The dangers of ignoring your arc flash responsibilities.


I am reminded of a friend who had their first snorkeling experience in the Florida Keys. He was immediately drawn in by the sheer numbers of fish and the many varieties and colours of coral. He was in awe while exploring this unknown territory.

Please note the part about it being unknown. He swam blindly through a week of wonderment and then bought a book on exactly what he was swimming with. He was quite surprised to find that there were several things that could have killed him or rendered severe injury.

The dangers of arc flash, I feel, fall into a similar category. Many plants and industrial sites have updated a little at a time over a period of years. They might add a new piece of equipment or change the entire layout to become leaner. They become caught in the wonderment of each small advancement but may be totally unaware of the dangers that are present. The electrical dangers.

Please be aware of your responsibilities.

The facts are that thirty-seven people in Canada died in the three-year period between 2013 and 2015 from arc flash while on the job. Imagine the effects on those work places and the family members.

From my side, I see a general lack of awareness and the misinformation that many employers have. Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, it is a responsibility to protect employees. The tricky part is that each province looks after their own enforcement. By that I mean, you might not have regular checks. People in New Brunswick will remember that, several years ago, the province stopped sending reminders when your license or registration was due for vehicles. The result was that many let timelines go well beyond what was legal. Many were charged. This is similar. I hope that this will act as a reminder.

Let’s use New Brunswick as an example

I live in New Brunswick, so I’ll use my home province as an example. New Brunswick has provincial labour safety acts commonly known as OHSA-NB. These New Brunswick laws protect employers’ and workers’ rights under four pieces of legislation and their regulations: The Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Commission and Workers’ Compensation Appeals Tribunal Act, the Workers’ Compensation Act, the Occupational Health and Safety Act, and the Firefighters’ Compensation Act. WorkSafeNB is responsible for administering all four.

In New Brunswick, Arc Flash falls under the three R’s of Workers Rights. Specifically, the Workers’ Right to know or be made aware or informed of all workplace hazards and their right to know safe procedures for work with hazardous materials or near hazardous equipment applies. In other words, the very same application of laws and worker rights which results in safety training, safety placards, warning labels and WHMIS datasheet access stations commonly recognized and mandatorily placed at worksites in NB applies to Arc Flash.

Arc Flash awareness is part of a legal responsibility of employers to ensure safe working conditions for employees and contractors having access to the worksite. The Arc Flash Hazard Warning Labels and Study Report that are produced from a site Arc Flash Analysis project are exactly equivalent to Hazardous Materials labelling and WHMIS datasheet libraries in the eyes of the law in New Brunswick. Failure of an employer in New Brunswick to provide employees with accurate, up to date information and training for all workplace hazards that the employee can be exposed to at the worksite, can and does result in severe penalties that include substantial fines and jail time for managers and supervisors, particularly following the investigation of a workplace incident where an employee has been injured or killed.

How hot is 35,000 degrees Fahrenheit?

I feel a responsibility to make you more aware. For instance, do you realize that electrical arc has recorded temperatures of as high as 35,000 degrees Fahrenheit?  The losses to production levels, equipment investments and of course, life and limb can be severe.

If we look at our neighbours to the south, in the USA, their Fire Protection Research Foundation has produced some telling facts in a study produced in 2015. They state that while fatalities have fallen steadily over the past decade, non-fatal electrical injuries have seen little change. In the nine-year period leading to 2012, they recorded 24,100 such job-related injuries. The leading cause of these injuries was “contact with electric current of a machine, tool, appliance or light fixture”.

From this study, they issued four Priority Issues of which the following is one:

“Require that all employers implement an overall electrical safety program as part of their occupational health and safety management system. This program should include, among others, risk assessment procedures to address employee exposure to electrical hazards. This risk assessment must identify hazards, assess risks, and implement control measures per a hierarchy of approved methods.”

The report also issued a category of four Additional Findings of which I quote a sentence of one:

“Thorough pre-job planning with qualified personnel is essential for identifying all electrical sources, including unanticipated hazards that are not included in drawings.”

The following is another of the Additional Findings;

“Many workers who experience electrical injury have insufficient training for working on or around energized electrical equipment.”

What about the Man of War?

Going back to my snorkeling friend, after a few days he eventually got stung by a thread, strung out by a Man of War jellyfish. He survived of course, but had no idea what caused his short term effects until he consulted professionals.

If you want to learn more about arc flash analysis, just drop me a note. Our group at Actemium are professionals with extensive experience in industrial power systems. Along with our expertise, we deploy state of the art computational software for modelling power systems.