Arc Flash Burn Explained

Arc Flash Burn

An arc flash burn can be devastating, depending on the intensity of the arc flash explosion, the proximity of the electrical worker to the source of the arc flash explosion and the level of personal protective equipment (PPE) that is worn, if any. 

Arc Flash Burns Can Include:

  • 3rd-degree (irreversible) arc flash burn caused by extreme heat and molten splatter
  • Loss of sight due to electromagnetic radiation
  • Internal burns and intoxication due to the inhalation of hot toxic gases
  • Permanent hearing damage due to explosion 
  • Other physical and emotional trauma caused by the explosion (blast pressure and flying debris)
  • Loss of life



When you think of electrical burns, you often think about hazards from direct contact with current – shocking experiences. However, remember that electrical burns are often compounded by thermal or heat burns from blasts or “arc flashes.”

An arc flash occurs when high voltage differences exist across a gap between two conductive surfaces. With mighty current, the electrical energy will travel through the air. Large amounts of energy are released when it reaches the second conductor, and temperatures reaching 36,000 degrees Fahrenheit have been reported.

Burns caused by arc flash are typically severe, 2nd-degree (partial thickness) or 3rd-degree (total thickness) burns. Clothing may catch on fire, which will contribute to the burn area, further increasing the already high risk of mortality. Skin grafts are not uncommonly required. A pressure wave may throw the victim with a force of a half-ton, and physical harm can occur this way. Hearing loss can also occur from an arc flash blast wave.

Victims of arc flash blast incidents often have terrible scarring and chronic pain. In addition, they may suffer severe psychological symptoms, such as post-traumatic stress disorder. Medical costs and loss of income can be substantially damaging, and workman’s comp will typically pay only a portion of the cost.


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