If you find yourself working in an environment where you may be exposed to various electrical hazards, then you may already be familiar with the notion of arc flash training.
For those of us who do not work in such an environment or are considering entering into a profession that could expose us to certain electrical hazards, we may be wondering what exactly an arc flash is and why training for arc flashes is required by OSHA under the NFPA 70E requirements. In fact, those already working in an environment with exposure to various electrical hazards may likewise find themselves questioning why OSHA legally requires employers to provide employees with arc flash training.
Without a doubt, it is in our nature to despise any sort of training or procedure that we find mundane and wasteful of our personal time. However, rest assured that OSHA’s requirements for arc flash training truly are well intentioned and meant to provide employees with safety-related work practices to protect themselves from some of the serious dangers that can arise from an arc flash.
What Is an Arc Flash?
While you may already be aware of some of the potentially severe complications that could arise from electrical hazards, it is quite possible that you are unfamiliar with what exactly an arc flash is.
An arc flash is undesired electric discharge in which a flashover of electric current leaves the path that it was intended to take and instead travels through the air between conductors or from a conductor to the ground. The results of this unintended path are typically quite dangerous and can cause serious injury or death to those nearby, given that arc flashes produce fiery explosions.
To gain a better appreciation for what exactly an arc flash is, consider the fact that just about everyone has witnessed an arc flash on a much smaller scale when they see an incandescent light bulb burn out. As the filament in the bulb breaks, an arc is sustained within the bulb and a bright, blue flash is emitted.
When this notion is applied to a source of electricity with much higher voltages and no safety net, it is not too difficult to conceptually grasp the dangers of a high-voltage arc flash. It essentially functions along the lines of a small bomb by creating a fiery explosion and deadly shrapnel.
With that in mind, the explosion from an arc flash can yield both substantially hot temperatures nearing 35,000 degrees Fahrenheit at the arc terminals, and deafening sound blasts that vary in volume depending on the nature of the arc flash. Given the extreme heat that is produced during an arc flash, electrical energy vaporizes the metal conductors involved and expands these metals with explosive force. This energy is absorbed by anything near the blast, which is instantly heated to vaporizing temperatures.
Generally speaking, arc flashes tend to occur for one of the following reasons:
Regardless of whatever job we may be doing, we typically settle into a routine and develop lazy tendencies, which can result in unsafe work procedures and mistakes pertaining to maintenance or the mishandling of tools. On the other hand, sometimes we just make honest mistakes in the work that we do and a momentary lapse in proper judgment could result in poor maintenance. When either of these situations is applied to work with electrical devices, the potential to trigger an arc flash or some other hazard becomes far greater.
In any sort of electrical work, if you neglect to take care of the equipment that you are using, then dust, debris, or other impurities may build up on the surface of the conductor and cause it to operate improperly. Beyond that, neglecting to perform various performance tests or occasionally checking on the wiring could cause you to overlook what might be an obvious problem.
Improper electrical design.
This primarily falls on whoever is responsible for installation. If an installation is faulty or uses old equipment that doesn’t meet current arc flash standards, then the risk of triggering an arc flash is heightened.
Bearing all of this in mind, arc flashes can without a doubt be a serious electrical hazard if left unchecked. However, if the proper safety steps are taken, arc flashes can be avoidable. This is why OSHA has placed such a high degree of emphasis on legally requiring employers to provide their employees with safety training, if these employees should have any sort of exposure to what may be deemed an electrical hazard.
What is OSHA?
Congress created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in 1970 to help employers and employees minimize workplace hazards. By directing national compliance initiatives pertaining to occupational safety and health, since its inception, OSHA has cut workplace deaths by more than 60 percent and occupational injuries and illnesses by 40 percent. Beyond that, OSHA has conducted nearly 39,000 inspections, issued more than 85,000 citations for various safety violations, and assisted businesses through its consultation program by making more than 30,000 visits to employers.
OSHA continues to implement new or improved systems for safety and health management each year through its rulemaking process. In this way, OSHA can ensure that its rules and regulations both remain current and work to effectively promote continued safety in the workplace.
Why Does OSHA Have Various Regulations?
When considering why OSHA has so many different rules and regulations for the workplace, it is vital to note that such rules and regulations were not put in place to be overly controlling or limiting towards the freedom of employees. Instead, OSHA created these rules and regulations to protect every employee’s right to a safe workplace.
Although OSHA has already significantly cut down on the number of workplace fatalities, injuries, and illnesses, the work is far from over. Every year, nearly 5,200 Americans die from onsite accidents and injuries, which is more than the number of lives lost during the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. In addition, as many as 50,000 employees die from exposure-related illnesses, and nonfatal work-related injuries and illnesses impact an estimated 4.3 million American workers, costing more than $156 billion each year.
OSHA is certainly making a difference, but it is evident that the implementation of additional regulations is necessary to improve every employee’s right to a safe workplace.
As employees under OSHA, we are all also legally entitled to a number of rights. Since employers are legally required to abide by the regulations that OSHA puts in place, we can receive employer-provided training in whatever area is applicable to our scope of work. In addition, if we see a specific workplace hazard that could be an OSHA violation, we can communicate more effectively with our employer or even the government in order to resolve these issues and create a safer workplace environment.
