January 17, 2007 | Mark Paradies

Arc Flash Injuries

Arc_flashA recent report from a DOE site discussed an injury sustained by an electrician operating a hi-voltage switch on the front panel of a 480V switchboard.  A ground fault in the down-stream circuit cause a fire-ball to exit the vents on the switchboard when the switch was shut, causing serious burns and eye injury.  The report stressed that, if the electrician had been wearing proper PPE (flame-retardant shirt, safety glasses), his injuries would have been much less severe.

First, I’d like to stress that I don’t disagree with that particular finding.  Wearing proper PPE is an important safeguard in any potentially–hazardous process.  However, buried near the end of the report, other findings were mentioned:

– By the way, the ground detector that was installed didn’t work.

– By the way, preventive maintenance was not scheduled for the ground detector.

– By the way, the ground detector was the wrong type.

– By the way, PPE requirements were not posted on the panel as required.

– By the way, work control procedures already in place were not followed.

Arc Flash PPE

These are the kinds of things that you can easily find with a frequent, comprehensive proactive audit plan.  It is good to see that these problems were found by the investigating team.  It would have been even better if they had been found by an audit team.  Compare your work practices with industry standards, such as NFPA 70E: Electrical Safety in the Workplace. Take a look at your high-voltage, hazardous operations, and see if you have the right controls in place.  Everything may seem to be operating just fine, until an unknown failure pushes the deficiencies in work control to your attention.  Don’t wait for the fire-ball to find you.

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