in which the victim is sent to an ordinary hospital or clinic for medical treatment. Unreported arc flash injuries and “near misses” are estimated to be many times this number. Instead, these arc flash injuries involve accidents so severe the victims require treatment from a special burn center.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has begun to aggressively monitor compliance with passage of the National Fire Protection Association's (NFPA) 70E standard. In addition, electrical inspectors across the country are now enforcing a new labeling requirements set forth in the National Electrical Code (NEC). These requirements, along with guidelines published recently by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) in IEEE Standard 1584, Guide for Performing Arc Flash Hazard Calculations, help facilities personnel calculate the hazards of arc flash injuries and explosions in different types of equipment in various power systems. What has emerged from this three-pronged approach is a new set of generally accepted best practices for preventing arc flash injuries in the workplace.

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