EH&S Insider Blog

5 Ways to Help Manage Arc Flash Safety


In light of the inherent dangers of working with electricity, we understand how important it is for businesses to continuously manage their arc flash safety.

Keeping employees safe should always be the highest priority and in Part I of this two part series, we have laid out five ways to help you better manage arc flash safety in the workplace.  

  1. Understand What an Arc Flash Is

    When an electric current strays from its intended path, it often becomes airborne, travels over distance, and then transfers to another conductor or hits the ground. These are known as arc flashes. Arc flashes are violent by nature and can cause serious injury or even death. The first step toward improving your arc flash safety is to ensure that all of your employees fully understand what an arc flash is and why it is so important that steps are taken to prevent them.  
  1. Know Why Arc Flashes Occur

    The following circumstances can cause arc flashes:
    • Insulation failure
    • Dust
    • Corrosive materials
    • Accidental touching
    • Improper installation
    • Normal wear and tear
    • Animals chewing leads at connection points
    • Dropped tools
    • Condensation

    This handout from the Workplace Safety Awareness Council is a great reminder to keep around the workplace. By raising awareness of the causes of arc flashes, employees can be more proactive in preventing them.
  1. Train Your Staff Well

    The best way to prevent arc flash injuries is to thoroughly and consistently train your staff in proper safety protocols and best practices.

    Employees should be trained to power down equipment before working on or near hazardous electrical apparatus. OSHA Regulation 1910.333 requires "de-energizing" of equipment before working near it, unless it is more dangerous to power down. In general, employees should not work on equipment having greater than 50 volts. Even powering down equipment can create dangerous conditions in certain circumstances. For example, powering down may cause problems if it cuts off ventilation to a hazardous area, shuts off emergency alarms, interrupts life support systems, or if testing operations require energized equipment.

    Employees working with electrical equipment must understand what an arc flash is, why it happens, and the good work practices that help avoid injury. To assist employers in this critical electrical hazard training, OSHA awarded a grant to the Workplace Safety Awareness Council to create electrical arc training materials available for download here.
  1. Dress Your Team for Success

    OSHA Regulation 1910.335 requires that employers must provide employees with arc flash-rated personal protective equipment (PPE) "appropriate for the specific parts of the body to be protected and for the work to be performed" when working with electrical hazard equipment.

    Protective equipment includes goggles, face shields, headgear, flame resistant gear, insulated gloves, insulated tools, and shoes without metal pieces. The regulations require that employers maintain all protective equipment in safe, good condition and test them periodically. Be sure that employees are held accountable for wearing their PPE at all times.
  1. Enforce NFPA "Approach Boundary" Standards

    Employees should always follow the National Fire Protection Association's (NFPA) Arc Flash Approach and Protection Boundaries. These boundaries are designed to protect those working on or near energized equipment. As a friendly reminder, the boundaries include:
    • Flash Protection Boundary: This is the outer boundary, where an employee would be exposed to the heat given off by an arc flash and would be at risk of a curable, second degree burn.

    • Limited Approach: This is the approach limit from an energized part where there is a shock hazard.

    • Restricted Approach: This is the approach limit from an energized part where there is an increased shock hazard

    • Prohibited Approach: This is the innermost boundary and represents the distance from exposed part that is the equivalent of making direct contact. 

      These boundaries vary by device and are determined by voltage. Be sure your employees are aware of the boundaries by clearly marking them on the floors and training your employees in their meanings. 
  1. Implement Additional Protective Measures

    An effective way to protect workers, both qualified and non-qualified to operate electric equipment, is to implement protective measures throughout the workplace. This includes:

    • Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI)
    • Insulation
    • Grounding
    • Barricades
    • Clear, visible signage

    These safeguards work to keep employees safe from arc flash hazards, even if other safety standards are not being followed. They are, by no means, a fix-all solution, but when used in conjuction with these other strategies, they provide an additional layer of protection, in case other safety measures fail. 

    As a general rule, make sure that every employee receives thorough training and participates in regular refresher courses so that they are always up to date on OSHA’s standards. If you want to learn more about arc flash safety, read Sarah Trotto's article in Safety.Health, entitled "Avoiding Arc Flash".

For more information about arc flash safety training in the workplace, please contact us.

Topics: Arc Flash