2014 Consulting Safety

5 Expert Tips: Achieving Arc Flash Safety

Jane Alexander | September 8, 2014

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When it comes to electrical-safety issues, expert advice is always in order.

Electrical safety is an overarching concern for plants and facilities everywhere. In the United States, providing a safe workplace for employees is required—and enforced—by OSHA. Relative to electrical workplace safety, OSHA issues citations based on the requirements of NFPA 70E Electrical Safety in the Workplace. Here, Reza Tajali of Schneider Electric Field Services offers several timely tips for complying with those requirements, along with some specifics on arc flash concerns.

Tip 1

Follow the steps outlined in NFPA 70E – 2012.

To meet the requirements of NFPA 70E-2012, the following steps must be properly executed and re-visited on a regular basis.

• Develop and audit an electrical safe work practices policy.
• Have an arc flash analysis performed by a professional engineer and label the equipment.
• Provide personal protective equipment (PPE) and properly rated tools for electrical workers. Also assure that contractors working in your facility have and use their own safety gear. (According to OSHA, a qualified person is one who is knowledgeable in the construction and operation of the electric power generation, transmission and distribution equipment involved in his or her job, along with the associated hazards.)
• Conduct regularly scheduled safety training and employee assessments.
• Perform electrical maintenance on all electrical-distribution-system components.

Remember: Compliance is an ongoing process that requires deliberate thought and actions to ensure workers are aware of the electrical hazards present.

Tip 2

Develop and follow strategies to mitigate and control arc flash hazards.

The goal of arc flash mitigation is to reduce the arc flash energy, and thus the PPE, to a level that permits normal tasks to be performed on equipment. Arc flash mitigation strategies can be attained by:

• Reducing the arc flash energy to a level where routine tasks can be performed. (Example: Specialized relaying, such as light sensing technology)
• Locating the worker such that he/she is not subject to harm.  (Example: Remote racking for circuit breakers when performing maintenance activities)

Tip 3

Keep accurate, up-to-date records and documentation.

Have there been any changes, additions and/or upgrades to your electrical system since the equipment was installed? If so, the single-line diagram should reflect the changes. What does this have to do with workplace safety? If an electrical anomaly occurs (breaker trips, transformer overheated, etc.), maintenance personnel need accurate information to know how to correct the problem. This helps alleviate surprises which could lead to accidents.

Consider this analogy: A person goes to his/her doctor to get a physical for the first time in five years. Does the doctor pull the existing five-year old chart without wanting to know what’s gone on since then? No!

Remember: To accurately and safely run or improve a process, the latest information is needed.

Tip 4

Assess the current state of your power system: Outsource if necessary.

Building upon tip #3, it is also important to know the current state of the electrical system. If electrical systems have not been properly maintained, they can pose serious risks. A power system assessment will identify potential high-risk issues (including safety and operational) within the electrical distribution system.

Finally, with electrical power systems becoming more complex due to technological advances, many companies may not have the experienced electrical engineering personnel to assure the compatibility and optimum functionality of the sophisticated and inter-connected equipment. An electrical power system assessment can be performed with minimal invasiveness if you engage the right firm with proven experience.

Tip 5

See Tip 1… Electrical safety is an ongoing process.

 

Conclusion

Tajali reminds readers that electrical hazards are responsible for over 300 deaths and 4000 workplace injuries each year. While such hazards are not the leading cause of on-the-job injuries and accidents, he notes that they are disproportionately fatal and costly. (Source: Electrical Safety Foundation International, esfi.org)

That said, Tajali offers these final  ‘words to the wise’ in today’s plants and facilities: If you are not already, it’s time to become familiar with codes, regulations and standards, including OSHA, NFPA 70E, NEC and IEEE. “Safety awareness and how to recognize electrical hazards should be a ‘way of life’ for electrical workers,” he says. “Literally.”

Reza Tajali, P.E., is an Engineering Manager for Schneider Electric Engineering Services. He has over 30 years of experience with electrical power distribution and control, and holds two United States patents on switchgear products. He currently manages the company’s power-system engineering team in the Midwest region of the U.S., which supports industrial and commercial customers with power system design, analysis and power-quality improvement plans. Tajali holds a Master of Science degree in electrical power systems from Tennessee Technological University and is registered in seven states. For more information on the company’s engineering services, visit Schneider-Electric.com.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jane Alexander

Jane Alexander

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