Arc Flash Protection Explained

By R.W. Hurst, The Electricity Forum

arc flash protection

Arc Flash Protection

Arc flash protection first became a major area of investigation in the 1980's when in the IEEE published Transactions on "Industry Applications" there happened to appear an article authored by a Ralph Lee entitled: “The Other Electrical Hazard: Electric Arc Blast Burns.” This early investigation led several companies to realize, particularly companies from the petrochemical industry, that too many electrical workers were injured from electrical safety accidents. Consequently, several leading companies acted to create the first known set of work practices that were designed to specifically protect electrical workers who were performing electrical maintenance and service work on energized electrical equipment.

While petrochemical facilities were maybe the first to see the need for arc flash protection, it quickly was seen that arc flash hazards apply to all electrical facilities. Although the level of incident energy released in an electrical arc flash explosion may be larger in the higher voltage ranges found in petrochemical and other industrial facilities, it meant that the large volume of medium and especially low voltage electrical equipment in industrial, commercial and institutional facilities would cause the largest number of electrical safety accidents.

Arc flash protection starts with preventing personal protection injuries from occurring is to turn off the electrical equipment before starting work. Standards such as NFPA 70e and CSA Z462 are intended to lay out arc flash guidelines for qualified electrical workers when de-energizing could lead to a greater hazard than leaving the power on. These arc falsh protection standards squarely place the responsibility for electrical worker safety on both employers and facility owners for making sure that safe electrical workplace standards and practices are in place to protect their workers from electrical safety accidents.

The goal of these arc flash protections standards, such as NFPA 70e, is to keep electrical workers free from the hazards of shock, electrocution, arc flash, and arc blast. It's important, therefore, to understand the requirements set forth in the standards for employee safety, the importance of an electrical safety program, the responsibilities of employer and employee, and the processes and best practices set forth in various industry standards and regulations.


Four separate industry standards establish practices for the prevention of electrical explosion incidents:

OSHA 29 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 1910, Subpart S

This regulation states, in part, "Safety related work practices shall be employed to prevent electric shock or other injuries resulting from either direct or indirect electrical contacts… ." OSHA also addresses the qualification of workers exposed to electrical shock hazards and the provision for protective equipment appropriate for the work to be performed. OSHA enforces arc flash protection practices and cites the NFPA requirements.

NFPA 70e, National Electrical Code

Section 110.16 requires that companies place a warning label on electrical equipment likely to consitute an electrical safety hazard. This field marking can be generic or very specific, whichever the company selects. Future revisions of the NEC standard may require more detailed information on this label.

NFPA 70e, Standard for Electrical Safety Requirements for Employee Workplaces

NFPA 70E can be considered the “how to” standard behind OSHA enforcement. It provides the detailed actions companies must take to be in federal compliance.


  • Arc flash protection program with defined responsibilities
  • Calculations for the degree of electrical safety hazard
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE) for workers
  • Training for workers
  • Tools for safe work
  • Warning labels on equipment

IEEE Standard 1584, Guide for Electrical Safety Regulation

In order for the arc flash protection warning labels to carry enough information to show the danger zone for electrical safety conditions, companies must determine that area within which only qualified workers should enter—the protection boundary. IEEE 1584 provides a method to calculate the incident energy in order to specify the level of PPE required for workers.

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