Overall, OSHA’s regulations provide employees with a safety net for the benefit of their health. In addition, through OSHA, employees are protected and able to serve as whistleblowers, raising awareness and complaining about unsafe or unhealthful conditions in their workplace, without fear of corporate punishment.
Given OSHA’s ability to provide employees with a safer workplace where their opinions and concerns can be expressed, we should have no fears of OSHA functioning as an overbearing federal agency. Instead, we should appreciate OSHA for its positive impact on preserving our right to a safe and healthy workplace.
Why Is Arc Flash Training Important and What Should I Expect?
Arc flashes are unquestionably dangerous electrical hazards to the workplace, but they are also largely preventable. That is why OSHA has ultimately placed such a firm emphasis on legally requiring employers to provide documented electrical safety training to any employees that may be exposed to electrical hazards. OSHA desires to protect your right as an employee to a safe workplace, but this can only be done through training that thoroughly and properly instructs employees on protective practices.
Through training, employees can expect to learn a lot regarding how to handle and analyze electrical equipment in order to understand and avoid potentially hazardous conditions. As part of that training and as dictated by OSHA, employees that work in areas where there could be potential electrical hazards must be provided with and use protective equipment that is appropriate for the work that is to be performed.
In many cases, the most effective way to avoid arc flashes is to simply de-energize the equipment that is being used. In fact, OSHA requires that electrical equipment be de-energized before an employee works on or near the equipment, unless the employer can somehow prove that de-energizing the equipment would introduce additional hazards or is simply infeasible. The logic behind this is simple: Working on energized equipment is synonymous with working with electrically active equipment, which runs a far greater risk of yielding an arc flash.
If it is determined that de-energizing the equipment is infeasible and that the employee must work with energized equipment, then the employee is legally required to have specific training in safety-related practices to prevent electrical hazards from occurring. This may include obtaining an energized electrical work permit or going through a number of different safety programs.
Under OSHA, employers must demonstrate compliance by acting in accordance with the following:
Employers must provide their employees with a safety program that defines responsibilities
Analysis must be given to gauge the probability of an arc flash hazard
Personal protective equipment must be given to employees
Employees must receive training on the hazards of arc flashes
Proper tools must be given to employees to ensure safety in the workplace
Equipment must have warning labels
When it comes to performing an arc flash analysis, it is important to first clarify what the analysis should accomplish. An arc flash analysis is a study that investigates an employee’s potential exposure to an arc flash for the purposes of injury prevention, safe work practices, and appropriate levels of personal protective equipment.
To perform an arc flash analysis, data on the power-distribution system must first be collected. Once this information is obtained, it is important to understand how the system operates and how electricity is being distributed. From this point, the analyst must determine the bolted fault current and calculate the arc fault current. With this information, the analyst can estimate the time that both the circuit breaker and the fuse will take to clear the fault, which enables the analyst to determine safe working and flash-protection boundaries, the incident energy, and what personal protective equipment will be necessary.
Once the arc flash analysis is complete, an arc flash hazard warning label must be placed on the electrical equipment and be readily accessible to all employees that may potentially work on the energized equipment. On this warning label, various boundaries (i.e. prohibited, limited, and restricted) should be provided to inform the employee of the risk levels of different zones. In addition, from the arc flash hazard label, employees will be able to determine proper personal protective equipment and whether or not they are qualified to work on or near the circuit.
Arc flashes are serious electrical hazards that can hinder the safety of a workplace. With that said, proper training and safety precautions are absolutely vital to minimize the risks of arc flashes and ensure that employees are operating appropriately.
Where Can I Find More Information on Arc Flash Training?
With everything that you just digested, you may be wondering where you can receive additional information on arc flash training. Fortunately, since OSHA legally requires employers to provide documented safety training to all employees that could potentially be exposed to electrical hazards, it isn’t too difficult to find such information or to join an electrical safety program.
However, it is important to note that since OSHA requires workers to receive documented training, it does not accept online electrical-safety training. Instead, OSHA requires workers to experience hands-on, onsite training.
Technical Skills Development Services is one of many programs that fulfill the requirements laid out by OSHA. Over the span of a single day, Technical Skills Development Services can provide you with a qualified trainer who will make every effort to address whatever your specific needs may be, while subsequently predetermining the types of electrical hazard exposures that exist at your facility.
Through Technical Skills Development Services, trainees can expect to learn how to define and identify arc flash hazards, how to determine the correct arc flash boundaries, how to interpret and comply with arc flash labels, and how to interpret and comply with NFPA 70E tables (which establish approach boundaries, hazard categories, and protective-clothing classes).
Not only is arc flash training beneficial for one’s safety around electrical hazards, it is also legally required by OSHA. As employees, OSHA gives us all the right to a safe and healthy workplace. If you are planning on entering a profession where you may be exposed to electrical hazards or are already in such a profession, then it is time to exercise that right and pursue more information on arc flash training.