Arc Flash Protection Sees Improvements, Needs Clarification
Posted by PK Safety Team on Jan 30th 2013
Electricians have one of the most dangerous jobs in the country according to OSHA reports. While the wattage in homes is enough to cause serious damage or death, even greater danger occurs when workers are exposed to the major electrical forces involved with municipalities and major factory and industrial work. And while training and experience are often the best ways to avoid injury, there are tools and clothing that are specially made to help an electrician fare better in the event of an accident.
The problem is, the codes and standards put forth by authoritative bodies such as the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) are so incredibly technical that even very well-informed safety experts have problems knowing exactly what is required in terms of arc flash protection in a given situation.
Because the types of protection required depend upon assessments and analysis of a wide range of variables, any of which can have a big impact on the final calorie rating, many companies rely on outside experts to determine what protection they need. Consultants have the necessary training to assess the transformers, load, and other factors to provide exact information about the level of protection needed for individuals working on specific sites. They also carry the necessary insurance in the event of an accident after the fact. And that makes their services as costly as they are necessary.
If you've never seen an arc flash explosion, you may be tempted to think they don't exist or that they rarely happen. But with actual numbers at about ten OSHA-reportable events and one fatality happening every day (according to https://electricenergyonline.com/) the reality is workers need to be vigilant and prepared. The saying "An arc flash explosion can ruin your whole day" doesn't even begin to cover it.
Insulated tools are one way to avoid being part of an electrical pathway. Cementex electrical insulated tools like the Insulated 8-Piece Open End Wrench Set comply with the stringent ASTM F1505-01 standards which specify acceptance testing for hand held tools used on energized electrical equipment. All of the Cementrex hand tools are rated to 1000 Volts AC and have an orange insulating layer where they can be safely handled. The inner layer is yellow, so when the insulating protection wears out, the yellow color is a visual clue for the worker to replace the tool.
Another way electrical workers frequently protect themselves is with Arc Flash clothing. With luck, your company has already done the work to determine Arc Flash exposure levels at your work site and has recommended the proper PPE. Without having detailed information about the specific type of work you and your staff do, it's often impossible to tell what kind of equipment you need, from basic Arc Flash daily wear to the ballistics protection and 140 Calorie rating of a 15 lb. Oberon ARC140B flash suit, there are many choices.
We often get calls from electricians who give us the voltage they are working with and want to know what protection they need. If only it were that simple. That sticky NFPA 70E Table 130.7(C)(9)(a) is organized by voltage level which should be helpful. However the recommended protection for each level is separated by the type of task to be completed, the equipment being used, as well as fault current and clearing time. But wait! There's more: What's the working distance between the worker and the equipment? What's the spacing between the conductors? The number of phases?
There is some new equipment for electricians working at height that's a real improvement over past products. Fall protection items like the Arc Flash Self-Retracting Lifelines in the Nano-Lok line from DBI-SALA provide Kevlar lifelines and shock-pack coverings for electricians working at height. Another improvement for those working with high heat potential off the ground are Arc Flash-rated harnesses such as the ExoFit XP Nomex/Kevlar Harnesses. These specialized harnesses take into account the tremendous heat and force generated by an Arc Flash and offer far greater heat and cut resistance than traditional harnesses.
If you know what you need in terms of Arc Flash protection or other PPE and you don't see it on our site pksafety.com please give us a call or contact us online. If you need to know what protection is required for your specific work site, we will give you all the information we have, but at the end of the day, it's a complicated equation that only a qualified, onsite person can calculate.